The Importance of an Apology

Here at Classroom Communities, we didn’t have a post prepared for today. We dropped the ball in our scheduling, and left a gap that was unfilled for far too long. We’re sorry. We’ll be sure to double-check the schedule well in advance in the future to avoid this happening again.

Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

That could have been today’s entire post. The truth is, we had a gap, and we didn’t fill it. We try to run a post every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. We’ve been pretty good at this since our start in July of last year, though we have left a couple unfilled gaps in the schedule. We have missed some days.

But let me ask you this, if you’re a regular reader of the blog. When we missed a day in the past, did you notice? Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t. If you did, did you wonder what had happened? Perhaps you thought someone was sick? Or that we abandoned the blog? Perhaps you thought something was wrong on your end, or that the internet had somehow conspired against you to keep you from reading our post that day. [Perhaps I think we have a readership far more concerned about us than it actually is]

My point here is that, in the past, we have made a mistake, and yet you may have been the ones left with unanswered questions. That’s not really a good burden to bear for those who did no wrong.

What if we ran a post that was rude, intentionally or otherwise? What if we claimed something as fact, and it turned out that we didn’t do our due diligence, and we were wrong? What if we sent you away from our post, fuming mad? Not exactly the sort of reaction we hope to inspire as we discuss the importance of community.

If we had done that, though (and perhaps we unknowingly have–please leave a comment here if this is the case so we can address that), then an apology would be in order. Because again, we would have made a mistake, and you would have been left with unanswered questions or a justified anger. We could have issued a simple, “Hey. We screwed up. Here’s what we did that was wrong. Here’s what we’re going to do to fix it. Here’s what we’re going to do to try to avoid that in the future. We’re sorry.”

A simple action, and one that we’ve all probably had to do before.

And yet, and yet, and yet…

Do we take this path with our students? Surely we’ve helped them apologize to us, or to each other. But do we apologize to them?

Raise your hand if you’ve made a mistake as an educator. Okay, hands down, I can’t see anything but palms and fingers. Some of you had 6 hands up; not sure how you managed that.

I bet if I asked for the same show of hands for who has apologized for those mistakes, it would be fewer. I hope not by much. But I know I’ve made mistakes as a teacher I haven’t apologized for.

We need to apologize to our students when we make mistakes. Here’s why:

1. It models appropriate behavior

Would we not expect our students to apologize when they make mistakes? I don’t mean making mistakes in their attempts at learning; I mean when they accidentally (or “accidentally”) knock a classmate down. Or when they speak in a way they know hurts others.

What if they don’t know how, or have never experienced what that’s like?

How could we reasonably expect them to apologize to others if we don’t apologize to them?

2. It humanizes you

You know who doesn’t make mistakes? Robots. And that’s only assuming a mistake means to go against how they were programmed. Humans make mistakes all the time. If we pretend we didn’t, it’s as if we pretend we’re not human. Not a good thing if you’re trying to run a classroom built upon relationships and community.

This also takes us back to bullet #1. We can draw upon our own modeling to help a student navigate how to apologize when there’s a lot of conflicting human emotions at play (regret and pride to name two big ones). Also, if you apologize…

3. It keeps you from looking like a fool

Do you really think your students don’t know when you screwed up? Please. Show them that you also know you made a mistake, and what to do when that happens.

4. It levels the playing field

Similar to humanizing you as a teacher, it also makes it okay for anyone in the room to apologize to anyone in the room. The person with the most positional authority apologized to those with the least. That flips the standard model, and it allows for all kinds of positive actions if your classroom is set up with the respectful environment that permits those actions.

5. It empowers your students

When you apologize, to anyone, it gives them the power. They can accept your apology or not. They can move forward with your plan to make it right or not. They can learn to apologize when they make mistakes. Or not. They hold the cards.

How often do we give the students the cards? How often do we let them accept an apology from us? Trust them with this power. I promise you, they won’t let you down.

Again, we’re sorry we didn’t have a post ready to go for today. We will work to ensure that doesn’t happen in the future.

 

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