Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fearing Error

Why do we fear error?

We probably fear error because of the way error has been treated in our lives.

Perhaps we've lived or worked in environments where error was ridiculed or punished. Perhaps we were given the notion that we should never err, and that there is no goodness in error.

We have always known that humans aren't perfect and error is part of the human experience, but it seems like the momentum has finally arrived to help each other understand that error is the stepping stone to learning. Our mistakes make us stronger.

Now I'm guessing that this language will take on more specificity in the days, months, and years ahead since there is ERROR and there's error. ERROR is that "never go there list," the list of actions and behaviors that we learn from our earliest days to stay clear of, and the list that we work diligently to teach our own children and students about. The ERROR list I try to teach my own children include the following acts:
  • Don't steal.
  • Don't physically harm others.
  • Don't take life-ending drugs (like the types of opiates available today)
  • Stay clear of harmful, addictive behaviors.
  • Be wise with your own body and choices. Understand health and activity risks.
  • Don't play with matches, walk on thin ice, engage in outdoor adventure without proper preparation, or be alone after a party or in a potentially dangerous place.
  • If you feel uncomfortable or at-risk in a situation, get away and tell a trusting adult.
  • Stay clear of those that do any of the above. 
Yet, then there's the "error" list--error with no caps. This is the list of good intentions gone bad--erroneous acts that arrive from a lack of experience, understanding, education, mentoring, or changing expectations.  These are the errors you encounter that truly are mistakes. 

When young children err, I often say, "It's good you experienced this now in a safe place. I can help you with this, and then you will know what to do next time."  Schools are a great place for children to make mistakes because there are a lot of trusting adults who can help them use those mistakes as stepping stones to learning.  How we do that takes skill and the collaboration of one another? We need to share rationale and alternative actions and responses with students so they get stronger at working with the people around them and navigating their world.

So instead of fearing error, we need to accept that we will err, and that we can learn from it. If same errors reoccur, we may need to get extra coaching or support to unlearn those behaviors. Also, when helping those in our midst with error, we need to be kind, empathetic, and helpful as that will support their path, a path where error is not feared, but instead embraced as one way to learn.