Are Teacher’s Safe in Admitting Mistakes?

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Sometimes on the way home, I tune my Iphone to the TED Radio Hour podcast.  I love the way Guy Raz re-captivates his audience by highlighting numerous, already captivating TED talks.  Today, I was listening to Making Mistakes and the first segment was an interview with Dr. Brian Goldman.  His words here are striking:

The redefined physician is human, knows she’s human, accepts it, isn’t proud of making mistakes, but strives to learn one thing from what happened that she can teach to somebody else. She shares her experience with others. She’s supportive when other people talk about their mistakes. And she points out other people’s mistakes, not in a gotcha way, but in a loving, supportive way so that everybody can benefit. And she works in a culture of medicine that acknowledges that human beings run the system,and when human beings run the system, they will make mistakes from time to time. So the system is evolving to create backups that make it easier to detect those mistakes that humans inevitably make and also fosters in a loving, supportive way places where everybody who is observing in the health care system can actually point out things that could be potential mistakes and is rewarded for doing so, and especially people like me, when we do make mistakes, we’re rewarded for coming clean.

If we replace doctors with teachers and medicine with student learning, would we proclaim that our profession fosters still safe space for teachers to talk about their mistakes?  Do we have the opportunity to be vulnerable in our classroom approach in order to improve our practice and learn from others who have made similar mistakes in the past?  In an age of education the covers of news magazines equate bad teachers to rotten apples, are we really able to grow directly from what is not working in our classrooms?  Or are we lead to believe that mistakes lead to labels like “ineffective teacher”?

We preach constantly about creating safe mistake-making environments for our students.  This strategy needs to be applied to teaching as well. We, too, need this loving, supportive environment that all may benefit from.   How do we, as teachers, create this space for ourselves so that ultimately, we can learn from those mistakes and make our profession stronger?


  1. Do teachers make mistakes? Yes. Do the mistakes diminish what the teacher is attempting to do? Perhaps. In the best classrooms learning is encouraged, and with learning come mistakes but mistakes lead to learning just as much as doing things correctly does. But are there incompetent,ineffective teachers? Absolutely! I have taught with some of them. And they are incompetent and ineffective because they are incapable of learning from their mistakes.

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