A popular television programme in the United Kingdom is The Apprentice. To summarise, the contestants work together to solve business based challenges whilst competing against each other to impress the formidable and cantankerous Sir Alan Sugar, owner of Amstrad and potential employer. Each week, one candidate is on the receiving end of the dreaded words "You're fired!" following their performances in the tasks until only one person is left. He is 'hired' as the new Apprentice and so begins a lucrative new career. It is very addictive viewing!
Towards the end of a very busy school year and whilst studying the topic of Space, I decided to hold an Apprentice style challenge with my class. The children were sorted into groups and were given the task of designing a product that would make life easier for an astronaut. In addition to using what they had learned about life on board a space station and some of the difficulties facing astronauts, the children had to establish their group roles, work successfully together and finally write and give a presentation to another class in school persuading them that their product was the best. The winning group was going to be 'hired' whilst the other groups would all be 'fired'.
The ideas that the children came up with were brilliant: we had headphones to which a drink canister could be attached so an astronaut could listen to music and drink during exercise whilst another group designed gravity shoes with very large spikes; the thinking behind this was to provide the astronaut with a more secure grip to the surface of the moon. The most ambitious idea overall involved creating a greenhouse in space that used artificial sunlight. The children in this group considered the fact that, in time, people may be required to live in space for longer periods of time. They wanted to provide a means by which the astronaut could grow his or her own food and so eat a balanced diet.
As the week wore on, everything seemed to be going so well. The groups were working together well, no one was off task or unoccupied and there was a vast amount of enthusiasm circulating around the classroom. Indeed, apart from dispensing the odd bit of advice or solving the occasional technical hitch, I was redundant.
Then presentation day arrived and everything went wrong. Key speakers lost their nerve, several of the groups suffered technology malfunction due, in no small part, to their failure to check everything was working properly prior to presenting and one group could not find any of their materials. It seems they had put them down somewhere never to be seen again. The children were devastated. We talked the whole thing through afterwards and they could see what had gone wrong. They accepted their own responsibilities and decided as a class what they would do differently next time.
As their teacher, I felt more learning took place in that one small feedback session than had occurred throughout the entire process. Many times in our lives, it is often the case that real, deep learning takes place when we face up to what we have done wrong and what it is we need to learn from a situation. This is not an easy thing to do; the children were disappointed with themselves and were sorry that their excellent and creative ideas were lost in poor presentations. They were, however, able to acknowledge their mistakes and there is no doubt that the next time they need to present as a group, they will be so much stronger. Getting something wrong will ultimately lead them to a higher level of achievement in their future.
The Apprentice experience and the outcome of the presentations became for me a metaphor for how we talk with God. It is often the case that we ask for His support and we turn to Him when we find ourselves in difficult or challenging situations. We affirm our desires, ask Him to intervene on behalf of others and sometimes remember to say thank you. I do wonder, however, how many times we take our mistakes, our failures and the things we are so very disappointed in and ask Him to help us whilst we go through the painful process of thinking about what has gone wrong and learning what we can. Just as it was for the children in my school, it is through doing this that real growth and spiritual nourishment can take place. God loves us. He accepts we are not perfect but he expects much from us. He sees clearly the potential inside us all but waits for us to ask for His help in realising it. And He understands that this is not always easy.
To God, mistakes are not things to be afraid of and nor are they things to regret. They are not endings. They are the beginning of something new.
I am Pam; I am a Primary School headteacher. I love to write and I am just beginning to share my works with people other than my family.
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