Mistakes are a Natural and Vital Part of Learning

“Theoretically everyone should be happy to lose an argument because that way you end up with more than you had at the beginning.”    

-Edward de Bono


Learning by it’s very meaning requires us to expand into areas beyond our comfort zone. Making mistakes is a big fear outside that zone. In the old paradigm we push students out of their comfort zone and then put in place punishments for making mistakes. I am proposing we encourage students out of their comfort zone with love, fun and support. As soon as something is learned it becomes a part of our comfort zone and so we need to feel supported in our efforts to keep stepping beyond that comfort. When a child learns to walk we encourage it knowing it will falter and stumble and take time to develop the skill. Even beyond childhood we still falter and stumble at times.

Without the freedom to make mistakes, there is NO FREEDOM!

An interesting side effect of discouraging mistakes is that it actually has the opposite effect. In a space where mistakes are inevitable but discouraged there is a resistance to participate on the one hand and a resistance to succeeding on the other. Any teacher who isn’t aware of the taunts that so often accompany a successful person in the company of unsuccessful people is naive. I mention in another chapter that I discourage hierarchy in the learning environment. I actually encourage mistakes and use them in a productive way to further the learning. A mistake is an opportunity to find a new solution that is more likely to work and create an outcome that is preferred. We are equal in that we are all open to making mistakes. At the beginning of a new learning experience I get the students to play around with the concept and discover the things that work and the things that don’t work. We then look at ways to eliminate the things that don’t work. This way we incorporate many of the other aspects of the new paradigm. A great strategy for this process is De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and others similar strategies. I strongly encourage incorporating these processes into learning in schools and homes.   Everyone can participate.

Students who learn quickest are then delegated as teachers and supporters to students who are still seeking their solutions. The class can bond together with this process using analogies like, if this class is a chain, then the chain is only as strong as the weakest link.   It is to everyone’s advantage to help those who are having difficulty with the present learning. When we all can understand, we are a stronger group (or a stronger chain). The atmosphere in a class that is working supportively in the  learning process is more friendly than one that is looking to be ‘better than’ each other, or looking to make fun of others’ mistakes so as to gain advantage.

When mistakes are being discouraged it actually turns the focus towards the mistakes, but in a negative way. When mistakes are encouraged they blend into the process and provide the fun and stimulus for success and expansive, new learning. If we are to discourage mistakes we would set up impossible scenarios of perfection, potential humiliation, shame, inadequacy, embarrassment, anger, jealousy, resistance and fear. Again, these are not the desired experiences for sacred beings and definitely not fun environments for learning anything.

These are the very things to eradicate from all learning environments because they are counter productive to the very process I profess to be undertaking. Encumbered by traditional thinking, we adapt to these scenarios of fear and call them ‘normal’ and accept them. The result is that these behaviors blend into our comfort zone so that to be anything else or experience anything else becomes more frightening. Eventually students become more afraid of success than mistakes, so they make more mistakes than they need to for their learning. In turn, these students don’t use mistakes for the purpose of learning, but as a means of staying in their comfort zone. There are a lot of fears in classrooms.

New ideas cannot be explored without taking risks or making mistakes. The experience for the teacher or adult is the same. I am known for making lots of mistakes. I accept, own and acknowledge them to the students. I too am in my own learning experience every day.  I work to avoid setting myself up as the authority or the boss. I openly acknowledge my mistakes, especially as the students are quick to point them out to me. It is important to me to get off the pedestal that teachers are on, by wearing the tag ‘teacher’. I lose things, I forget things, and I miss things out and I don’t know all the answers. I accept these imperfect aspects of myself and I accept them equally in my students. They are always given another chance if an honest mistake is made.

Accepting mistakes as a natural part of the learning experience encourages self responsibility, humility, tolerance, compassion, honesty and trust. Students rarely lie when the fear of reprisal is absent. Those who continue to do so are still scared and hostile from years of humiliation from previous experiences, and only time, love and example will heal that attitude. I would rather have a few lies once in a while than condemn everyone to a system of fear. To deny in any form that mistakes are not natural and healthy is to lie to our young. To punish them for making them is hypocrisy and a denial of their potential and sacredness. ( * A reminder that my use of being ‘Sacred’ is  ….   Regarded with reverence; properly immune from violence, interference etc. .. which is intrinsic to this proposed paradigm).

There always seems to be those who ask, What if? What if we spoil children by being too soft on them? etc. Well, the what if’s disappear in the implementation of the whole paradigm. Mistakes are just mistakes. Disruptive behavior can be seen as a mistake in behavior and treated as a learning experience. It can be questioned. Does it work or does it not work? It is not ignored or condoned. It is an opportunity for a student to take responsibility for the impact of their behaviour, treated as a mistake and learn how to change and learn new behaviour that supports the function of the whole group. This requires awareness and loving attention from both teacher and students alike.All can participate in finding a solution. It requires vulnerability, to create an environment where it is safe to deal with the mistake in a way that embraces trust.

Ultimately fearing mistakes is more damaging. It impacts our self esteem, our self confidence, our ability to try new things, to move forward and to trust ourselves. Being willing to accept mistakes in ourselves and others builds self esteem, tolerance and a willingness to embrace new experiences. This can be learned. I, as teacher, need to learn to accept my mistakes. Maybe if as children we had been taught to understand the value of mistakes, we wouldn’t be so afraid of making them, especially in our classes. Being unafraid to make mistakes and accept them as natural allows us to accept responsibility for our behavior and our actions and products.

We are evolving humans. Education is more about people than books, machines, achievement or technology, therefore we need to learn to live with our evolving humanness. As we become tolerant of ourselves we encourage tolerance of others.

