Learning from our mistakes

Broken might be better

Kinsugi is the Japanese tradition of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum. This craft tradition sees breakage and repair as being an essential element of the history of an object. The visible sign of damage followed by enhancement is something to be celebrated.

This idea has great relevance in learning. Whilst we all like to find the correct answer the first time, ideas that really stick with us are often the ones that we have had to think about longest and the hardest. Whilst it is demoralising to receive an essay or set of answers or solutions that has been worked on for hours covered in red, green, purple or pink ink (I’ve seen them all), this is the piece of work that will provide the greatest number of learning opportunities. Getting things wrong can be a reason for eventually getting things right. The old adage is so very right, we really do learn from our mistakes. This week I have been particularly impressed with the attitude of a member of my Year 9 history set. Last term was not a vintage one. This term I have a different student in front of me. A lively, and engaged individual who will achieve at a far higher level than before. I believe that over the holiday thought has been given to comments made by teachers in assessment grades and advice has been taken. As a consequence progress is made.

Kett building - January 2019 sunriseThe modern world with the ever prevailing pressure of perfect social media personas is about as far from kinsugi as can be imagined. The cult of perfection it peddles is one of the present’s most pernicious features. Our young people live in the eye of this perfect storm. Mistakes are not permitted. Flaws are to be seen as fatal. So pity those who have started this term with mock exams. There won’t be perfect scores at this point. No instabragging material. But mistakes made now will, if used constructively, be the best of learning tools. The same is true throughout the school. Mistakes, if used to improve, are an essential and powerful tool for learning. Challenges when overcome improve confidence levels, develop growth mind set and quite simply allow pupils to believe in themselves a little bit more. We are as Socrates said, the measure of all things. However, on occasion, it takes a little time and practice to gain that measure. Achieving a C grade or a B in mock exams or work done during the term suggests that there is growth and learning still to come. If you can do everything that is thrown at you at the start of the course then what is the role of education? Our mistakes and our shortcomings are not to be hidden away, rather they should be the material of reflection. They are so often the key to real understanding.

Over the coming term we will be encouraging all pupils to reflect on what has gone wrong. We will seek to support them in applying their own gold dusted lacquer on their learning, the bits that have not gone well and that could be made better. It will be a term of “if at first you don’t succeed then try, try again”. This is not the easiest path for parents or pupils. In the long run it might well be the most productive.

Nicholas Hammond