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Growing up, I learned to say "I'm sorry" or "I apologize" when I made a mistake. As an adult and an educator, my initial reaction when correcting a child's wrongdoing was to instruct them to apologize. It used to be a common practice, and I'm sure many educators can relate to this. However, let's take a moment to reflect. What does forcing apologies truly achieve? What's the purpose behind it?

The intended purpose of forced apologies, I believe, is to make children realize their actions are wrong. But do these words, "I'm sorry" or "I apologize," genuinely convey that realization? They are just words that anyone can say, even if they don't mean it. Adults sometimes apologize merely to ease the moment, without truly feeling at fault. Forcing kids to apologize can be seen as teaching them to be insincere, to utter a few words to make someone feel better, even if they don't believe they are wrong. It's like instructing children to say words in the moment, regardless of whether their behavior will be repeated in the future.

So, what's my alternative?

In my classroom, when something occurs, I express my sincerity towards the situation in front of the student. I express my belief in their goodness and suggest that, upon reflection, they might want to apologize when they genuinely recognize their mistake. I highlight their positive qualities while acknowledging that their actions were indeed wrong. This approach, across many grade-levels, usually always resulted in apologies later that day, the next morning, or even days later. These apologies came when the student had time to truly reflect on their behavior. The apologies came when the situation had died down and any potential consequences had already been given.

My goal is to nurture good citizens. I find insincere apologies from adults for personal gain distasteful, so why would I encourage my students to "just apologize" without meaning it? I don't. I won't. Instead, I continue to guide children to be as authentic as possible. While I model genuine apologies, I emphasize that changed behaviors matter more than a couple of words, and those words are meaningless if not sincere.


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