“Mistakes, anomalies, things that go wrong have often triggered new ideas and new insights. This is because such events take us outside the boundaries of “reasonableness” within which we are normally forced to work. These boundaries are the accepted summary of past experience and they are very jealously guarded, particularly by people who are themselves rather unlikely to have new ideas.”       -Edward de Bono p48



Solutions are Possibilities and Preferences

What is true in this moment may not be true in the next moment. So, what is truth?


“The creative challenge simply refuses to accept that the current way is necessarily the best way. The creative challenge assumes that the current way is just one way which happens to be there for a variety of reasons.    -Edward de Bono.

Dear Readers,

As I start this particular chapter, I am wondering if you are still here with me. Many times I have tried to share this approach with others and come up with all sorts of reactions. I will share them with you and perhaps it will help you make the choice to continue.

A teacher who was asked to take on a program I had developed, came to see what it entailed. She was a teacher of mathematics, highly regarded within the school. Following the explanation of the program she remarked that it was fantastic and it would be great if all subjects could be this way, but she declined to take the program on because it was too frightening for her. I respected her honesty and thanked her for her feedback on the program. Other responses come in the form of arguments that it won’t work, accompanied by excuses and scenarios too numerous and limiting to write here. No excuse I have heard stands up to my experiences and is usually an argument from and for the old paradigm. Having tried the whole of the new paradigm in some form and in a wide variety of situations, there are really no barriers as far as the children are concerned. The barriers are with the adults. This is not a judgement, but an observation which challenges our desire to change and step into this realm of the expanded sacred. How would we approach our young if we truly wanted them to know they are powerful, intelligent, magnificent, sacred beings? Can we allow ourselves to accept that within us?

If the teacher is not excited and even a bit nervous, then they are not opening to new expansive learning and teaching. This is not a fail safe formula. It is an alternative approach. Until the ideas and beliefs are embraced and the possibility accepted we remain unsupportive of the idea that there is another, better way. Very few supported Christopher Columbus when he wanted to sail around the world to prove it was round. There is always fear of the unknown and excitement at the same time when a new paradigm is proffered.

When students start accepting responsibility for their learning, which by default includes their behavior, they also tend to demonstrate a maturity that is sadly lacking in many so called adult scenarios. When learning negotiation skills, I make a conscious decision not to show how politicians debate in parliament. I am too embarrassed of their methodology. If the leaders of our country are not demonstrating desired behavior we need to look elsewhere. There are few role models to use to demonstrate the new paradigm. It is an ideal. As such it is unattainable in a completed form. It is something to strive for. Accepting this has been important, it leaves plenty of room for change and more new ideas.

I am sometimes told that I am courageous doing my work the way I do. Maybe I am. I tend to jump in because I want to know if it will work. Tackling something new does take courage. As I have embraced the changes, despite the bumpy ride , the stumbling and the not knowing, I have trusted my desire to find a better way to spur me on. If you too are thinking it takes courage, then I say be courageous, the rewards are well worth it. There has to be a better way. Even as I write this book I know that I will still be changing and looking for ways to improve. I haven’t found “the ” answer, just a possible solution. And that is what this chapter is all about. Everything in the world is changing. Education can’t stand still or even crawl at snails pace when it is dealing with the adults of our future.

Today we are faced with a multitude of local and world problems that need solutions. Problems that have emerged out of our focused striving for knowledge. Being right or wrong hasn’t solved the problems in our world. Accepting a variety of possibilities gives us more of a chance to find solutions. Believing in good and bad is a parallel belief to that of right and wrong. If you can see this connection you may more clearly see the impact. By default, to be right is to be good and to be wrong is to be bad. One cannot exist independently of the other in the school learning context. It is not the base upon which I play with these ideas. It’s like playing on a mine field. More fearful than fun.

We live in a world of paradox, yet this is ignored in much of the school system. It is too convenient to have a set or right answer. Seeing this on a world scale, we have laws that forbid us to kill, yet we have wars and as governments support one side or the other, accepting killing is a natural and unavoidable aspect. In some countries’ heroes are killers and in other killers are the criminals. Which is right and which is wrong? And who decides? Another paradox closer to the situation is the punishment imposed on students who litter and deface property, whilst we condone pollution in the community in the name of industry and progress. I have watched the growth of Street Art as it wound it’s way between the boundaries of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. To label anything as right or wrong is to close our minds to finding new solutions to existing and future problems. Life is not black or white. There are many gradients of grey in between. And guess what? There is also an even bigger range of colours to consider.

When a student does a maths problem and gets an unacceptable answer, it is more helpful to suggest that the solution is unworkable, rather than tell them that they are wrong. Is this just playing a game of semantics? I don’t believe it is. Being wrong has a different impact on our desire to learn than having a solution that won’t work. In one situation, we’re saying there is a correct answer already. So what’s the point of spending time going back and finding it? In the other situation, it feels different to go and find out why my solution won’t work.

I am reminded of the story of Thomas Edison when he was inventing the light bulb. It is recorded that he made many hundreds of light bulbs that didn’t work before he found the one that did. When he was chided for making so many wrong light bulbs, he responded that he had merely found light bulbs that didn’t work. To me there is profound wisdom in being able to see the difference. His choice to respond that way kept the motivation alive to find one that did work. Today we have new improved light bulbs. better than the ones he invented. So, was he right or wrong? It achieves nothing to answer such a question.

I am suggesting here that  the desire to find a range of possible solutions rather than the right answer and to foster this way of thinking in students is encouraged. It has a far greater creative component and encourages group processes for problem solving as the competitive element is diminished.

