Learners Make Mis-Takes

mistake I don’t know where this thinking first came from, but I will always be eternally grateful for the school principal who I first heard say this to me. She was cutting edge in many ways, especially in her beliefs about how we all learn.

She said “It’s not making a mistake, it’s a mis-take.”

Learners try to do something and when they don’t get it right it is one try closer to when they do. Every time there is a mis-take there is an opportunity. Learners get so upset thinking they got it wrong, that they can’t always see the opportunity. It’s our job as teachers/trainers to remind them that making mis-takes is how we know we are trying to learn new things.

How do we do that?

Power of the hyphen

My best success in helping learners remember this was through the power of the hyphen. It was amazing how inserting one small line in the middle of  a word made it take on such different meaning. It changes the way you say it, and it magically seemed to change the way people thought about the word too!

Make mis-takes a desirable thing

Mis-takes unfairly have a bad reputation. It’s great that more and more people are catching on to this and are starting to appreciate how good mis-takes can be. Thanks to the power of social media and search engines like Google (49,700,000 hits for mistake quotes) the word is getting out there. We are aided by the words of powerful and successful people reassuring us that mis-takes are a good thing! Find your favourites, print them, quote them and display them.

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”
Oscar Wilde

As trainers we need to join this positive mindset – we should encourage everyone to challenge themselves enough that they do make mis-takes. We need to make it an expectation of learning that mis-takes will be made. (In fact, historically this is how new methods and practices have been created!) The only bad mis-take is one we learn nothing from.

We need to lead by example and show that we are happy to see mis-takes happen. We should also be highlighting that even as experienced people we make mis-takes. I wonder how the attitudes of learners would be affected if they heard the following options during the debrief:

Trainer Option A Trainer Option B
I’m glad you did it that way, I was hoping someone would try it that way today. Now we can talk about why it’s harder in the long run if you do it in that order and what other options you have. You didn’t cut that in the correct order. That just made it harder and longer to complete the task. Remember that for next time.
Trainer Option A Trainer Option B
Why didn’t it work for me? See, even experienced people don’t get it right all the time! Well done for noticing and thanks for saying something. I was just checking to see if you would notice if I did it the wrong way, ha ha.

Analogy making

Pick any area that the learner can relate to – Professional sports, music, making movies… the theatre (my favourite analogy!) There are always practices and dress-rehearsals before opening night.  Learning something new and becoming competent in a skill is no different. It was just a rehearsal, and next time I will know how to do it better. When learners can stop blaming and worrying, they can move on, smarter because of their mis-takes.

A note about mis-takes in Emergency Services

I can hear some people calling out: “It’s different in emergencies. Mis-takes can cause damage and injuries or cost lives.” This is true.

This is why we should devote so much time to training and practicing outside of emergency situations. The more mis-takes that we can make during training, the better muscle memory, memory slides and understanding we have to apply during real situations. Also, the better we can test equipment and procedures which can also suffer from issues. The Swiss Cheese model of accident causation as well as numerous inquests shows that it is rarely just an individual that is responsible for a serious mis-take during operations.

If the worst thing happens and a mis-take is made, then although we won’t be celebrating it the same way as we would in training we can still ensure that everyone learns from it (without any nasty blaming and shaming) so hopefully it doesn’t happen again. Growing a culture where it is encouraged to take responsibility for and report mis-takes IS a big part of working in Emergency Services these days.

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