Spotlight On: From Our Mistakes, We Learn

1 March 2024


This article first appeared in the Queenwood Connect Portal on Friday 1 March 2024.

Many years ago, I found myself in a situation where I needed to respond to a parent who wished to challenge the outcome of the Year 11 Student Leadership process. The parent felt that the behaviour of another Year 11 student, which occurred three or four years earlier, was not suitable and should have prohibited any future opportunities of leadership.  We of course had to agree to disagree.  As educators we do not hold onto our students’ mistakes, nor do we hold a little black book in which student misdemeanours are recorded.  Our students are meant to make mistakes. They are growing up.  

The work of Dr. Susanne Denham, Professor of Psychology, advocates the importance of viewing all children through a social and emotional lens of development. “This is a process through which children develop in their ability to integrate thinking, feeling and behaving, to succeed at important development tasks. The process includes, but is not necessarily limited to, recognising and managing emotions, caring about others, making good decisions, behaving ethically and responsibly, developing positive relationships and avoiding negative behaviours” (2018).   

Additionally, the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for young Australians supported this developmental lens, recognising that all children from K – 12 will share four important competencies, which, as they mature, they will develop in their capacity to embrace:  self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social management.   

For our students, this means we understand that as they get older, they will face more complex challenges and find themselves in more complex situations, and they will make mistakes, in fact, they need to make mistakes. It also means that as they get older, our expectations of their behaviour will continue to change.  We will expect more from them.  It also means that we will talk to them about accountability and the importance of consequences. Otherwise, how do they learn?   

When a student in Year 8 chooses not to follow the uniform code, there will be a consequence - a 30-minute detention - and that is okay.  There is no little black book, and tomorrow will be a new day.  Friendships amongst students will always be fraught with emotional upheaval, and as they get older, the complexities of managing these relationships will require greater communication and interpersonal skills. Sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t.  The landscape of friendship may need to change, yet this in itself is a new beginning.  When a Year 12 students fails to submit a writing task, their teacher will share their disappointment or concern, and that is okay.  The teacher simply wants the best for their student.  By this stage, we would expect that the student recognises their role in changing the narrative, to take responsibility, submit the work and of course the next lesson is a new beginning.  

As teachers, we do not define the students by their mistakes or bumps along the way. Instead, we talk to them about their capacity to create change and create new beginnings.  Our students learn every day; they learn about themselves, they learn about others, and they learn how to interact and deal with the nuances of every day.  It can be hard, it can be fraught with complexities, it can also be fun, and it can be incredibly rewarding.  

Our role is to ensure every child knows they are always allowed a new beginning.  By the way, the young woman who became a school leader was one of the most aspirational student leaders I had ever worked with.  In fact, her experiences allowed her to develop a greater awareness of herself and the needs of other young people.