If I role model the thinking that every problem has a right or correct answer, I am also giving the message not to think creatively. It can foster thinking that the government has to solve things or that science has all the answers and this is not backed up in the world as we perceive it today. The past is not the appropriate direction to look for solutions to problems in the future. Far too often the past is where the problem was created. Deciding on one solution, calling it right and leaving it there without question or review is now outdated as a way to solve personal and global issues.

I have observed in areas of greater public profile the search for better solutions is intense. An example of this is the design of equipment used in the Olympic Games. In the cycling arena new materials used to construct the frames of the bikes, varieties of wheel designs, helmet designs and fabric and outfit designs for the riders keep changing, showing us that there are no specific solutions, only possibilities and those possibilities can be replaced with new possibilities in the future. I feel confident that this is endless and learning in education needs to embrace this in it’s approach. The speed at which computer technology is advancing is another example. This constant searching for new solutions needs to be a built in component of the learning process for the adults of this twenty first century. Wouldn’t it be great if children were constantly encouraged in all their areas of learning to think and solve problems and see their solutions as meaningful possibilities. I believe they would develop healthy attitudes towards change and problem solving which would be an asset to them as adults of the future.

In the context of the learning environment this challenges the autocracy of the teacher and plays on a level playing field.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”












Learning is for wisdom.


According to Don Richard Riso (p.10)•

Knowledge alone is not enough to change us. If it were, the most knowledgeable people would be the best people, and we know from our own experience that this is not so. Knowledge would be virtue, and it is not. Knowing more about ourselves is but a means toward the goal of being happy and leading a good life, but the possession of knowledge alone cannot bestow virtue, happiness or fulfilment on us.”

• Personality Types …. Don Richard Riso … Houghton Mifflin Company … Boston.

***In our education system, knowledge has been a convenient way of assessing. So much of the old paradigm is maintained because it is convenient, easily organised and known, however it also fosters boredom repetition and stagnation. I am amazed at the amount of outdated knowledge fed to children knowingly, whilst at the same time the student’s answers are marked wrong because they don’t match the answers in the outdated book. This approach has as it’s conclusion a mind set that is demonstrated by the following statements so often heard in high schools. “I need this subject to get the job. .. I only need pass to get into my chosen course. .. I have to do this assignment so that I can pass. .. The teacher said we have to do this activity”. In all honesty these comments demonstrate that in many situations we aren’t getting any appropriate knowledge or learning happening in our schools. Going through the motions of learning is more often the means to an end. The learning has little other value. I suggest that tasks be worded and presented and assessed to accentuate the learning that is within the task. A more aware human being, a wiser human being needs to emerge through the completion of a set task.

Wisdom has its own set of components.

*The first involves looking at what is, and then seeing how it fits into the bigger picture of things. Why is it the way it is? Will it always be this way? Has it always been this way? How does it affect other variables? What is the long term impact?

*The second is recognizing the logic and reason and yet exploring what lies beyond it. Using a lateral thinking process to step into new possibilities. Taking risks and making mistakes to explore new ideas.   [De Bono]

*The third is stepping outside the rational without losing sight of it. Being a visionary. ( Yes! Children can be visionaries. It is not the sole domain of adults.)

*The fourth is putting more emphasis on the future impact rather than the present or the past. Stepping out of the short term thinking process of ‘this will get me to the next point’ or “this will get me what I want NOW!”

                *The fifth component looks at ‘what can I learn’ rather than ‘what do I have to know’ By gaining knowledge about anything, we are gaining tools. If we are not taught how to use the tool or even what the tool is for, then the tool has no value. If we are stopped from experimenting with the tool, we will never discover new uses for the tool that could be even more valuable than the known and accepted uses. This demands a space be created in which play is integrated into the learning process.

                *The sixth component begs the student to ask the question ‘Where can this lead me? Rather than what can this get me?

                *The seventh component involves looking for value and meaning. Why is this learning valuable? What does this knowledge or skill mean to me or others?

In promoting wisdom I suggest it is no longer appropriate to teach something just because it is in the curriculum, or because the teacher says so. To show such lack of respect to our junior human beings, denies them the right to question what they are learning or why they are learning. It demands passive acquiescence whilst at the same time frustrating adults when children won’t think for themselves or take responsibility or show enthusiasm.

Let us check out the actions that actually create this conflicting situation. It is not a normal nor natural state of a healthy human being to be a passive receptor. Every famous person included in our curriculums questioned the status quo and explored the unknown in some way. What is the purpose of teaching about them if we don’t use them as role models? In a year 1 class students want to ask questions, participate and give everything a try. By the time students are thirteen, teachers are tearing their hair out trying to get a decent and relevant question asked in class. I am saying that the most important questions are being asked, but being treated with contempt. The question ‘Why do we have to learn this?’ is a very familiar question and one which rarely gets a satisfactory answer. Why do we need bribery and coercion to get volunteers to participate in the classroom? What has gone amiss? Part of the problem has been focusing on the teaching of things rather than what those things are for or how they have value.

Wisdom involves work. It needs to be exercised with conviction and without subterfuge or exception. And it begins with the little things, like why wear school uniforms, why line up outside the classroom, why write with a blue pen instead of a green pen. Too much unjustifiable control on any level cannot result in a learning environment that supports the getting of wisdom. Wisdom requires asking open ended questions that don’t have correct answers. It is not something that can be done with the teacher sitting behind the desk and the students in passive, silent work.

Within the classroom there are often times when no apparent learning is seen to be taking place. The atmosphere is playful and unstructured. Space is created for the getting of wisdom to occur. Any questions can be asked, any topic can be discussed and there is no time limit on the topic. We stop when we run out of questions. This scenario is not delegated to a time when we have nothing else to do. Any time can be deemed appropriate. The learning process is exponential. Students are encouraged to see that all learning can lead us in a multitude of directions and this helps the students integrate their learning into the uniqueness of their own lives.

