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Learning from our mistakes

by Claire Law

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider the process of learning, and how setbacks and stumbles are part of the process.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Stumbling) and the means to display them.

  • Have available the following YouTube videos and the means to show them during the assembly:

    - ‘Time-lapse of baby learning to walk’ (1.21 minutes long), available at:
    - ‘JK Rowling – failure’ (1.55 minutes long), available at:

  • Optional: for the ‘Assembly’, Step 9, you may wish to prearrange for a member of staff or a student to share an experience when they have faced some kind of difficulty or setback.


  1. Show Slide 1 as the students enter the room.

    Show Slide 2.

    Ask for the students to raise their hands in response to the following questions.

    - How many of you remember scraping your knees as a child?
    - How many of you ended up with a plaster on your knee after falling in the playground or while riding a bike?
    - Have any of you ever broken a bone from this type of activity?

    You may wish to invite some staff members or students to share their experiences.

  2. Point out that learning to walk, run and ride a bike are all skills that involve some element of falling or stumbling.

    Ask the students to count the number of times that the child falls over in the following video.

    Show the video ‘Time-lapse of baby learning to walk’.

  3. Ask the students how many times the child stumbled in the video.

    Listen to a range of responses.

  4. Point out that sometimes, the child wobbled, but then regained her balance. Sometimes, someone helped her by holding her hand. Although the child achieved the aim of walking in the end, the process involved falling . . . getting up . . . falling . . . getting up . . . until eventually, she could walk unaided.

  5. In our lives, we all face challenges. We all ‘stumble’ at some points; we all fall down and have to get up and keep on trying. There are times when we stumble in our school studies, when learning a new sport, when we need to give a presentation to a group of people, when we apply for a job, and when we interact and build friendships and relationships with others. When this happens, we have a choice to make – do we give up or do we get up and try again?

  6. Show Slide 3.

    Stumbling was something that Colonel Sanders knew a lot about, yet he is famous for giving us Kentucky Fried Chicken. The colonel had created a recipe for fried chicken that he wanted to share with others and he had ambitions to start a business based on his recipe. At the age of 65, he travelled to houses and restaurants all over his local area. He wanted to partner with someone to help promote his chicken recipe. However, he was met with little enthusiasm and his idea was rejected many times before he heard his first ‘yes’.

    However, it is from these beginnings that the international brand of KFC was founded. Colonel Sanders stumbled many times before achieving his dream. Each time, he decided not to give up, but to carry on, showing resilience and determination.

  7. Another way to think about this is by using a short but powerful word.

    Show Slide 4 and read each sentence out loud.

    These sentences sound definite; they don’t suggest a lot of hope. However, if we add a three-letter word to each sentence, the meaning changes completely.

    Ask the students to suggest what this word might be. (The answer is ‘yet’.)

    Show Slide 5.

  8. Show Slide 6 and read each sentence out loud, emphasizing the word ‘yet’.

    Point out that the word ‘yet’ acknowledges that it can take a while to be successful, and that setbacks happen along the way. However, with the kind of qualities that Colonel Sanders showed - resilience, determination and self-belief - there’s no need to stay down when we stumble. Setbacks are part of the process and we can choose to embrace them and learn from them.

  9. Suggest that, if stumbling and getting back up again are part of the process of learning, we could go one stage further and say that there are actually benefits to stumbling.

    Ask the students to take 30 seconds to think about a time when they have stumbled, when they have faced some kind of difficulty or setback. Ask them to consider whether anything good came out of the situation.

    Pause to allow time for thought.

    You may wish to listen to some responses or have a prearranged member of staff or student share an experience.

  10. Show Slide 7.

    Read through the suggested possible benefits of stumbling.

  11. J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, made a similar point in a speech that she delivered to students at Harvard University in 2008 when she was awarded an honorary degree. In it, she said that stumbling and failure were actually positives for her.

    Show the video ‘JK Rowling – failure’.

Time for reflection

Let’s take a moment to reflect upon something that we are finding difficult to master at the moment. This could be a particular skill or situation, a relationship that we are finding tricky or any number of different issues and setbacks.

Let’s take a moment to consider that this area of stumbling could make us stronger, more resilient and more determined. Can we see the benefits of stumbling in this particular situation?

Pause to allow time for thought.

Dear God,
Thank you that we can learn from every difficult situation.
Please help us to be people of resilience.
Help us to get back up again when things go wrong.
Help us never to give up.
Help us to persevere.
Thank you for the courage and resilience of people who have shown us that stumbling need not mean failure,
For people we know and for inspirational figures who are role models to us. 
We are thankful for their example.
Give us the courage and determination to use the power of ‘yet’.

Publication date: August 2018   (Vol.20 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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