Taking the Time to Learn From Mistakes

We’ve recently returned from our winter holiday and things are back in full swing after a couple of very low-key and low-tech weeks off. Over the holiday I took up a hobby I tried years ago and abandoned – knitting. Just before the holiday my husband asked me to knit him a very particular style of scarf. I think in hindsight that his motivation was two fold- he wants a scarf, and he wanted me to have something to do that would force me to relax/sit still over the holiday. It’s been about three years since I’ve knit anything so I was very reluctant to take it up again. I do not consider myself a skilled knitter, even though I had completed some “challenging to me” projects at the height of my prior foray into knitting. What on earth does knitting have to do with learning or teaching? Well, quite a lot. Stick with me!
The scarf my husband asked me to knit required that I not only reacquaint myself with basic knitting technique (preparing), but that I also learn a stitch I’d never done before and learn how to join two different colours to make stripes . So, knitting needles and yarn in hand, I hopped onto YouTube and started watching how to videos until I found some that appealed to my learning style (exploring).
In “retroflection” I can now admit that the main reason why I gave up knitting 3 years ago was because I couldn’t handle making mistakes and having to undo my work or start again. What a colossal waste of time and how very frustrating! As I began this new project, I also began making those dreaded mistakes again. But this time, I am not giving up. Thanks in part to the influence of the work of Carol Dueck and Brene Brown on both my professional and personal mindsets over this past year, and because of the fact that I am motivated to complete this project for my husband. To date, I’ve restarted the scarf 8 times! I’ve put at least 5 hours just into making mistakes and learning from them as I start over, yet again (processing). I am finally at the point where I am making steady progress and can see the results of taking the time needed to learn from my mistakes and start over. This has taken a lot of commitment and perseverance, and positive self-talk as I assess my progress and plan next steps (transferring).
Knitting is a quiet activity, and so my mind has wandered and wondered with each stitch and row. I am 67 rows in, and although I have over 900 rows left, I know what the end looks like (backwards design!) and that keeps me motivated. I know I will make lots more mistakes. I might have to undo a row, or let a mistake slip, or even (gasp!) start over again. That’s okay, because I am giving myself the space to learn because I actually WANT to improve and finish what I started. It may take a while. That’s okay too. My husband husband knows he might not wear this scarf until next winter. (He’s okay with that – I warned him this will take time!)
So now I’m wondering:

  • How often do we stop to ensure that the experiences we plan for will allow learners (that includes ourselves!) the time they need to make mistakes and have the space for do-overs, if needed?
  • What supports/safe guards do we put in place in the planning process to ensure learners have the time to work through frustrations and come out the other side where they can look back and truly reflect on their growth and progress over time?
  • How often are we giving meaningful feedback that is relevant to teachable moments in the inquiry cycle?

In my role as a curriculum coordinator, the number one frustration I hear again and again is that there is just never enough time to get it all done.

  • How often do we pull back so that we can go deeper? (or are we running in the endless race against “never enough time”?

When I was a child, I never really understood what the teacher meant when he or she said “it’s about depth not breadth, and quality is more important than quality.” Now more than ever I do – it really is the less is more principle  being put into practice. Dueck asserts that real growth and progress takes effort. Brown asserts that growth takes vulnerability – having the courage to show up and be seen. Effort + vulnerability = growth, one mistake or do-over at a time. Now that’s good math!

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My knitting project…to date!
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3 thoughts on “Taking the Time to Learn From Mistakes

  1. Hi Tanya,
    My name is Melissa, my sister works with you at Branksome, and I first saw your writing on the sharing the PYP blog. I am new, so painfully new to the PYP coordinator job, in fact our school is young(8 years old) and we have only been certified IB since late 2011. So as I ease into the position and (and struggle with it all too) it’s amazing, comforting and inspiring to read your thoughts. I am really struck with your idea about planning time for errors and re-dos, and as a teacher I do fall into the trap of exclaiming(and complaining)- There isn’t enough time! How do we achieve depth over breadth, encourage inquiry and exploration while still covering all of our required content, grade deadlines etc. Well, here is to being on the path of discovery, may we find the answers together with out teams through continued conversations and our own trials and errors. cheers, melissa

    1. Hi Melissa – The coordinator role is a complex and wonderful thing! I’ve been doing it now for 10 years! Can’t believe that, now that I see it in black and white! Time flies! I’d be happy to chat further if you have questions or want to run thoughts or ideas by someone! I am glad you are enjoying the blog, and Taking Time to Learn from Mistakes. I am guilty of that trap too, which is why that knitting experience was such a revelation to me. I still press on with my knitting needles – believe it or not, I had to start the whole scarf over at nearly half way done! However, I am okay with that – when it’s finally done it will be my little masterpiece, quite literally and figuratively!

  2. Dear Tanya…what encouragement from a kindred spirit….my knitting project is on its third go round as far as starting over….I Googled “knitting encouragement” and found you….thank you from the bottom of my heart as I am loving to knit and frustrated by my seemingly simple mistakes….and yes, I will take the time to learn and maybe my sweater will be for next winter…..you encouraged me to persevere and be kind to myself on my path of becoming a good knitter. Blessings and love to you…Judy

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