In my experience, this unstructured time is at first very uncomfortable for students and for me. Through the old paradigm process, students have developed such a distrust of authority that they are wary of me and don’t take it seriously. They are looking for the trap or the trick. After establishing trust, these sessions become my favourite and the students participate without fear of reprisal. Wonderful discussions with enthusiastic participation occur with little need of prompting by the teacher. This is where the wisdom emerges. It re-awakens the inquisitive child that wants to ask WHY and acknowledges that it is a healthy and vital part of learning. It provides a space for the sacred within each of us to be uncovered and celebrated.

The old adage of keeping students busy doesn’t allow for this wisdom to flow in. Most teachers have activities filed away that they openly call ‘busy work.’ These are activities to give to individuals or whole classes to keep them busy when they have finished set work or have ‘nothing to do’. Underneath this practice is a distrust of humanities’ ability to think for themselves or find something to do. We have lost the space for daydreaming. Playtime is even structured for outside in the playground and only during designated times. We are teaching an addictive attitude to work as a state of always doing. Thinking can only occur when the teacher demands it. Space for thinking and questioning is the bridge from knowledge based learning to wisdom-based learning.

Thinking requires leisure time.

If you are not in possession of leisure time,

you can’t be thinking all that much. ”   Aristotle.

Success is individual .. win – win.

When we set our own goals then we are truly the only one who can know if we are successful.

When I am teaching or working with people, I use the following learned definition for success. “Success is, being happy,……being creative,……being powerful (having the ability to act),…….and being aware.” -(Lazaris).
By dropping the notion that success is about winning in competition with peers, certainly changes the realms of possibility for success for each individual, and stops me from making personal judgements about a person’s right to choose their own form of success. It may look totally different to what my past experiences has led me to see.
As I add each new shift into the paradigm , both my growth and that of the students, expands exponentially rather than linearly. It keeps me alert and open.
Something I love about Music, Art, Sport, Cooking, and Woodwork is that there is room for the creative element, for personal taste and preference that defies logic and chronology. What is fun for me is not necessarily fun for others. Unlike areas like mathematics where ‘getting it right ‘ is unfortunately often considered being successful, these other areas allow to a greater degree the right to individual success, the opportunity to have a different answer, and the opportunity to keep adjusting and changing the process of solving the problem. So, I adapt my courses to have creative problems to solve that allow for individual approaches to finding solutions.

By working with this definition of success, I can allow more flexibility into even a subject like mathematics. If a problem is found to be solved incorrectly, the student’s ability to recognise the mistake and re-do the problem until the correct solution is found can now be included in the process . This is being powerful, and creative, and aware, and hopefully will conclude with the student feeling happy. You may think that this process is already in place. Teachers include the activity of correcting mistakes. However, what I am attempting to change is really subtle. It brings to refinement the saying…’It’s not what you do. It’s the way that you do it’ . Each shift in the paradigm is intrinsically linked and so this will be dealt with more in the section on mistakes.
Students may take longer to find the solution, but I can’t accept that science, or any learning area is about being first or being fastest. To me, it is about coming to a place of understanding concepts and being able to use them when appropriate. So, let’s eliminate the competitive element and make it fun. Many students have a great deal of difficulty accepting the possibility of Maths being fun. It is true that competition involves the process of learning, but learning does occur without the competition which demands a winner. Being competitive with one’s self is a healthier idea. To be competing against one another for the sake of winning actually contradicts many elements in the new paradigm and therefore undermines the preferred outcomes. A sharing or group approach doesn’t co-exist with competition. Keeping egos ie, winners, out of the learning environment and fostering self esteem, from my experience, certainly makes the teaching easier and fun. To have experienced a whole class totally supporting, and actually cheering on a fellow student who is in the process of achieving a personal goal is magic. I can only wish that every teacher experiences it and knows, that this is learning in its most beautiful and rewarding form. It is self motivation supported and celebrated by the group.
This idea of success certainly challenges the teacher, because so often the teacher gauges their own success by seeing how many students they can get to achieve at the higher levels, or get ‘A’s. Amusingly many teachers also have a belief that you can’t have a whole class getting ‘A’s, and so they have a self defeating system. In fact very few can win in a system that is competitive. In most cases only one can actually win. When success requires that everyone wins, that we are all a team, then no-one can lose.
Again, an exciting challenge. As I implement and practice this aspect of the paradigm, I bump into the conditioning of the children who have been taught by competition where the success is determined by someone outside themselves. Here are comments that are constantly heard that show how deep this conditioning is.
……Is this what you want us to do?
……How much do you want us to do?
……Is this right?
……Will I get a good mark for this?
……Why did you give me ‘C’ for this?
……What do we have to do?
…… You gave ‘so and so’ an ‘A’.
In each of these comments there is no ownership of the learning nor the assessment of the learning. The criteria for success is also outside the control of the student.
Often teachers arguing against some of these ideas say that the majority of students, when asked if they would like to change, say no. I find this grossly unfair when the students don’t know anything else. Without them experiencing the alternative they are not making an informed choice. Remember that I am challenging the way we teach ‘responsibility’ and dealing with ‘change’. I cannot pretend that every one of my students accepts that this way is best. I can honestly say that from my own research, it is only ever around two or three students in any class who after experiencing these changes prefer the old paradigm. Further, from a totally personal perspective these are the students who are most resistant to trying new experiences. They are the students who have the greatest propensity to blame, when being responsible is the issue.
It may occur to you that although explanations are presented to support this paradigm shift, virtually no descriptions of “How To Do It” are given. This is because I am talking about concepts. When adopted, the new and unique approaches to fit the required learning create the ways needed. It is a problem solving approach and illustrates how I personally came to these decisions for myself. I would pose the question “How can I do my work effectively and yet not punish?” “How can I present this learning to the class and have it be Fun for us all?”
Think, discuss and research with other people. Experiment and explore and then assess yourself using the same definition as I gave you at the beginning of this chapter. Am I being Creative? Am I being Aware? Am I being Powerful? Am I being Happy? If all four are present then you are successful.
I am moved into spaces of experimentation and creativity and I make lots of mistakes. But I benefit and the students benefit from a willingness to keep exploring. At the end of the book suggestions and examples will be given to help illustrate how you can approach learning in a new way. Often just by being willing to look at things differently a new solution will present itself.*

*Eduard De Bono’s creative thinking strategies are very useful tools.

