Glass Half Full: Giving children time, space to make mistakes
Ryan Summerlin March 5, 2014
I spent the preponderance of last week at the National Association of Independent Schools annual conference. This gathering is always an opportunity for me to reach well beyond the confines of the Tahoe Basin, to reconnect with educators from around the country with whom I have worked over the course of 45 years, and to explore key topics and questions relating to pedagogy, technology, and vision.
It’s a chance to reexamine, annually, the core values of our school(s) and our personal missions as those in whose hands lie the future of our children — your children.
This year’s theme was “Dare to Explore” — timely, as always, as we take on the extraordinary changes in technology and the world at large that confront us, like it or not.
I had the privilege of listening to some of the nation’s greatest thinkers, particularly some who might not be household names, but whose work impacts us all, at least peripherally.
Among others, we heard and saw presentations from Lyn Heward (Cirque du Soleil), Mae Jamison (the first female African American astronaut), Steve Pemberton (Divisional Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for Walgreens), Jay Shuster (Pixar Art Director and Creative Talent), John Quiñones (Broadcast Journalist and Host of “What Would You Do?”), and Eric Whitacre (Conductor and Creator of the Virtual Choir).
The paths each of them took to reach their (ongoing) destinations diverged in remarkable ways. There were two constants, however, that each of them expressed, two significant reasons they gave for their success.
The first were the people along the way who reached out to help, who recognized something special in each child, who accepted each little being for who she or he was.
The second were the opportunities each was given to fail without someone coming to the rescue. Every presenter spoke clearly to the essential value of being allowed to stumble, sometimes even to fall, then hearing from adults and colleagues that such experiences were important stepping stones to the next level of discovery.
None of us “dares” to explore if we have any sense that perfection is expected from those around us. Too often parents feel their role is to rescue their children.
Frankly, I’m not always sure why that is the case. My interpretation of the (mostly) unspoken is that parents want to be needed. They want their children to believe they are right behind them. Faith in parental support is, of course, critical for children.
What can be difficult for some parents is the recognition that giving their children time and space to make their own mistakes and solve their own problems is the best support.
Our oldest daughter once told me, “Mom, I have to learn things for myself.” She was right; in trying to do what I sometimes call “overhelp,” I was denying her invaluable opportunities to explore, grow, and learn.
Thomas Edison put it this way: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That’s a reminder for all of us.
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at www.laketahoeschool.org.