Opportunities versus “Mistakes”

Parents often ask what they can do when their children become upset over mistakes they’ve made on school work. For example, a mom reported that her son became very upset when he took a quiz and missed one question. He did not focus on the 9 out of 10 that were correct, but on the one that he missed. He didn’t think he should be making any mistakes at all!

This can be a tricky issue. We need to examine our own actions, behaviors, and statements to see if we are contributing to the child reacting in this way. Many parents say that it’s not coming from them—they are always positive and talk in terms of how many questions or problems a student gets right. That may be, but are we giving them messages in other ways during daily life that suggest that “mistakes” are “bad”? After all, we all grew up with the idea that the best score is 100% and the best grade is A+. If your children are in a traditional school program, this is probably the message they are getting there and this could also be the message in a homeschool program.

mistakes-2460576__480We also need to realize that the word “test” in itself gives the idea that the student will be “measured”—and that the score determines how “good” or “smart” you are. This is a major reason why tests fail to teach or to be positive motivators in most students’ lives. They are usually associated with feelings of stress or fear, and often lead to disappointment, sadness, and beliefs of inadequacy.

In contrast, let’s look at people who perceive “mistakes” in a very different way. For example, it is said that Thomas Edison did over 1000 experiments trying to invent the light bulb. He was asked how he could keep going after making so many mistakes. His response: What mistakes? Each time I’m just learning what doesn’t work, bringing me closer to what does work. Similarly, the most successful salespeople look forward to being turned down by potential clients. Their reasoning: the more no’s I get the closer I am to a big “YES.”

These people are not seeing mistakes—they are seeing learning opportunities! Many of our best inventions—styrofoam, post-it notes, etc.— started out as “mistakes.” The person involved was trying to do something else and something went wrong—lucky for us, someone saw beyond the mistake and a new invention was born. All of our famous inventors, scientists, and creative people made lots of mistakes—this is the only way they could get to the discovery they were looking for, by being willing to get it “wrong” so many times.

It’s important to get this concept across to kids. And we need to make it “safe” for them to make mistakes. The number one requirement for learning is safety. If our students do not feel emotionally safe to explore, try, and take risks in their learning, their potentials will not be realized.

For example, there are many students who stop asking questions in the classroom or who don’t raise their hands to participate because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing or saying something “stupid.”

In order to be successful at anything, including learning, you have to be willing to make mistakes. It’s the “fail your way to the top” attitude:  if I keep trying, discovering, experimenting, I’ll get there. This is what separates the people who achieve their goals from those who don’t. In her book, “Work Less Make More,” Jennifer White says, “Fail often so you can succeed sooner.”

The more we can see “mistakes” as opportunities and incorporate this concept into our everyday family life, the better it will be for our kids. One way to get help with this is to read stories together of people who turned mistakes into opportunities. There are several books on this subject. If you go to and put “mistakes” in the search box, you will get a whole list. Here are a few to get you started:

Mistakes That Worked, by Charlotte Foltz Jones (reading level 9-12 yr)

Accidents May Happen: 50 Inventions Discovered by Mistake, Foltz (9-12 yr)

Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation, Farson

Failing Forward—How to Make the Most of Your Mistakes, Maxwell

If parents and teachers continually point out what students are doing “right” and if “mistakes” are treated as learning opportunities rather than “problems,” students will get the idea.Learning banner

Wouldn’t it be great if our kids could grow up seeing opportunities all around them?!

copyright 2020 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis
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Success Leads to More Success!

You might think this is an obvious statement, and yet there are many adults who don’t understand what this means. Students who continuously experience failure, day after day, do not know what success “feels” like. And they do not know what to do to turn things around to become successful, if they haven’t experienced success!

Sounds like we are going around in circles here! The thing is, in order for a student to begin to experience success, someone must coach that student toward success.

How do you coach someone toward success? Well, it’s not by saying things like:

  • you’d better shape up or you won’t get anywhere
  • forget about riding lessons until you’re getting good grades in math
  • you have to care about your work and try harder

Try harder…those dreaded words. What exactly does it mean to try harder? One student put it this way: “I spend hours on my homework and work late into the night, I’m trying as hard as I can, and I’m failing. What else am I supposed to do? My teachers just say I’m not trying – they don’t know anything about how hard I’m trying!”