To help you get in touch with your own definition of success write down anything that you could classify as a success for you over the past 24 hours.
For me, I would write:
1. Doing all the things I had written on my list.
2. Finding a gift for my friend’s coming birthday.
3. Feeling unstressed at the end of the day.
4. Finally having the courage to talk to my partner about an issue that’s been bothering me.
5. Finishing the week under budget.

Maybe yours are similar, assuming each of your successes made you feel good and did not involve a win/lose situation but were more likely win/win situations. See if they involved each of the components of the definition that I have adopted. When you feel happy, it has a habit of rubbing off on others that you come in contact with throughout the day. This to me is a win/win situation. If everyone leaves the classroom feeling happy as a response to their own decisions and actions, I believe we all win. I encourage learning to take personal responsibility for both our successes and our happiness.

Every child has intelligence, gifts and talents:

Every child has intelligence, gifts and talents:


‘No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended, or who belittles in any fashion the gifts you labour so to bring into this world. ‘                       


Do I think some people are more intelligent than others?

Do I think that genius are a separate breed of people that were given a gift that you or others weren’t?

I question the paradigm which taught me and probably you too, to believe that each person can be put into categories like “highly intelligent”, “average” and “low intelligence”. I find that once a child is classified in our present system, they then tend to act out and accept their defined status. Is this a way to treat sacred beings? The adults in their world, whether parents or teachers, told them where they belonged on the continuum of intelligence and they believed them and believed the system. The adults sadly believe themselves. The labels are re-enforced and stick. It can be heard in conversations _ “I have a really bright group of students”, “They are a very average bunch” or “Mary is not as bright as her sister Frances”. Such labels become our belief systems which eventually become our prisons.

On looking into history and society, it is more often the person who rebelled against their given labels who became our “geniuses”, our “brilliant” or “successful” people….Einstein, Thomas Edison, Richard Branson, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods. So, in my classroom I chose to explore a new belief, a new paradigm in which every child has a “gift”, a “talent”, a “genius”, an “intelligence” to share. I discard the labels previously placed on all my students and go from there. It is wonderful! It’s fun and it’s full of surprises.

I discovered tennis champions, racing car champions, comedians, chefs, musicians, artists, actors, a shooter, a dancer, a karate expert an inventor and more. These are not just new labels to satisfy what I am looking for, these are sincerely dedicated young people with a skill and passion for their talent, with dreams of international success. You may also think they are pipe dreams, yet several had paying sponsors and trophies to back up their passions and dreams.

In bringing these other forms of intelligence to the surface, something different happens in the classroom. Firstly, my position as the knowledgeable authority diminishes. As each child becomes the expert in the group in their area of skill, we come closer to a type of equality and we call upon each other to share and bring to the learning what they know so well.

Let me explain this to you by using an example. Taking the racing car driver, we learn from him how to get sponsorship; how he needs back up support from parents, school, friends and the business community; how he needs to maintain his commitment and performance to retain this support; how he has responsibilities to the people who support him both emotionally and financially; how he needs to constantly set goals and learn ways to overcome the obstacles to these goals; and how he spends hours of his time in training honing and sharpening his skills. He had experiences of television interviews and personal newspaper articles to share. I had none of these experiences. We are all able to learn from discussions we have on issues about home, family and peers that are relevant to successful people. Issues which relate to life.

Without needing a specific topic, we find we cover;



Being Responsible.

Principles and Values.

Goal setting.

Time management


Persistence and commitment.

Motivation and willingness to learn.

Skill development.

Learning from both successes and failures.

Problem solving.

Enjoying life.

Here at the young age of sixteen is a talented person dealing with the real issues of life and yet within the school system he can be relegated to being “average” or not “intelligent” unless he/she conforms to the stereotypical definition of intelligence.

Combining this different approach to intelligence with the process of eliminating punishment a synergy occurs which introduces more FUN into the learning experience. Dropping the conventional version of intelligence we support the exclusion of punishment which had been used in the past to enforce conformity. We all become teachers and learners. We are all skilled and talented and therefore there is less need for heirarchy. No-one is “the best”.

What I am suggesting is that Educators acknowledge a much broader view of intelligence and support the value of each student on an equal footing, rather than setting some on pedestals, then to blend these intelligences into a balanced whole where all students can contribute and be recognised. Adopt a team approach to the framework of learning, where everyone’s learning is enriched by every other persons learning. This approach to intelligence supports self esteem. When students get in touch with their own personal talent and intelligence they come alive. They feel they belong. The classroom is alive with energy. It is a pleasurable environment to be in. Each person’s intelligence is not in competition with anothers. It is complementary.

Australian version*

Consider the following and decide for yourself, the particular Intelligence that is reflected in these people…..

