Teacher-student relationships are critical for student success. Especially for at-risk, or trauma-affected students. Think about the students who are always getting into trouble. Relationships for these students, when authentic and sustained, will make a world of difference. Additionally, relationships with all students will help them to see you as a human and more than a teacher (and all that stands for). One way to humanize yourself in the eyes of students is to apologize to them. Rather than worry about undermining your authority, recognize that apologies, when done appropriately, will serve to strengthen your relationships and improve student confidence. Curious to know more? Read on and learn why and how to apologize to students.
Want to build trust, empathy, and strong social skills in your students? Apologizing is exactly what you need. Why is it so powerful and how can you make it effective? Read on to learn!
Imagine you are a struggling student with behavior problems. Your interactions with adults throughout the day are predominantly negative, especially with teachers. The ratio of positive to negative interactions is lopsided, filled with reprimands, scowls, academic corrections, and even punishments. Mercy, concern, and compassion are likely scarce. If that student is acting out due to maltreatment earlier in their lives or in the present, negative behaviors are going to be reinforced with punishments and reprimands.
As a teacher, what can you do? Beyond a compliment or even compassion, you can apologize when it's appropriate and give that student the upper hand for a moment. If you did something wrong or something that reinforced the student's negative view of themselves, tell them you're sorry. Essentially, recognize your mistakes and admit that you're human. Help students see that making mistakes is fine and making amends is powerful.
How Do You Know When to Apologize?
If you've ever felt, even for a second, like you've slighted a student, then that is an opportunity to apologize. Do you ever make mistakes in interactions, grades, or social situations that negatively affect a student? If so, you should apologize. For example, if you call on a student who isn't necessarily disengaged or goofing off, but you catch them off guard, then you get upset with them for not knowing the answer, that is a mistake on your part. It will likely embarrass them and make them less likely to engage in your class. Another example is if you lose a student's work but blame them for it, and find it later. Again, this is your fault and a situation where you can show humility. What other examples can you think of?
How Do You Apologize to Students?
Pull students aside after class and assure them right away that they're not in trouble. This will make it easier for them to listen to you (think avoiding the fight, flight, or freeze response...which shuts our brains down). Admit to them that you're human, that you make mistakes, and that you want to apologize to them for a specific mistake that you think negatively affected them. Then, come up with a solution for avoiding the mistake in the future. Be sure to weigh their input equally to your own. Ask for their forgiveness.
When you apologize to students, you admit you are human and that your mistakes may negatively impact others. When that happens, you take responsibility, modeling for students how to do that. Doing so also strengthens your relationship with student, showing that you care about them. Relationships are a key element for the success of trauma-affected youth.
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Also, check out the video that inspired this post!
My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.