The key is to begin where the student is in a particular skill or subject. If a student does not know how to write a paragraph according to the teacher’s definition, then no matter “how hard he tries” he won’t be able to do it. And if that same student is expected to write reports in all classes and is graded on his writing, then you can see that he can never be successful in any class.

But if that same student is allowed to make a video, or a poster, or do a verbal presentation to show what he knows in history or science, now he has a chance to be successful in something, and that experience will inspire and motivate him to succeed at other things, instead of giving up.

This is just one example. Students who have trouble reading can learn subjects through movies and audiotapes, while they are working on increasing reading skills. Students

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Photo by Jill Wellington on

who are working on skills such as reading, writing, spelling, or math, need to have the lessons customized to work for them, so they can experience small successes that will later lead to big successes.

The more we work with kids’ learning needs and developmental levels, the more successful they will be.

copyright 2020 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute
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Which Brother is More Talented?

I love this story. It goes like this…

“A bricklayer has a brother who is a gifted and famous violinist. One day the head of the construction company he works for says to him: ‘It must be fine to have such a renowned man for a brother.’ Then, afraid he might offend the worker’s pride he adds, ‘Of course we must accept the fact that talent isn’t evenly distributed – even in the same family.’

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The bricklayer responds: ‘That’s the truth. Why, my brother doesn’t know the first thing about bricklaying. It’s a good thing he can afford to pay others to build his house for him.'” (excerpted from The Best of Three Minutes a Day – A Christopher Book)

Yes!!! Cheers for the bricklayer!

Every single person has an amazing talent or gift that is valuable and needs to shared with the world.

It is our job as Parents, Teachers, and Leaders across the globe to coach each child to discover his or her amazing gift – and to encourage children to follow their interests and passions. It is our responsibility to ensure that all kids grow up believing that they are smart and capable, and confident about the value of their contributions.

copyright 2020 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute
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The “Rigor” of Kindergarten

A few years ago I read an article titled: Learning at Pace of Leisure – New kindergarten law to allow children more time to pick up skills.

So far, fine. But here’s what spoiled the story: “This is much better for making sure the kids who enter kindergarten are ready for the rigor of kindergarten,” said a director of instruction for a school district in Ventura County, adding that kindergarteners are expected to master more advanced skills than in years past.

The rigor of kindergarten???

This reminds me of a clip from the comedian Sinbad talking about the ridiculousness of having to pass tests to get into kindergarten. It went something like this: If the kid can eat a cookie and take a nap, he passes!

What happened to “Learning at pace of leisure?” When are we going to stop trying to force education before students are ready, and allow kids to be who they are supposed to be developmentally? When are we going to stop causing stress and anxiety to young children and their families, for no good reason?

Four and fikid fingerpaintingve-year-olds are supposed to play, nap, laugh, explore their surroundings, tinker, finger paint, and experiment with musical instruments like drums and cymbals. And, yes, they can start to learn numbers and alphabet sounds.

Statements like “the rigor of kindergarten” are precisely the reason we wrote, Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten. The title is funny, but what is happening is tragic.

More and more, “kids are expected to master more advanced skills than in years past.” And who made that rule?

When I started kindergarten I didn’t speak a word of English (only Italian!). I remember playing games, singing, finger painting, having fun and loving my teacher. Pretty soon I was speaking, reading, and writing in English and ready to go on to first grade. That was in 1955.

Thank you, Mrs. Crenshaw, for making my kindergarten experience so enjoyable and successful that I wanted to go back to school.

Whether your children are in traditional school or home schooled, I wish for them that same enjoyable and successful experience—in kindergarten and throughout their school lives.

copyright 2019 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute
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LearningSuccess™ Tip: Lighting Matters

People are lampsaffected differently by various lighting situations, which can then affect focus and concentration when learning or working.

Is the lighting bright or low, natural or artificial? If artificial, is it incandescent, fluorescent, or full-spectrum?

Fluorescent lighting has been shown to negatively affect children and adults. It can cause headaches, difficulty reading, eyestrain, irritability, and hyperactive behavior. Plants will not survive under fluorescent lighting but we expect people to!

What if a student does better with natural lighting? Try moving that student near a window in the classroom, or at home when doing homework.

Full-spectrum lighting, commonly used to grow indoor plants, more closely resembles the full spectrum of light present in nature. Positive effects have been documented in classrooms that have switched to this lighting.