Louise Hay

Peter Helliar                                              Samantha Stosur

Estee Lauder                                            Julia Gillard

Ian Thorpe                                                Fiona Stanley

Barbara Streisland                                   Barack Obama

John Farnham                                           Nelson Mandela

Kylie Monogue                                         Arthur Boyd

Julianne Moore                                         Tim Winton

Elle Mac Pherson                                     Ernie Dingo

Claudia Schiffer                                        Meryl Streep

Brett Whitely                                            Andrew Lloyd Weber

Daniel Ricciardo                                        Tom Hanks

Pablo Picasso                                           Kerry Packer

If in the process of education, each child felt they had a valuable place in the whole picture of life, I believe we would have a healthier society. Learning to respect the diversity of talents needed for societies’ development and progress can be modelled in the classroom through finding the talent of each member and demonstrating its value and worth. These concepts are far better embodied from practical experience than from a text book scenarioIMG_0269
Pat Berent
About Wisdom.’
Personal and Spiritual Counsellor.

Uncovering personal and global maps with those who seek change.

Responsibility, support, healing and forgiveness are practiced.

One of the worst things we do to ourselves is criticise ourselves.


Learning without Punishment.

Each aspect of this paradigm I see as a piece of a jigsaw which when put together forms a complete picture of the possibility of a new approach to education. The first jigsaw piece that I identified with, was punishment. I came across the idea in the process of my own growth the idea that punishment was something I could learn to do without. By punishment I am referring to any punitive behaviour by the teacher, peers or support adults towards a student in the process of their learning. .. and any self punishment by the student themselves.     (Refer back to the definition of ‘sacred’ at the end of the Introduction)

Punishment is something I had previously not consciously questioned, because it permeates every part of our society. I was also taught it by example in my home and definitely in school. What if I choose to stop using punishment?   How would life be without it?

When I put this question in front of me it’s as if I had been asleep all my life, just accepting things because “they are”. As I started opening my eyes I could see that any form of punishment is counter productive to learning. I looked for, but could find no valid reasons for using punishment in my life or my work. The deeper I looked into punishment, through reading about the impact it has on us, the validity to continue using it as a strategy in the classroom or in any aspect of school or learning diminished.

I saw that learning of another form was taking place whilst punishment was an ingredient of the classroom – fear, resentment, heirarchy, self loathing, lack of compassion, competitiveness and a belief that it is not OK to make mistakes, were the outcomes that I could see. Would I knowingly treat a sacred being the way students are punished in our school system?   Punishment fosters guilt, fear, humiliation, shame, distrust and revenge. It diminishes the confidence to take risks, to ask questions, to be inquiring or curious. Learning is perceived as a frightening or threatening   experience   as   a result of the threat of punishment.

Being a person who enjoys a challenge, especially in my work, I set about finding all the overt and covert ways myself and others use punishment in the classroom and the school. Sarcasm, ridicule, labeling and name calling, favouritism, segregation, criticism, guilt, rewards , exclusion and pain.

I set out to eliminate each of these from my practices. Now I had set myself the challenge to teach without punishment, and it opened up a never ending set of challenges for me as to what to put into the place of the punishment. I realised I needed to come up with lesson strategies that actually eradicated or minimised the behaviour that led to the punishment. I feel that it is the core of the evolution of this whole paradigm shift.

My first and most obvious solution was to make the learning experiences and lessons exciting and fun so that the students might not want to misbehave. The attitude of the students could be one of enthusiasm to attend classes and to want to learn. My personal experiences in teaching involve students aged between twelve and seventeen. The first experiments make me blush. I was considered weird and strange by the students. To my own surprise, this decision made me stand out as very different without me even letting the students know. They very quickly felt the absence of any spoken words alluding to punishment in my teaching process and began different ways of being in the class space. My determination kept me exploring and experimenting with ways to make learning enjoyable.

I was exposed to Howard Gardener’s theory of Multiple Intelligences through a wonderful program run by Glen Capelli and saw how it could expand the fun of learning for my students. I started changing the way we recorded information, how I arranged the room, how to include music and our bodies. I tried every new idea that came to me. As well as the mistakes I was making, I was having fun and the students seemed to be having fun despite   their   sceptical   attitude   that   these new ways were still called learning.

Bit by bit I refined the strategies to a point where they felt normal and familiar to me and eventually over time to the students as well. The outcome of favorable behaviour and an interest and enjoyment of learning that I had hoped for started to emerge. I was a bit wobbly to begin with and yet I was also recognising that I was role modelling that making mistakes is OK. I was a student learning my tasks anew. It kept me in touch with the students and their experience of learning new things. We were learning together.

The language of punishment was the next thing to tackle. Old habits, phrases and responses needed to change. I found myself constantly re-phrasing my comments and instructions until I had encompassed a whole new language of communication, where all hidden messages of punishment were disappearing. I worked on eliminating the following words and phrases ….. ‘have to’ ….’must’ …. ‘should’ …. ‘got to’ and ‘or else’. I was amazed when I listened to myself, how entrenched these words were in my language of teaching. I saw that none of these phrases fostered a healthy learning environment or learning experience for me. They all contribute to a lowering of self esteem as well. They contribute to the reasons why many children hate school. I replaced them with, ‘could’ …’possible’… ‘choice’ ….. ‘want to’ … ‘like to’ …’choose to’…’prefer’. Next I included as wide a range of choice as I felt I could handle so that the students could do tasks of their own choosing in their own unique way and this new language could be used with integrity.

I also began incorporating a new honesty in the communication in the classroom. In my search for the forms of punishment used in schools I had discovered lying in the written and spoken communication between students and teachers in both directions. Comments like ,’this has to be done because I said so’   and ‘You will fail if you don’t do such and such’. A result being students felt the need to lie about their work and behaviour to avoid punishment. There was a lot of coercion, game playing and manipulation. I conscientiously shared the truth about what we were doing in our time together, what the real consequences of each situation were and I asked that the students share their truth too.

