Ⓦhen the new school year arrives next month, and I open my door to a new wave of students joining my classroom family, I will begin creating a family culture driven by intention. I want my students to take ownership in creating this culture and express themselves freely, but there are a few caveats from which I cannot budge: we 𝕔𝕖𝕝𝕖𝕓𝕣𝕒𝕥𝕖 𝕖𝕒𝕔𝕙 𝕠𝕥𝕙𝕖𝕣, we 𝕔𝕙𝕠𝕠𝕤𝕖 𝕝𝕠𝕧𝕖 𝕚𝕟 𝕒𝕝𝕝 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕥 𝕨𝕖 𝕕𝕠, and we 𝕖𝕞𝕓𝕣𝕒𝕔𝕖 𝕞𝕚𝕤𝕥𝕒𝕜𝕖𝕤. I taught my kindergarten and first grade classes about the joy of mistakes, and drew them inside the fireworks display that takes place in their brains when mistakes happened. They understood that when we learn from a mistake, not just one but TWO connections are made and there is an explosion of synapses firing in our brains. They hunted for mistakes with the fervor of a young child on an Easter egg hunt. Throughout any given day, cheers could be heard of, “Yea! I made a mistake!” They owned this celebration with intensity because they knew it was safe to make a mistake.
My 9-year old daughter, Landry, has been “vacationing” at my sister’s house for the past few days. My sister is the picture of a laid back mom, and I admire her go-with-the-flow ease with which she embraces life. Just the other day, when the bottom fell out, and rain ruined their plans outside, she embraced the unexpected weather by inviting the kids to jump with her on the trampoline in the rain. Last night, at the end of my sister’s rope of energy, she hadn’t the pep to cook, and cereal was offered up as the menu. Landry was enjoying her cereal from a thin plastic bowl, when just a little tip of her hand knocked the bowl of cereal about the table and across my sister’s floor. As milk filled my sister’s floor, fear brimmed in my daughter’s eyes. Approaching Landry, and seeing the fear on her face, my sister comforted her the way she tackles everything – with a joke. “You better not be the only one throwing cereal on my floor,” she jokingly warned, and threw a handful of cereal all over her floor. She watched with comfort as a smile stretched across my daughter’s face. If that wasn’t enough, she picked up the milk, and splashed it about the mess that marked my daughter’s mistake, sending the message, “It’s okay to make a mistake…you’re safe here.”
When my sister shared what she had done, she shared the story with a bit of chagrin, thinking I would think she is a bit “Fruit-Loopy” herself. Far from that, I thought of how I wouldn’t have had a knee-jerk reaction of grace, and I responded with awe and encouragement. It left me wondering, “Am I splashing down the milk with the kids in my life? Am I picking up the cereal and laughing with them?” I have paved careful steps to set my students up, not for a smooth path with no stumbling blocks, but one where they know it’s okay if they fall. My sister’s actions challenged me though, to look even deeper at my parenting, my teaching, and the way I embrace my own mistakes. It’s just a little cereal.
As she shared of the spilt cereal and thrown milk, it took me back to the model of embracing mistakes I had in my life.
I am reminded of when I was a young child, trying to embrace independence, and I ventured into the kitchen to demonstrate this independence attempting to pour myself a glass of orange juice. To save a dime we kept the frozen, canned orange juice on hand. My mother had mixed up a fresh pitcher of it for my siblings and me. I delicately pulled the mixed juice out of the fridge and hoisted it up shakily as I began to flow fourth with my independence. No sooner had my pride of self-reliance found its way across my face than the shock of my grip’s failure demanded my smile cease. The glass shattered before my face and my smile fell with it. Fear came all over me as I realized what I had done. Knowing I had not asked for permission, and realizing as shards of glass surrounded me that I had broken my mama’s pitcher, I wanted to run. Alarmed by the sound of breaking glass, my mama came running. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” I cried, trying to interrupt any chiding that may be headed my way. I’ll never forget the gentle way my mother scooted me out of the way, smiled tenderly at me, and responded, “It’s okay, it’s just glass. I’m glad you’re okay, baby.” That moment marked me forever, and guides me as a mother and an educator. Mistakes are just like the broken glass – let’s guard the hearts of the people behind them, clean up the glass and move on.
As we make the shift into the next school year, I challenge you, and I challenge myself, to throw down the cereal with the kids and show them how okay it is to make mistakes. I am entering a new grade level, and I’m holding my head up with the shakiness I held that orange juice pitcher as a young child, but if I fall in this process, I can hear the reassurance of my mama’s voice, “it’s okay,” and it reminds me of how safe it is, even amidst broken glass, let’s embrace the mistakes together.