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Falling Forward: How To Help Students Learn From Mistakes


How to teach children about falling forward

Image by amosii


Every single person living on this blue rock called Earth aspires to live a meaningful life. We’re all figuring out how to become our best selves, contribute value to the world, and leave behind a legacy that endures after we pass on. There is no guide or playbook that we can point to for reference as we develop our own personal character(s). Instead, we learn from our mistakes so that we can become better individuals in the future.


There’s a great quote that speaks to these concepts from the Christopher Nolan directed movie, Batman Begins. In the film, a young Bruce Wayne falls down a well on his estate grounds. He remains trapped underground until help arrives in the form of his father, who imparts an excellent life lesson to the future Batman.


Why do we fall down? So that we can learn how to pick ourselves back up again.

This simple lesson from a noble (fictional) father to his anxious son resonates for every single person on this planet. Mistakes are how we learn lessons and develop, so that we can achieve a better result the next time we’re faced with challenging circumstances.


Falling forward as a teaching lesson


All these abstract ideas are tied into the concept of falling forward. The idea of falling forward is to lean into your failings and recognize them as life lessons to further your own personal growth and development.


Academy Award winning actor Denzel Washington has an excellent take on the idea of falling forward and how to use your failings as opportunities to learn.


Fall forward. Sometimes, it’s the best way to figure out where you’re going. Never be discouraged, never hold back, give everything you got, and when you fall throughout life, remember this: fall forward.

Falling down when up against challenging problems is a part of learning how to progress through life. Remember that there is no rulebook stating how to proceed through life. Every person in this world is their own individual and, as such, every individual has his or her own personal experiences.


It’s through those experiences that we become the people we become. Some of those experiences lead to rampant success, while others will lead to short-term failings. Regardless of the outcome, the importance of these experiences is that we learn valuable lessons. Through those learnings, we can create more successes and avoid making the same mistakes again. When we fall, we fall forward and take solace in the fact that we’ve learned a valuable lesson.


Students must understand that it’s ok to fall forward


Now, let’s get to the point of all these uplifting ideas. It’s extremely important that students understand that falling down is ok; that failing on a project or a test is ok, so long as they fall forward and learn from the setback.


Children feel an enormous amount of pressure to succeed academically, which is understandable. Parents want the best for their children, and that starts by ensuring their children get a good education so that opportunistic doors open in the future.


However, these noble intentions can inadvertently make children feel anxious and under undue stress to perform exceptionally well in school. Subsequently, teachers evaluate student performances, but those evaluations can increase the pressure on young minds. When students fail to live up to those expectations, they may lose confidence in their own abilities. Rather than fall forward, they can fall into a pit of despair and struggle in future academic efforts.


Apply falling forward teachings to help students develop


To offset these unsettling student concerns, parents and teachers can impart the lessons of falling forward to calm anxious minds. Students can take comfort that the lesson is the most important outcome, and that evaluations are simply a reflection of those learned lessons.


Here are some helpful ways that both parents and teachers can introduce students to the concept of falling forward.


Create iterative lesson plans


Some of the basic educational concepts have binary results. Mathematics is an example of such a subject where there are right answers and there are wrong answers.


Instead of teaching that the final calculation is all that matters, teach children how to show their work to arrive at those calculated numbers. When parents and teachers understand how students arrive at those calculations, they can provide helpful coaching to help students learn more effective methods to reach the final answer. It’s an interactive learning process that transforms failings into learning opportunities.


Teach children to write down their thoughts


Journaling is a practice that therapists often recommend to patients. Keeping a private record of one’s own thoughts and feelings enables people to process complicated information, work through the emotional turmoil, and achieve a clearer understanding of themselves.


Parents and teachers should encourage students to follow this same practice. Teach children to write down their thoughts and feelings when they struggle with a project or receive a poor grade on a test. Help students understand that working through those disappointments will help them learn how to do better next time. This is a great way to help children uncover their own strengths and discover how to unlearn perceived weaknesses.


Encourage students to embrace mindfulness


Sometimes, the best way to fall forward has little to do with academic teachings. Instead, teach children how to apply the aspects of mindfulness to their academic setback so that they can learn how to process any future setbacks in healthier ways.


The 16 Habits of Mind teach children how to become intellectually curious and emotionally intelligent, which will help develop their full academic potential. Some of the most mindful ways to process situations include:

  • Remaining persistent

  • Managing impulsivity

  • Thinking through ideas

  • Communicating with clarity

  • Finding humour in difficulty

  • Taking responsibility

Each of these mindful lessons will help children develop both inside and outside the classroom. Learning how to remain mindful and become emotionally aware will also help calm those anxious feelings triggered by pressure to succeed academically. Students will learn to become more confident in their abilities and more capable of responding to disappointments.


Falling forward also means knowing when to ask for help


Finally, one of the best ways to fall forward is admitting when you need outside support. There’s no shame in asking for help, but many children (and adults) struggle to admit when they’re unable to proceed forward on their own.


If your child is on the precipice of falling and you want to make sure they fall forward, consider enrolling them in a proven educational support program. Not only will children receive the skills and coaching to become academically successful, but they’ll have a helping hand from mentors who strive to empower each child to achieve greatness.


We all fall down at times. It’s how we learn to get back up again that determines whether we fall forward towards success.


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