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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

My Bad: Why We Need to Talk About Our Shortcomings

By Peter DeWitt — June 23, 2016 4 min read
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Making a mistake is normal. Everyone does it, right? Parents, leaders and teachers. We see it all the time on television where mistakes are pointed out and they are dissected by the media. Sometimes I feel really happy I’m not popular because people aren’t watching for me to make a mistake at any moment. No paparazzi around the corner.

In schools we happen to be in the position to point out the mistakes of our students more than they are allowed to be put in the position of pointing out the ones we make. Sometimes it’s done as a learning lesson, and unfortunately, other times it’s meant to tear them down so they can be built back up in the manner we want.

Sometimes adults say they want authentic engagement when they really want compliant engagement.

It’s just that not everyone likes to talk about their mistakes with others. Sometimes we try to hide them. However, we know that mistakes are a part of life and something to learn from and move on from as quickly as possible. Let’s face it, when we’re in the middle of the mistake we aren’t saying, “Oh yea! A mistake. Can’t wait to see what I learn from this!

Mistakes come in all sizes. Sometimes they’re small and we get over them really quickly. Like thinking the rest of the orange juice will fit in the small glass only to find that we aren’t paying attention and it overflows and goes all over the counter. No? That never happened to you? Me neither.

Other times, as teachers, our mistakes turned into great teaching lessons because we misspelled a word that the students corrected or taught greater than and less than in math the opposite way. Oh, you haven’t done either of those? Me neither.

As leaders, our mistakes are often pointed out. Mostly because people are watching so closely. And if we’re the kind of leader who likes to hide our mistakes, then our mistakes are talked about much more...perhaps just not in front of us.

Truth be told, I have made a ton of mistakes that were both small, which I pretty much make everyday (I wasn’t good with dates), and large, which are the ones I had to learn big lessons from in order to move on. Although I am not always proud of going to the School of Hard Knocks, I am proud of the fact that I usually learn the first time and do not repeat the same mistake twice (except that date thing).

My Bad?
Why this focus on mistakes? Lately, I have been a bit inspired by a friend who started a new podcast with the BAM Radio Network, and the focus is on making mistakes, and learning from them. In these days of trying to brand ourselves as perfect and successful 100% of our lives on social media, the focus on mistakes and learning from them is a welcomed addition to our day, and probably one of my favorite topics to turn to.

The host is Maryland school leader Jon Harper. Harper and I have become close over the last 2 years. He actually flew up to upstate, NY where I live, for an Edcamp that I coordinated with my friends Lisa Meade, Tim Dawkins, Vicki Day, Patty Siano and Christina Luce.

Yes, I’ve only met Jon in person once.

However, we use the Voxer app to talk several times a week. Jon often asks a lot of questions, and his blog, which you can read here, eloquently focuses on the natural happenings in life, which usually involve his children Bailey and Derek or the students he learns from each day.

As an assistant principal Jon is often impacted by those students who are frequent flyers...which are the students who spend some quality time in the principal’s office. And yes, I understand that students need to be in the classroom and disruptive students can be a result of un-engaging teaching. However, as a former school principal I liked when the frequent flyers came to me because it offered them respite from the teacher and it offered respite for the teacher from the student, and when you spend so much time in the classroom together, that respite is sometimes needed.

That respite usually allows for good leaders an opportunity to try to figure out why the student keeps making the same mistake. It’s an opportunity to be empathetic and humanizing with the student. After all, we all make mistakes, and some of our mistakes are way bigger than the ones that get the students sent to the principal’s office.

The Show
On Voxer one day Jon contact me to say he was starting this podcast because he thought it was really important for all of us to learn from our mistakes, and he wanted to interview his friends and people he respects to see what they have learned along the way. He wanted to call it My Bad.

I remember being in high school playing basketball (not very well at all) with friends during our downtime from cross country and track (coaches weren’t happy). When someone would make a mistake trying to make a basket, dribble or bump into someone by accident they would yell, “My bad.” And then they would move on learning from the mistake so they wouldn’t make it again.

We all make mistakes. We all have had an experience where we’ve had to say, “My bad.” Jon Harper’s show is a way to learn from others as they negotiated their way through their mistakes. It helps humanize the process and not hide it. Give it a listen. Jon is definitely worth the time.

To hear Jon and Peter podcast Learning to Accept My Past and Present Shortcomings click here.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of the forthcoming Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (2016. Corwin Press). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Stevepb.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.