If you have fluorescent lighting at home, try switching to full-spectrum. It could make a big difference in attitude and productivity for the whole family.

copyright 2019 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute
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The Supportive Disposition

people talkingSupportive Disposition students need small group spaces that provide room to talk and discuss. They thrive in atmospheres that are interactive, cooperative, and fair. They love personal attention and focus on values and team spirit. They often “get in trouble” for talking too much.

College students with Supportive Dispositions can increase learning effectiveness by seeking out group discussions, group study, and cooperative assignments.

Do you know adults who have the Supportive Disposition? They bring harmony, cooperation, and sensitivity to a situation through discussion and talking things out. In the workplace, Supportive Dispositions thrive when their jobs involve interacting with people, discussing, and helping with problem issues. For example, they are perfect for customer service or human resources!

copyright 2019 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute
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The Imaginative Disposition

Imaginative Disposition students need spaces that allow them to design, create, think, doodle or daydream. They learn best when the teaching materials and techniquguy thinkinges involve the arts or some type of creative process.

College students who have the Imaginative Disposition might do better in classes that encourage new ways of thinking, creative projects, and artistic expression.

Do you know adults who have the Imaginative Disposition? Their intentions to contribute ideas are often misunderstood. This Disposition is often viewed as illogical, aloof, spacy, or irresponsible.

Imaginative Dispositions usually thrive in work situations that are “behind the scenes” – quiet spaces and periods of time to create, compose, imagine, and design – and where time is not regimented.

copyright 2019 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute
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The Curious Disposition

Curious Disposition students need flexible spaces that provide room for labs, kid experimentexperiments, and models. They thrive in atmospheres that encourage questioning, exploring, debating, and unscheduled time to work independently. Often, they ask lots of questions – about everything – because that’s how they learn best, not because they are trying to drive you crazy!

College students with a Curious Disposition can increase learning efficiency by incorporating drawing, constructing models, or using information maps.

Do you have adults in your life who have a Curious Disposition? They tend to get lost in their projects and forget about time. Their intention to stay focused on their work can lead to strained relationships. At work Curious Dispositions usually thrive in a workplace that involves experimenting, discovering, theories, building models, and coming up with solutions.

copyright 2019 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute
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The Spontaneous Disposition

Spontaneous Disposition students need flexible spaces that provide lots of room to move around. They thrive in atmospheres that are fun and challenging and allow for unscheduled free time. They learn best during field trips and real-life learning situations. Does your child or student have a Spontaneous Disposition?

College students with a Spontaneous Disposition can increase learning efficiency by incorporating movement when studying: bounce a ball, jump on a trampoline, go for a walk or run while listening to audio lessons.

Is therebike in air a Spontaneous Disposition adult in your life? They tend to be perpetual fun-seekers and often delight in being “center stage.” Their intentions to bring fun and laughter are often interpreted as irresponsible or inconsiderate behavior. Spontaneous Dispositions usually thrive in a work situation that involves lots of moving, variety and even some adventure!


copyright 2019 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute
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Happy, Successful, Contributing

A few years ago a young man came to my office for a consultation. He had just taken our Personal Success Power Traits Assessment and this was my first meeting with him. I found out that he was finishing his studies at community college and was planning his next steps. He was very clear about his areas of interest and career possibilities.

This was amazing in itself as so many young people have no idea what they want to do with their lives. But this is what really impressed me:

I asked him what he was hoping to get from the consultation. He replied that he was hoping my coaching could help him make choices that would:light atom

  1. create the happiest life possible
  2. make him successful in his own mind
  3. allow him to contribute to society

I thought, wow – most adults woud have difficulty articulating that.

This is our hope for all young people…that they might grow up discovering what they love, where their strengths lie, what they can contribute.

Confidence in oneself and belief that you can do something are the key ingredients for success in any area. Here at LearningSuccess™ Institute and Solimar Academy (our independent study program) we are passionate about helping young people (and not-so-young people) of all ages discover what makes them happiest, how to be successful, and the unique contributions they can make to the world.


We believe that a school’s primary job is to prepare students to be happy, successful contributors to their communities and the world.

copyright 2019 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, Reflective Educational Perspectives, LLC / LearningSuccess™ Institute
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