June 27, 2014

The Real Power of Apologies

As teachers we are inundated with apologies. I have students apologize because they threw this, or they didn't turn in that. It happens ALL THE TIME.

In my mind, however, there are two real purposes for apologies - purposes that make them useful - and then one that is false or fraudulent.

Real purpose #1 - This one focuses more on students, but can apply to anyone. It is the purpose of showing your intention to learn from the mistake that was made. I can't count how many times a 7th grade boy has thrown something across my classroom, directly disrupting the work of his fellow students. The worst part though is that he will apologize when confronted, but do the same thing the next week. No learning, just doing.

Real purpose #2 - Showing the person or group that was wronged that their feelings and your relationship with them matter. Teachers are always trying to maintain this sparkling professional appearance. We are the conduits of content that feed our students knowledge. Admit fault and we create cracks in that image. But, students, and all people, need apologies to remind one another that we care and that we all matter.

Now for the fraudulent reason - Social custom. Apologies are thrown out at people out of habit because they are expected. Even further, when students apologize to me, it is typically so I will absolve them of their crime so they can feel better.

Bottom line - if we want our classrooms, our schools, our communities, even our world to be a better place, then we can't just apologize like we mean it, we actually have to MEAN IT. We show this through our actions and through our intentions. Use apologies to make someone else feel better (not yourself) and show that the apology matters by learning from the mistake.

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