I was so excited to read Amy Wade’s "Genuine Apologies: Helping Students Get There" in the latest issue of the Responsive Classroom newsletter! Amy’s article explores why apologizing is so complex, and she offers some strategies and ideas teachers can use to help their students learn how to offer and accept apologies. I wish I’d had some of those ideas when one of the second graders I taught wrote this note to his assistant teacher:
Dear Ms. Koenig,
I am sorry for yelling at you yesterday, but I wouldn’t have done that if you had been nicer to me. I was mad, and I didn’t want you to try to talk to me. But you did, so I yelled. Please don’t do that again.
This letter, written at my insistence, epitomizes much of what is difficult about apologies, especially in school settings. It shows how empty an insincere and involuntary apology can be. In this case, apologizing did little to help the student reflect on why yelling was problematic, or on other ways he might have let Ms. Koenig know what he needed.
This particular apology also did nothing to help restore the relationship between Ms. Koenig and this student. In fact, the non-apology apology has stuck with her after all these years. (Indeed, every time she hears a politician, entertainer, or friend make a similar, "I’m sorry, but . . ." apology, her mind goes back to that letter!)
Students need more help than just being told “Say you’re sorry!” to learn the skill of making a genuine apology. I hope you’ll find Amy’s article on this challenging topic to be as refreshing as I did.
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