Teaching Growth Mindset: 5 Ways to Be a Mistake-Making Mentor

By Shannon Anderson, author of  Y Is for Yet: A Growth Mindset Alphabet

Teaching Growth Mindset: 5 Ways to Be a Mistake-Making MentorIt’s true that there is no tired like first-week-of-school tired. But, it’s also true that there is no excitement like first-week-of-school excitement! From setting up your freshly cleaned classroom to meeting your new students, the first week of school can be both exhausting and exhilarating.

If you’re like most teachers, you hold high expectations for your students and even higher expectations for yourself. You probably don’t want students to know that you are a little nervous and may mess up a lot as you get back into the swing of things. Or, wait . . . maybe that’s exactly what you need to do!

Your students might see you, their teacher, more often than they see their own family adults during the waking hours of the school week. Whether you are a first-year teacher or a veteran, your students are watching and learning from all that you do. This includes what you do during your lessons that deserve a gold star and the ones that make you cringe. Your students pay attention to the way you handle breakthroughs and the way you handle stressful situations.

The good news is that your students need to see those cringe-worthy moments and how you handle them. Throughout the school year, your students will have plenty of times when their best ideas don’t work or their project plans flop. They need to know that these mistakes are okay and that trials are part of the process of learning and growing. Here are a few ideas for how you can be a mistake-making mentor for your students:

1. Growth Mindset Flip Chart

Create a flip chart from a three-ring binder. Fill it with 26 pages. The first page says, “Plan A.” The second page flips to “Plan B,” and so on. Keep going until you get to the last page, “Plan Z.” Whenever you make a mistake in class, calmly walk over to the chart and flip it to the next page, saying something like, “Well, I guess that way didn’t work. Let’s try Plan B.” This lets students know that there is never an expectation to do something perfectly the first time they try it. There are always more chances.

2. Guest Experts

Have parents and community members come in once or twice a month as guest experts. They can tell about their jobs and what they like about them. But, the more important part is having them talk about the challenges they face and how they work through them. Letting kids see that their parents and other adults all struggle at times helps normalize the fact that something worth learning and doing isn’t always going to be perfect.

3. Goal-Setting

Teaching students to set goals is empowering. Have a goal board in your room to record goals for both inside and outside the classroom. Be sure to post some of your own school and personal goals too. Share your progress with your students as they share their progress with you. They will see that working toward goals has many ups and downs, but that adjustments can be made when needed.

4. Showcase Mistakes

Show kids videos about famous failures that now-successful people had to stumble through. And share books like Mistakes That Worked and The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle that showcase all kinds of amazing inventions that came to be because of mistakes. We need kids to not only see the successes people enjoy, but also their sometimes-rocky roads to success.

5. Way to Grow! Journals

At the end of each day, give students time to reflect on and write about one of their biggest successes that day as well as one of their biggest “failures.” (Often the failure leads to a success they eventually write about!) You should participate in this practice and share your successes and failures too. Allow volunteers to share what they wrote and how a success or a failure helped them grow in some way.

When you model making mistakes as an important part of learning, kids will see it that way too. When students recognize that learning happens through both successes and trials, they understand that learning is always happening.

Most importantly, as you start the school year, remember the value of mistakes for yourself. When that critical voice in your head tells you that you messed up, try to find the learning in the situation. You will feel a lot better about what happened, and you’ll have the opportunity to lead by example for your students. That’s a win-win.

Have a wonderful year and may you make many glorious mistakes!

Shannon AndersonShannon Anderson has taught for 25 years, from first grade through college level. Her career highlight was being named one of the Top 10 Teachers who inspired the Today Show. Shannon is also the author of many children’s books and a national speaker. She was named the JC Runyon Person of the Year for her work helping kids with social and emotional issues through her writing and speaking. To find out more, you can visit: shannoisteaching.com.

Free Spirit books by Shannon Anderson:

Mindset PowerY is for YetPenelope PerfectCoasting Casey

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