#1156 The Forced Apology

A young student does something wrong.
They’re told to apologize.
They do.

And then nothing changes…

There’s a lot wrong with this scenario.
The student upsets someone or something. Yes, that’s unfortunate but it happens. I like to think of these ‘oopses’ as potential for learning. Often the student is asked or told or expected to apologize and, usually, the student knows the easy way out – “I’m sorry…” 

The trouble is – in many cases – the student is not sorry. They want to get out of trouble quickly, go through the ‘sorry’ steps and get back to what they want to do. The greater injustice is that, oftentimes, the student’s undesirable behaviour does not change or is reinforced.

This winter a student from another class routinely stepped over the boundaries of school rules and general decorum. He was a high-flying prankster constantly pushing the envelope of acceptable behaviour. He’d been trained to keep playing his get out of jail “sorry” card. 

The last time he said ‘sorry’ with his big goofy grin and an expectation of absolution, I stopped. 

“I don’t think you are sorry,” came from my mouth. His smile faded with the recognition that his normal routine had hit a snag. He stood quietly, unsure what to say…

“If you were sorry you wouldn’t keep running and yelling in the halls between classes.” More silence…

“I would know you were sorry if you at least attempted to make a change.”

And I let him go…

That was the start of a slow change.

The next time I taught his class I met him at the door. I asked why I should let him in. “I could just give you your work. You could do it in the office… I don’t like it when your behaviour disrupts others. How do I know you’ve changed or are willing to change?”

That was the start of a gradual evolution. It required time and consistency and more energy than demanding ‘sorry.’ It required our relationship to grow.

The end result was better. But the cost was higher. 

Most people think teachers teach math or language or science, etc. They do, but the more important job is to develop the whole person. That takes more time and effort – often more effort than the teacher has time for.  

Don’t accept a meaningless apology. It’s the extra step that makes the difference to a student and a community.

#1152 Powerful Words

“You’re too fat.”
“Why would you want that?”
“Oh, come on. That’s so easy!”


Small words have lasting effects on brain development in youth and the “prevalence of anger, hostility and depression in adulthood.” (PsychologyToday.com)

Words affect outcomes. (Photo: OnePixel.com)

Developmental Roots
I’ve always been fascinated by the factors that turn people into who they are. There are enormously diverse factors – nature and nurture.

Our genes and predispositions are hard to change – propensity towards height, specific intelligences.

Environmental factors, of course, have a large impact on development – adequate shelter, nourishment affect the ability to grow and stresses on growth.

Social factors also have an enormous effect on the development of a person. Vygotsky built his socio-cultural theory of learning on the idea that we are products of the people that surround us.

Choosing Support
A good friend once told me “Surround yourself with supportive people.” I believe that is sage advice and will support a stronger, healthier person – and I do not mean physical strength.

Providing Support
Imagine growing up being told, regularly, by people you look up to (teachers, family, coaches) you’re too thin, fat, not good enough, disappointing. Direct words have a great impact but subtle insinuations, disapproving glances also have a lasting effect if repeated enough. Many will start to believe what they’re told. 

Imagine, instead of focusing on negatives, the same people sought to comment on positives:
• “You look good.”
• “I like that book you’ve chosen.”
• “You really did well with that jigsaw puzzle.”

Positive words support positive development. (Photo: OnePixel.com)

When I adopted my first dog in the early 1990’s I sought help to help me create an easy canine companion. I stumbled upon a book at the local library called “Training your dog positively.” It’s message was simple and applied so well to my philosophy in teaching: Acknowledge and address the shortfalls (simply/quickly) but regularly praise and promote the successes!

Success
At school I hear and see the results of positive and negative support. Children that are offered more positives and told they will succeed generally do. Children that experience more negativity often struggle with confidence and success.

Two Options for Improving
There are two sides to the issue.
It would be lovely to just ask the world to praise and pursue positive support (while supporting challenges.) That means asking people (including you and me) to reflect and be aware of the impact of our words and actions on people. Less judgment. More positive support.
But that is a lofty goal.

Another option is to arm children with the skills to shield themselves from negativity and pursue positive role models – another challenging goal. I see children who withstand negative influences regularly. Their role models are doing the best they can… But we can encourage children to recognize their own worth and help them seek positive friends and influencers. “Surround yourself with suportive people…”

Listen, choose your words well, and smile.