Not all Mistakes are the Same

Not all mistakes are the same. Some help us improve, some define our characters, and a few help us to see we need others to succeed. #myPDtoday


We all make them.

Sometimes, we seem to have an entire day where the one thing we excel at is making mistakes. You know, those days when Groundhog Day might not be so bad. When we wish we could just start over!! 

We have been told over and over that in order to grow and learn, we need to make mistakes. 

Go to the edge! 

Enter the zone of uncomfortable! 

Push ourselves to try something different. 

I don’t know about you, but that is hard. Harder than we often want to admit. In fact, sometimes it is harder than we can do. Yet does that make one a quitter? Less than in some way? 

And we definitely don’t like to share our mistakes. Despite the rhetoric of mistake-making, in reality, we really only want to share our mistakes after they have passed and we’ve learned from them and moved on. Once we have overcome, then we can use them as an example of how we’ve used them to do better, to be successful. Although the idea of sharing mistakes sounds like a great idea, most of us have experienced the exact opposite. Mistakes often cause us pain — sometimes deep, lasting, and traumatic pain. We don’t usually want to share that at the moment. 

I know that even with my family and friends, admitting a mistake is tough. It’s hard to do. At work, it can be even more difficult, especially when it affects a number of people. We all know people who, because of a mistake, have had to deal with significant consequences. Some have lost their jobs and had their careers damaged. There are enough examples of people who have been shamed on social media because of a mistake.  

Mistakes are not all the same.

Yet somehow schools are supposed to be different.

In schools and classrooms, there is a constant mantra of mistake making. Reflect on those mistakes and figure out what they need to do to move forward. We hear again and again that innovation comes from trying new things and being willing to make mistakes, learning from mistakes. That learning is filled with mistakes on the road to success. 

That’s what we’re told by the successful. 

But is it really that way? Do all students see mistakes in the same way? Do they experience mistakes in the same way? Do people who strive but don’t reach success see mistakes, and the sharing of those mistakes, in the same way? What are we told about those who don’t reach “success”? What are the stories we hear? Are they really stories of people who couldn’t learn from their mistakes? Are the mistakes really what help us to develop and learn?  

Support from others

To be successful, we need the support and help of others. Part of the journey to success is having support, especially when you make a mistake. But not all mistakes are the same and for many students, those mistakes often pile up over time, often because of things way beyond their control. Mistakes become barriers to success despite how much they try.  

Yes, we need to learn from our mistakes but not all mistakes are the same. Not all students will experience the same effects when a mistake happens. Until those in privilege, including myself, acknowledge this and systematically begin to address the underlying issues for a majority of students maybe it’s time we talked about mistakes in a different way. 

See mistakes, even when they lead to learning, can be painful. To ignore this is to ignore the trauma mistakes can cause. 

For many of our students, not all mistakes are the same. 


  1. C Klein


    I always tell my students it’s ok to make mistakes; mistakes are how we learn. I tell them I want them to take chances and learn from the mistakes and try to not repeat them. I don’t want them to become robotic monkeys. I think we teachers are afraid to make sometimes and become robotic monkeys because we think we might ruin a student for life. My students like when I tell them I’m trying something new; it shows them I’m taking a chance in hopes they’ll do the same. It doesn’t always work for all students, but I have to keep trying.

  2. Domenic Scuglia


    I appreciate your post. I believe strongly in the power of formative assessment because it is through learning from our mistakes that we improve our performance. Making mistakes is never about shame and blame rather each mistake is to seen as an opportunity for growth.

    • Reply

      I agree. We are working through a time of uncertainty where even our best plans may have to change as we learn something new. The more feedbak we can receive as we move through iterations, the better our product becomes, whatever that might be. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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