How can I build a class culture of resilience by getting students to value their mistakes?

“We learn from failure, not from success!” – Bram Stoker

In all my years of coaching, I have always noticed two distinct groups of hockey players: those who love to fall, and those who do not. The ones who loved to fall had a particular result that almost always seemed to follow…they got up did it again, and fell again, and again. Eventually, they stopped falling and learned what it took to make that turn or cross over without falling down. The other group of skaters never progressed, and if they did not as fast as those who slid all over the ice. Something held this group back, to me it was fear. The fear of falling, better yet the fear of failure. Because if you fell it meant you didn’t know how to skate, as a result, FAILURE. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

How did one learn to walk? fall, get up, fall, get up, and do it over and over until you were upright moving ahead. But fear, for most anyway, was never in the equation. So when did this feeling take over, the fear to be seen as a failure?

I still see this mental roadblock in classrooms today. I thought as many educators have, how can we take away the fear of failure from a student’s mindset? I recalled a great book I read called, “The Talent Code” by Dan Coyle. I first heard about Dan through this podcast. That was my lightbulb moment! He stated everything I always saw and felt, but he showed it with interviews and evidence, yes the proof I always wanted. I had to dig deeper! Young athletes need to work, and work and work to attain a new skill. Once that skill is attained, build on it by working again, fall get up, swing miss, jump fall, shoot miss, push their limits to challenge themselves in order to see where they are and what they need to do in order to move ahead.

In interviews with Dan, through PCA online (Positive Coaching Alliance) I was introduced to the woman who started it all: Carol Dweck. To say she is a hero of mine is an understatement. This woman has opened me up to a life I always wanted but could never express. Her first book ( MINDSET: The New Psychology of Success) is a must-read for any teacher, coach or parent. She tells you right on page one that she doesn’t care about the grammatical way she writes, She simply wants you to understand the fixed vs. growth mindset. There was no need to use jargon or clinical psychology terms, she shows you, through comparison and clinical studies, over and over again, those with a growth mindset see MISTAKES as a way to progress. Students learn to use these mistakes to challenge themselves, through processing them, engaging with them and rebounding to achieve.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Those with a fixed mindset see one’s beliefs as carved in stone, things are the way they are and are unchangeable. There’s an obstacle and I’m going to avoid it. I made a mistake and it’s because I’m not good enough, or I don’t have the innate talent others do. A person with this type of mindset usually stops and no longer continues to progress at that particular skill.

A Groth mindset, as explained by Dwek is, “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort.” “People differ greatly in aptitude, talents, interests or temperaments, but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” question:

This lead to my inquiry

How can I build a class culture of resilience by getting students to value their mistakes?

Through incorporating a growth mindset

How did it come about? It came after a generation of children grew up being praised for everything they did, once they encountered difficulty their happiness fades and difficult tasks caused them to become less effective at persisting in their problem-solving.

Dr. Carol Dweck began the research into when and why children began to lose motivation. As she says “you never see an unmotivated baby”

So when do they become Unmotivated to succeed? She found once they begin to evaluate themselves, they become afraid of challenges. They become afraid of not being smart and worry people will think they are dumb.

Growth Mindset sought to address this: by engaging students through teaching them about grit, resilience, brain science, descriptive feedback and vocabulary change.

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” – Helen Keller

This made me curious. How do I incorporate this into a classroom? Better still, I asked myself what behaviors in the classroom am I seeing that could be helped through incorporating Growth Mindset teaching?

The answer came to me almost immediately: Mistakes. I have been a youth sports coach for quite some time and the first thing I say to all my athletes is, “ learn to value your mistakes.” Of course, the initial reactions you get back are a bunch of puzzled looks. This is because for their entire short existence they have been told mistakes are bad. Either their guardian, teacher, coach or other adult figure have told them “oh that’s not good, it’s a mistake” and out comes the metaphorical RED Pen to draw a big X on their undesirable behavior.