Don’t think the students accepted all this without resistance. They were used to the old paradigm and had trouble trusting me. The fear was strong and it was unsettling for them because other teachers were not demonstrating this way. I was the oddball.     They took some time to believe that I was for real and to trust me and then allow the new expression to have impact.

In situations of undesireable behaviour, instead of punishment I encourage accepting and learning personal responsibility. Having students own the problem and coming up with healthy solutions with personal and group problem solving. I gave support with negotiating solutions. With new behaviour and a willingness to work, the student is forgiven and encouraged to move forward to maintain healthy attitudes to themselves. It is important to not keep referring to past events. Each situation is treated separately as a new learning. Unless there is genuine forgiveness, they hold onto the destructive aspects of punishment, the diminished self esteem, the fear and the withdrawal from new experiences. Students are given as much support from myself and their classmates as is appropriate.  (see the added article at the bottom of this topic, which I had not seen when I was on this learning incline).

When a certain level of trust and safety is reached it is possible to expect a child to share deep hurts or painful experiences that have contributed to their undesirable behaviour. This provides an opportunity to work with causes rather than effects. Through the trust and sharing there is support given to change. The reasons are not accepted as excuses, but add to the understanding and the process of change towards personal responsibility. I am responsible for creating a space where punishment is not needed, thereby creating a space where students can choose to take responsibility for their behaviour.

The experience of learning without punishment, where fear becomes less familiar to the process and the environment, creates openness and opportunities for responsibility to be accepted. It is a safer environment for taking risks. What’s more, I am able to enjoy my teaching more. I have been able to share my approach with some other teachers willing to try this and the feedback is identical. Teaching is so much more fun and the children are more relaxed, better behaved and more willing to take responsibility for all aspects of their learning.  The learning is exponential.

The greatest benefit that has come as a response to this change is that I can honestly claim that I am able to LOVE each and every one of my students – without exception. I have incorporated the concept of letting go and letting in, and I believe I am well on the way to demonstrating and experiencing successfully that learning can take place without punishment.


Here is an article I came across  a few years ago, some time after writing this chapter of my book. I love it and see it as an inspiration for this topic.


In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he / she is placed in the centre of the village, alone and unfettered.  

All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual.

 Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the centre of the circle has done in his lifetime.  

Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted.  

All their positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length.  

This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days.

At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.


~The Art of Forgiveness~

The Paradigm and its Implementation.

The Paradigm


•• New..……                             

Children are empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge.                    

•• All humans are born with innate knowledge and wisdom.

Punishment is condoned.                                      

•• Responsibility, support, healing  and forgiveness are practiced.            

Some students have a higher intelligence than others.

•• Every child has gifts, talents and intelligence.   

Success is competitive.   Win – Lose.                                   

•• Success is individualistic / holistic / Win-win.

Learning is for knowledge.                                 

•• Learning is for wisdom.

   There are right and wrong solutions.                

•• Solutions are possibilities.   

Mistakes are discouraged and judged.            

•• Mistakes are acknowledged as a natural part of learning.  

Teachers know what is best for students.                                                                                                                      

•• Students have an innate  awareness of their needs and wants.                                                                               

   Learning is consecutive and linear.                 

•• Learning is random, chaotic and free.                    

   Learning is logical and rational.                      

•• Learning is creative , imaginative  and logical.

   Learning is homogeneous.                               

•• Learning is heterogeneous.     

   The teacher dominates and controls.             

•• Everyone is equal.   

   There are clear and defined limitations.                              

•• There is always CHOICE.        

   The teacher’s job is to teach.                           

•• The teacher’s job is to facilitate learning.

   We assess the end product.                            

•• We evaluate the process.

   There is an end product.                                  

•• The process is never ending….. macrocosm / microcosm.

Learning is difficult.                                          

•• Learning is FUN.

Marks tell us how good we are.                      

•• Evaluation and assessment give us feedback about our progress.

   Assessment is external.                                   

•• Evaluation by self and peers with support.

    Emotions are suppressed.

•• Emotions are integrated, valued and respected.

Time is set.                                                        

•• Time is relative and flexible.                          

    Change is disruptive.                                        

•• Change is integral to the process.                 

Learning is preparation for life.                       

•• Learning is a component of life.                    

Featured image


Here is Chapter 1. My exploration of the first paradigm shift.

All humans are born with innate knowledge and wisdom and a desire to know more:

There needs to be an element of faith to embracing this paradigm, a set of beliefs about human beings which go beyond what can be demonstrated scientifically.”        


Parenthood can start as early as 15 years of age and teachers can begin teaching as young as 22 years of age. Whether it is 15 or 50 years, why do we assume that being older is the right of passage to knowledge and wisdom? I am a parent, and my three sons have never ceased to amaze me with their wisdom. They have often been my teachers. We live with this egotistical theory that it is an adult’s job to mold a child.   Consider the perspective that the adult’s task is to care for and be responsible for a child until the child can care for and be responsible for themselves, a bit at a time rather than at any specific age.

Responsibility is its own learning process and starts at birth. A baby knows when it is hungry, tired, uncomfortable, lonely and satisfied. A child knows what food she likes and doesn’t like, which people she likes and doesn’t like, which clothes he likes and which toys are his favourites. A child also knows when he is too hot or too cold. A parent tells a child to put on a jumper when the parent feels cold. Often the child is quite comfortable. By assuming the child is ignorant and needs adults to make decisions for him/her, we inadvertently create doubt and lack of confidence in the mind of the child about their innate knowing, specifically about themselves. Then, later in life, we hear voluminous complaints that our teenagers won’t make decisions and won’t take responsibility for themselves. We have taught them that they are incapable of doing the very thing we want them to do. We teach them to be dependent on adults to tell them who they are, what is best for them, what they need and don’t need, when our task is to guide them to be independent to the extent that they can trust themselves to know what is best and act on it with confidence. Do we have it all upside down?

