On Accidents and Apologies

One of the biggest bones of contention in interactions between students in our school is apologizing, especially if someone does something by accident. Just Thursday at dismissal, a third grader was venting to me about a fight she had with a friend. Apparently it started when something got knocked off a desk, or something like that. “She said, ‘Are you going to apologize?’ and I said, ‘No, because it was an accident,'” the child told me.

“You can still apologize for an accident,” I told her. “In fact, a lot of the times you should. An apology just means you regret something, on purpose or not.”

Elementary students, at least at our school, have an idea that an apology is an admission of guilt. (And in some cultures, it is. But that’s congruent with the school culture we work towards.)

So I was actually impressed with this video that came up in my RSS feed reader. The little boy gets bopped, accidentally, in the face by Vice President Mike Pence. He politely persists in getting Mr. Pence to acknowledge the unintentional harm. And, when Mr. Pence does, he apologizes, adding an explanation (“I didn’t mean to bop you”) without minimizing the child’s concern.

This might be a good moment to share with students to demonstrate that:

  • asking for an apology is not the same as an accusation
  • giving an apology is not an admission of guilt
  • anyone might deserve an apology, or owe the apology to somebody else, regardless of other circumstances like status

School Week Round-Up: Week Fifteen

This was a weird week. Firstly, coming back from Thanksgiving – the first decently long break we’ve had all year – was really nice. People seemed calm and well-rested, and we were away from each other long enough to actually start missing each other.

Lessons: Shortchanged a little, unfortunately, because we’re using specials times to rehearse for our holiday music concern next week. I’ve had time to really fine tune some HyperDocs but not so much time to use them and get student feedback on them.

Support: Interims snuck up on us this week. Luckily, most issues we had with them were easy solves that we’d seen before.

Things I Did Well: Some students became frustrated with technology in class, and I think I handled it well. One student clicked “block” instead of “allow” when Recap asked for permission to use the computer camera and microphone in Google Chrome. Took me a minute to change that setting, and the student was very upset with himself. I just kept telling him it was okay, and thanking him for giving me the chance to learn. I don’t think he quite forgave himself, but he calmed down. Another student was near tears when her computer outright froze up, so instead of recording her reflection on Recap, I had her use Quicktime on my laptop while the rest of her class was leaving.

Things I Will Do Better: I think over Thanksgiving break, I got out of some of my habits and routines that make computer lab time, especially transitions, a lot smoother. I would make a checklist to remind myself, but chances are high that, if I didn’t lose it, I would automatically ignore it. (It’s what I do with clocks…)

Cold Prickly: Some things simply should not appear in a student’s browser history. 🙍

Warm FuzzyWe’re having a holiday-themed door decorating contest at school. Most of the teachers have decorations up that their whole classes helped with; for example, one second grade teacher turned her room entrance into a gingerbread house, and all her students made gingerbread boys and girls to live in it. I don’t have a homebase so I just did mine on my own. It’s not finished — that hearth is definitely in need of a stocking or two — but I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished. I have to be, I stayed til past five on a Friday working on it!


Binary of Feelings: Oversimplifying the Spectrum of Human Experience

In reading more on Colin Kaepernick’s protest, I read this opinion and many things about it resonated with me. I especially appreciate this bit about moving the conversation forward:

The rub lies in how we move the conversation forward. Free speech is a right, but it’s also a test for both the speaker and audience. It demands grace and conscientiousness. Criticism of America won’t always be accurate, it won’t always be fair, and it won’t always be delivered in an articulate fashion. There’s nothing wrong with pointing this out. But we need space to disagree on views of America without making the leap to that’s un-American or you aren’t patriotic or you don’t support the troops. These are nothing more than verbal grenades, McCarthyisms designed to denigrate the speaker at the expense of engaging their ideas. It’s cheap, it’s dumb, and it’s beneath us.

Another friend posted this link to a comic by the Oatmeal (some language may be unsafe for work). “I’m not ‘happy’ because our definition of happy isn’t very good. It’s a monochromatic word used to describe rich, painful spectrum of human feeling.” Especially after reading Ross Richendrfer’s Whose America Is It?, it got me to thinking about how many feelings we treat as binary: if you’re not happy, you must be unhappy. If you don’t love America the way I love America, then you must hate America.
And what problems does this really cause? In a post about undemocratic schools, Will Richardson describes the “race to the bottom” in campaign rhetoric, and how our binary polarization feeds it. Acknowledging spectrum would make room for nuance but might be too complicated for us.

We’ve become a nation of dull-witted consumers of whatever partisan drivel we might subscribe to, preferring  just to cement whatever worldview we already have rather than engage in some type of reasoned conversation that negotiates where the “truth” might actually be.

And this is a scary thing. It’s no wonder one candidate for president proclaims “I love the poorly educated,” because that’s a great way of getting elected these days.

This isn’t good for the health of democracy overall.

Seeing the world critically and not simply accepting what is is a fundamental part of what democratic societies need their citizens to do… I’m talking about “reasoned conversation” of an intellectual type that I don’t think we’ve seen at all this year in the primaries or general election. In fact, at least in politics, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen two candidates just sit down at a table and have a conversation about something they disagree on with the intent of understanding the other side more fully.

When we treat these issues like a binary, we’re taking shortcuts, we’re jumping to conclusions. We’re putting people into boxes without taking time and energy to try to see and understand their perspective. We’re kind of turning into the mob from the end of Beauty and the Beast.

So what do we do? We begin by acknowledging complexities both in ourselves and in other people. By remembering that we can’t always know someone else’s point of view without listening to them first. Beyond that, I don’t know. I want to build more empathy, cooperation, and democracy into my life and into my classroom. I stand open for suggestions.

Supporting Students by Supporting Teachers


I attended a chorale concert yesterday. My mother-in-law performs twice a year with a chorale associated with a local university. Excitingly, they also invited the local high school chorale to perform with them. I sat next to a stranger and I chattered with her happily about how cool it was that our district’s students had the chance to perform for a new audience.

At some transitional point between songs, this person passed me their phone, on which they had typed up a note. I don’t remember it word for word, but the gist was that, as a teacher, I had the ability (and responsibility) to positively impact students’ lives. I do remember the last sentence: “You may be just what they need.”

I took this as both a reminder of my responsibility as an educator, and as encouragement. It was a reminder because this stranger did not have a child or even a relative going through public schools, but as part of the community she is just as invested in local public education as anybody else. After all, shouldn’t she care that the students we graduate are ready to be good citizens? Shouldn’t she care that they engage in their community? Shouldn’t she care that they are prepared for jobs in and around our area, especially if they end up doing a job that she relies on them to be good at?

I also took it as encouragement, which is I think the spirit in which the message was intended. And that’s fine, because I think teachers need encouragement and support in order to do our jobs effectively. So much of teaching is giving encouragement and support to students. We have a phrase, “running out of patience,” that acknowledges that the intangible quality of patience is one that may come in limited stores. I think other intangible qualities — compassion and understanding, for example — may also come in limited stores. So when I need to use up all my patience for a particular student, it helps when someone else shows me patience in return, to help restore my own capacity for patience.

The last couple of staff meetings we’ve had at our school have largely been about the topic of leadership, but with the underlying message of the importance of our relationships. We talked about how having positive relationships with students correlates to positive impacts on grades, and potentially over other indicators of well-being. Having good relationships between teachers and students positively impacts school culture as well, since it helps students develop socially as well.

Students do better when they feel supported by their teachers. And teachers? Teachers do better when we feel supported by our communities.