In reality, mistakes are the signposts to self-improvement. What can we learn from our mistakes and how can we utilize that information to attain our goals.

What I do is redefine the word mistake. Currently, Mistake is synonymous with failure. To move student learning forward this connection needs to be broken.

Once they recognize a mistake the key is for them to take it seriously, but not personally. See what really happened then ask themselves how can I improve on it.

This brings me back to HOW DO I INCORPORATE THIS INTO THE CLASSROOM? There is no one thing to incorporate, rather it is a holistic philosophy woven into the entire class community.

It begins with you, the teacher. How can we expect our students to accept a shift in thinking if we don’t model that change for them? We need to use the vocabulary associated with a growth mindset: Brain Chart:

We need to define and incorporate these words into our student’s daily vernacular. A good way to do this is through a class brainstorming activity where we help them come up with these terms on their own so they take ownership of them. Yet, learning vs. failing, mistakes, time and effort, grit, persevere, risk, challenge, fear. Then use infuse tech to create a image like the one above to make it more authentic for them. For middle to early elementary years, there are many amazing picture books available to bring into the classroom. Here are just a few:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

Another great project to bring into the classroom involves having the students research what popular items were made by Mistake! Here are just a few items over the years that have come into existence by MISTAKE:


Yet is a major one, it shows them, they are on the right path but haven’t quite achieved their goal. Yet says we are going through a process and we will get there. This is a great video for kids in elementary school:

Sesame Street video:

Sesame Street meets Kahn Acadamey

Another great word to bring into the classroom is GRIT: it’s a mix of passion perseverance and self-discipline that keeps us moving despite obstacles. It isn’t born it is developed, like a muscle, and that development starts with awareness. A great video explaining the importance of Grit was presented by Angela Duckworth.

Another important pedagogical implementation is a unit of study on brain science. Children need to understand how their brains work. They need to know that by challenging their minds their brains can actually grow like a muscle.

Work your Brain like a muscle and it will grow! Brain Workout
by Eddie Coghlan

Just like a bicep, the brain needs physical reps to help it create stronger synaptic connections. A great way to incorporate this is through online tutorials the entire class can go through a site like Classdojo. Through cartoons, the message of it’s not rocket science to become successful at something, that working on challenges grows your brain, if you learn to love challenges, you’ll always be growing. This make the idea of Growth Mindset a little more relatable and authentic to kids.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

Growth Mindset Song with lyrics

Another way to change the mindset of your class is to start the morning advisory unit with small class tasks aimed at being in their zone of proximal development. This simply means the task can’t be too easy because students will get bored, or too hard because they will become frustrated and give up. The task like a group cup stacking trial puts the student into a place where they are being tested just enough to make them think hard enough where they need to devise a solution instead of it just being given to them, or being out of their reach.

Image care of:

As I do with a lot of my youth athletes I like to show them videos of their favorite players. But I don’t show them scoring goals or hitting home runs, I show them youtube practice videos, to prove to them it takes hard work and dedication to achieve peek performance.

As Malcolm Gladwell discusses,

it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to succeed and master a skill, be that a sport, and instrument, or in Bill Gates’ case coding a computer. An authentic example for middle school kids is skateboarding.

Having the ability to sit at a skate park and observe the behavior you want to emulate and using the board as a feedback tool over and over until a skill is mastered is exactly what growth mindset is all about. Being able to show students the struggles of one of the most successful businessmen in history opens a door to them that didn’t previously exist.

Teachers need to be one of these examples as well. We often talk about being vulnerable in front of our students, this is a great way to show them, Look I’m not an infallible authority figure. As I said to all the kids I helped during my Wednesday classroom visits, it takes a lot of work to reach your goal. I want to become a teacher, I need to work extra hard on my studies every day, week in and week out to achieve that goal. I will make mistakes along the way, but I will learn from them, correct my path, and move forward.

“When the student is ready, the master appears.” – Buddhist Proverb

As we learn we can incorporate the First People’s Principle that learning takes time. A growth mindset takes time. It’s rare to find a person who understands any concept immediately. Teachers need to show their students, it’s not a race to graduation. Learning is a process that never stops, and we need them to value that process.