Innate means, inborn, belonging to the body or mind by nature. I am working with my own innate knowing by starting with this concept in the paradigm proposal. To leave it out just because it is difficult to confirm and validate would create a flaw in the working of the paradigm. Intuition is an aspect of ourselves, a function currently delegated to the right side of our brain, therefore a part of our natural intelligence.   Function with this innate knowing with students and allow space and time for them to tap into, trust and function with theirs. My personal beliefs include a belief in reincarnation. Coming from this perspective – that each child has experiences and intentions which are seeded in previous lives and are important dynamics in this lifetime, and hope to support them in their journey through this lifetime. The totality of their being is far richer to comprehend. They are indeed, sacred beings. This explanation may alienate some readers who do not accept the concept of reincarnation, however the concern is to be honest about the process being put forward. If you feel a resistance ,I ask you to keep your mind open rather than discount the whole process as a response.

Adults and those younger, in my current perception, deserve respect enough to appreciate that human beings are far more complex than most of us can comprehend. We are not simple to decipher and categorize, as we might want to believe. To treat our youngest as blank sheets or empty vessels is an insult and an egocentric standpoint. This is an important ingredient for shifting the paradigm, the conscious effort always to be open to hearing or seeing the manifestation of wisdom and knowledge from any students at any time. It requires patience and the ability to listen and observe any and every moment as a potential for excitement and awe. Too often the focus is on the mistakes and the indiscretions, the inattention and the laziness. Mistrust of students and looking to get precisely what is expected in order to validate distrust. If students are not to be seen as sacred beings, the evidence of their innate knowledge and wisdom remains obscured. By looking from this new perspective a whole new vision greets the senses.

In implementing this acceptance of innate knowing and wisdom own the fact that, having been brought up predominantly with old conditioning, the young know nothing except that which an adult has told them Students have adapted in order to survive and have learned through the process of adaptation to deny and distrust the knowledge within themselves, to deny and distrust their sacredness. To allow this intuitive knowing to resurface and be present in students, some work on trust needs to be put in place, some groundwork to facilitate the change. Children learn survival strategies to fit in with parents, teachers and authority figures that deny their innate knowing. To open up to expressing their own unique, personal ideas and thoughts to an adult in authority can be fearful and threatening.   To facilitate and form a new attitude within students takes time and experience. They need to trust that it is safe to broach new or controversial topics and areas of thought in the class environment. For example, if a teacher suggesting the topic of ‘death’ to a class, it is very different than if a student asks to talk about ‘death’. When the teacher puts forward the topic the student tries to respond to what they think the teacher expects. On the other hand, when a student brings up the topic, there is a need to be heard and understood from the child’s perspective, which is the new side of the paradigm. What does the child want to know? The adult may judge the topic as being inappropriate. If it is student motivated from a natural inquisitiveness rather than teacher focussed, how can it be inappropriate? Students need to feel comfortable disagreeing with teachers.

The term Student Centred Learning, says just that. The student is at the centre of the learning process. The “Teacher Centred Learning” process eradicates not just the idea of student centred learning , but the terminology itself. The teacher will let students be the centre of the learning when they feel they have learned enough to accept the responsibility of that centre. That time never comes, so, by default, they are no longer the students by the time they are allowed to be the centre. The old paradigm continues even into our universities. They have now graduated to be the teacher. And the cycle continues. Unless we break the cycle we are on a never ending merry-go-round or “Catch 22” situation.

Destructive behaviour patterns in children can be interpreted as a sign of frustration and anger with the adult, in their lives, who have contributed to the denial and suppression of the child’s innate wisdom. They find themselves in a prison of adaptive behaviour trying to fit in and survive. But it is an unnatural way of being and the desire to rebel and break free is stronger as the child grows. Much of what we perceive as “learning” is really about pleasing teachers and parents to gain a sense of security and acceptance. Comments like, ‘won’t your parents be pleased’, or ‘the school is proud of you’ confirm this. Having a system that rewards being right and alienates being wrong   encourages children to develop adaptive     behaviours and respond the best way they know how, to be accepted.

As humans when we are sure of survival we feel safe. When we don’t feel safe, we change our behaviour to handle the fears that surface. Those so called “good” children are not necessarily learning better. They have found that by doing the right thing, they get the security of acceptance from authority figures, which makes them feel safe. For example, many, “high achievers”, have difficulty expressing their creativity. In creativity, there are no right answers, which can elicit deep insecurities in them at a survival level. Ask a group of teachers to do something artistic or specifically creative and listen to the reactions. This may be because high academic achievers are traditionally discouraged from doing Art or Drama. They have fewer opportunities for developing strategies for dealing with learning that doesn’t have logical solutions. They have fewer strategies for being a non achiever. It has become unsafe working in these areas. High achievers are sometimes confronted in creative areas, by peers who they think of as dumb or stupid. These “low achievers” in the logical subjects, can often do really well in the creative areas and the high achievers are often confused with that.

On the other hand it is very common in our system to give lower achievers more of the creative subjects. I know, that students of Art and Drama require intelligence to be successful, a different kind of intelligence than say in Maths. Because I believe all students are intelligent in a variety of definitions, I don’t worry about labeling. I find ways to facilitate students feeling safe and trusting themselves to move into productive enjoyable learning. They know that their innate knowledge and wisdom are being validated. It is when it is being invalidated that the problems arise.

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