Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice. on CFU 2.0

I posted this morning about the power of building a Culture of Error in the classroom.  The idea is that if students try to hide their errors from you, you have to work twice as hard to find them, but if they WANT you to see them… if you tacitly agree that uncovering error and fixing it is your shared task, a good right and just thing, well, then you are on your way.

teacher candid 15 niceBut I also want to point out that this same principle also applies to the adults in the building.  I once worked as a consultant with a principal who wasn’t very good with data.  My job was to help her analyze and use her data to understand her kids’ needs and strengths and to help make her teachers better.  But it was very hard. Every time we met she pretended to understand what I suspected she didn’t. “Yeah, ok. I got it. What else?” I wanted to spend time one-on-one at her conference table answering all the questions she was afraid to ask in front of her bosses or her staff or just working through the things she knew a bit about but didn’t have locked down to mastery, but in the end I couldn’t get her there.  She pushed the conversation onto the things she was able to do with data… or she pushed the conversation off topic, or she expressed suspicion of the veracity of the data, or she didn’t follow through on tasks, or she said she already understood and had already had the meeting to explain that to her teachers, etc etc etc.  In the end her school foundered.

I took that lesson with me when I came to Uncommon Schools and started hiring principals to run high performing schools.  One of the things I knew I wanted was people who were humble enough and confident enough to let me see their weaknesses–who would expose their errors rather than hide them.  But I also had to learn to do more things to show my leaders that my conception of my job was that it was my first obligation to help them and to make them better. I had to model exposing my errors to them. In the end I think that understanding that it is a sign of talent not weakness to be comfortable exposing error is one of the core skills of a leader. Learning that remains one of my biggest managerial lessons.

So I just want to follow up on the discussion of building a “Culture of Error” in the classroom by observing that what applies for students also applies for teachers, principals and employees of any variety, not to mention players, teammates, spouses and maybe most of all kids.

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8 Responses to “2.0 on CFU 2.0”

  1. Kim Plaster
    June 27, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    I agree that as educators it is important for us to be able to admit when we are wrong, or when we are not the best at something. Good educators are constantly growing and becoming better versions of themselves, and admitting weaknesses is the first step to this.

    • Doug Lemov
      July 5, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      Thanks, Kim.

  2. June 29, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Establishing a culture of error among adults is a key ingredient of great schools because transparency about ones strengths and weaknesses, although sometimes difficult to admit, enables one to learn and grow personally and professionally. In this, one can practice and develop habits of asking for and giving feedback/advise that will benefit the entire school staff.

    • Doug Lemov
      July 5, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      Great point, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kimberly Maskrey
      September 11, 2018 at 7:21 pm

      What a great response. A Culture of Error is new to me, but I believe that it points for everyone to be transparent about their knowledge level, what that may be. It can most definitely help and grow us personally and professionally.

  3. Shawna Alexander
    July 11, 2017 at 1:41 am

    Culture of error within a school staff would allow for further growth and understanding among all instructors and admin. In order for culture of error to be effective there needs to be open lines of communication and clarity in expectations and as you said “people who are humble enough” — to share their mistakes, thoughts and knowledge.

  4. Matthew Kinney
    July 31, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Having a culture of error within the staff makes for a strong school. People who are willing to do this are showing that they are willing to grow as an individual and a teacher. This allows you to help each other and grow strong together.

  5. Amy A Bowar-Litten
    August 1, 2017 at 1:13 am

    I sign of a growing professional and creating a learning culture and community in the classroom, is a growing understanding that individuals make mistakes. An individual needs to be humble and admit mistakes. I agree with your comment, that “building a “Culture of Error” in the classroom by observing that what applies for students also applies for teachers, principals and employees of any variety…”

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