Once you begin to incorporate this philosophy into the classroom you will still need to prove to yourself, the student, and their parents, that they are in fact learning. This is where the assessment comes in. Being in the classroom over my Wednesday visits, I noticed a positive theme emerges: small quizzes worth very little, coupled with a variety of student-produced work. As Anne Davies talks about in her amazing assessment books, by providing a variety of formal and informal assessment activities the teachers were able to diminish the feeling of anxiety often associated with standard written testing. The teacher’s selected tasks for students to work on that might not have one clear answer or only one possible approach and then provide the space and the skills to work through the challenge and reflect on their process and struggles as they go. The teacher’s ability to tweak their pedagogy helped form an environment that diminished test value and moved to a more transparent measurement of goals that were under the students’ control.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein

Now, this is not to say that students shouldn’t be evaluated on their work. I believe they should, but only at the end of the term and the end of the school year. This provides them enough time to produce an amount of work proving what they have studied and learned over the period. But instead of constantly having formal evaluations for final grades, daily if not hourly assessments need to be conducted to keep the student on track. This doesn’t have to become a burden for the teacher either. Students need to be able to assess themselves and their peers in order to ensure they are understanding what their mistakes are telling them about realizing their goals.

Self-assessment teaches students how to self-monitor their progress, as I said before, once the teacher and the student co-create the criteria for assessment, it becomes easier for the student to compare their work to those shared standards. They are learning to tap into their metacognitive skills, helping themselves recognize when a task makes them feel frustrated, and what they can do in order to attend to this frustration. They need to know when to get additional resources, there are different approaches to problem-solving, which leads to a stronger sense of autonomy.

Using peer-assessment is also a valuable tool in forming a growth mindset. By providing the students the language skills and criteria (again do this as a class activity to get them owning the words) to give positive descriptive feedback, take feedback, and ask questions. This creates opportunities for critical thinking and making them reflect more on the work. One way would be to provide the students with green and yellow sticky notes, green for great work, and yellow for caution, this may be an area you want to work on. A great video example is Austin’s Butterfly.

The Power Of Descriptive Feedback

The term scaffolding is used in the classroom on a daily basis. I heard it every day while in my Wednesday classroom visits, simply put it’s the framework we provide the student with clear steps to follow to reach a solution. But we need to be aware of protecting the student by taking away from their struggle. If we are not equipping students with the skills to tackle such problems by supporting them in struggling with challenging work in our classrooms now, then we are simply pushing the issue farther down the road when students will come up against bigger challenges in future classes, in college, or in their careers. Providing our students with the confidence and skills to approach challenging work without an overwhelming fear of failure and the mindset to see the failures they will have as opportunities to learn something is far more important and transferable than any set of facts we could teach them.

Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference -Robert Frost

This too can be difficult for teachers to keep themselves from immediately intervening and providing answers when they see students going down the “wrong” path or being unsure of what to do.

Photo by: Caleb Jones

That leads me into the common pitfalls, and misunderstandings around growth mindset and what to do about them. Growth mindset isn’t all about effort. Student’s need an arsenal of approaches to succeed when they get stuck, effort alone will not lead to improvement. They need to have been taught the learning skills to persevere.

Many teacher education programs, including this one, preach having a growth mindset, so it has become “the right way to think for any teacher.” Teachers have been put into a position of are you an enlightened person using a growth mindset in your classroom or do you still have a fixed mindset. But it’s not proclamation, it’s a journey that everyone is on.

That begs the question:

How can we help educators adopt a deeper, true growth mindset, one that will show in their classroom practices? The answer: Let’s legitimize the fixed mindset. Let’s acknowledge that (1) we’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, (2) we will probably always be, and (3) if we want to move closer to a growth mindset in our thoughts and practices, we need to stay in touch with our fixed-mindset thoughts and deeds.-Carol Dweck.


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