You make mistakes…

If you give a student a piece of paper, they’re going to need a pair of scissors…

The first few days of school are essential for building culture. What better way to do that then to set every student up for failure? I know, sounds harsh. But, hear me out…

To show students that it’s okay to fail, I give them a seemingly impossible task to complete. Sitting in front of the room is a piece of paper that has been strategically cut to create an [almost] optical illusion.

After a seemingly endless 20 minutes of trying, I give the students a hint and let them know that the “tent” only requires three cuts. For the remainder of the class period, students go through piece of paper after piece of paper. (We’re in the business of recycling at my school, so I feel a little less guilty about the amount of paper we blow through on this day….)

Does the hint help them? Not at all. Does it add to the frustration? Absolutely.

Then, after what feels like the longest class period of their lives, I say the words they need to hear:

You make mistakes. Mistakes don’t make you.

We discuss how this activity is hard: as is high school. We talk about how this activity [seems] impossible: so do some of the assignments in this class. We explain how just because we struggled to recreate this “paper tent”, it doesn’t mean that we will fail every assignment in this class.

Every day is a fresh start.

Then, I require the students to dive a little deeper and take accountability for their inability to recreate the tent and ask them why. The same answer comes out of every student’s mouth: “You didn’t show us how to do it.” To which I respond, “You didn’t ask.”

This little paper tent has now taught students that it’s okay to make mistakes and that sometimes, all they need to do is ask for help. I teach freshmen and those first few days of high school are intimidating. Do you know how many freshmen raise their hands to ask for help? None to zero. Do you know what I prove when I remind them that they just need to ask? I show them that just because they may be the only one to ask the question, every single person in the room needed to hear the answer.

In my room, we make mistakes, we ask for help, and we lift each other up.


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