Chris Thomson, Education Consultant and former sixth form college principal.

When I was ten years old my teacher Mrs Castle made me write the word ‘beautiful’ two hundred times because I had spelt it - once only - as ‘beautifull’.

Why did she think that was a good idea?

Perhaps it was simply an impulse to educate. How best to enable Christopher to spell the word correctly? But two hundred times? Believe me, if you get to 17 without your mind wandering you’re doing well.

Four or five times is plenty. But better still, teach the general case. Why didn’t she ask me to copy down carefully five other words ending with the same suffix? That would at least have ensured I’d have to think.

So if she wasn’t really teaching, what was she doing? Punishing, I suspect.

That’s certainly how it felt. My mistake was a stupid one in Mrs Castle’s eyes so she’d make me feel as stupid as she could as a punishment.

Fortunately, not everyone sees the world Mrs Castle’s way.

For example, we can feel sure the following conversation never happened even though the laws of motion Sir Isaac Newton wrote down were not entirely correct:

‘Oi! Isaac, your equation’s wrong.’

‘What?!’

‘You heard. It should be: Gνµ = aTνµ. Now write that out two hundred times. Correctly. And stop calling gravity a force. It’s not helpful.’

We don’t punish scientists because their theories are only partially correct. Where they don’t fit, the bits that must be mistaken are welcomed as the buds from which better understanding will eventually blossom. Immediately prior to its discovery one physicist even suggested it would be more interesting if the Higgs boson didn’t show up because it would mean we knew less than we thought and there must be a more fundamental theory to come.

Emotion or intelligence as a driving force?

So there’s a pretty clear choice where mistakes are concerned. You can punish them or you can welcome them. Which approach prevails in organisations? The answer depends on whether it’s emotion or intelligence that’s driving things.

In high-stress, high-risk environments it’s more likely that people will be punished for their mistakes. Anxiety elbows dispassionate thinking out the way and managers tend to react rather than respond. Although it may be natural to be angered by people’s errors, it’s not an intelligent response because in the end it’s not in a manager’s own best interests.

First, the best results are likely to come from people who are motivated and focused. Anxiety is infectious and the more someone is worrying about getting things wrong the less mindfulness they can bring to getting things right. If people know their manager’s response to mistakes will be calm, inquisitive and just, they’ll do a better job and if something does go wrong they won’t need their line-manager to blame them; they’ll blame themselves.

The supremely unintelligent thing about punishing errors is that it totally misses the point. It focuses on the person and not the mistake.

Just as in science, mistakes in organisations reveal important things. At their most superficial they may indicate that training is needed to improve performance. Why assume a mistake is a sign of deliberate sabotage? It’s far more probable that someone just needed better clarity, better understanding or better know-how to get things right. And whose is the responsibility for that?

Mistake or early warning signal?

Deeper than this, mistakes may provide clues to something much more fundamental than personal competence. It’s possible that someone is doing everything correctly but it’s the process or guiding strategy that’s wrong. This is gold-dust to an intelligent manager. What looks at first like a mistake is actually an early warning signal which, if attended to, may prevent consistent under-performance or even disaster down the line. It’s a cue for a management re-think.

But suppose mistakes are arising not from one individual’s work but generally across the piece. What then? Is taking a hard line going to help? An emotionally intelligent approach would be to find out why people don’t much care if mistakes happen. Once again, mistakes mean more work for managers and, in these circumstances, of the most fundamental kind.

It’s an enquiry into organisational culture, into what it is that’s driving people routinely to think and behave in ways that are damaging the organisation. Investigations of this kind lead to transformational results, transformation which almost always has to start at the top.

As in the world of theoretical physics, in organisations, acute managers will constantly be on the look-out for what’s not working, for where mistakes are happening and welcome them as pointers towards further development. And beneath this outlook is a deeper wisdom yet: understanding that regardless of who makes a mistake, responsibility for things going wrong is always, always, the manager’s.

That’s one universal law Mrs Castle might have done well to ponder. She and I might both have benefitted. Or should that be benefited?

Chris Thomson, Education Consultant and former sixth form college principal.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page