Mar 03 2011

A Disciplined Classroom–Teaching Students to Take Responsibility by Writing a Formal Apology

It happened today…I had to hold 4 students after class because they were loud and disruptive during video presentations by other students. How and why does this happen? Haven’t I written posts about creating and keeping discipline in the classroom? Grrrr…why is it that I am still having issues?

Duh…8th graders are going to act like 8th graders even if I have made every effort to keep them productive and engaged.

So, today my kids were loud…very, very L-O-U-D! I kept the offenders after class and asked them to write a letter to me with the problem they caused in class, and what they could do differently next time. Great idea, right? Let me show you (verbatim) what I got back from one student:

I am really sorry for what happened in class today, however, I don’t understand why I’m getting into trouble when I wasn’t the only one. I will write your note, but I really need you to tell me what I did because I am unsure. Ok, I did tell someone to shut up but it was because I was trying to learn from the presentation. I WAS loud, and I’m sorry for that but, again, I wasn’t the only one. I guess what I will do in the future is never talk to you again or speak in class, ever. I guess I can try to follow all your rules and I’ll always be mute!

Wow…fantastic! I should be nominated for teacher of the year by the looks of that response! But, I was able to ask that the letter be redone with a few changes (accept responsibility, be remorseful, what changes will take place in your behavior?). She complied with a thoughtful letter after our talk. Here are a few suggestions for a student who gives you a half-hearted apology when they need to make things right:

  • There must a be true apology…now, I can’t tell if they really do mean it, but “fake it ’til you can make it” right?
  • There must be owning up to the misbehavior…no blaming on someone else, no skirting their responsibility
  • There must be a plan of action to prevent the misbehavior in the future…what will the student do differently?
  • There must be a replacement behavior for the old one…if the student talks out of turn, ask them if they can place their hand over their mouth when they feel like they are going to speak out until the teacher has time to call on them
  • There must be a change in the student or they need a plan created by the teacher/parent and or student…if a student can’t change misbehavior after being prompted, they will have to have a behavior plan created for them

I think the best outcome for misbehavior is that the child learns from his mistake. Today was a teachable moment for my students and me; a student learned how to apologize correctly for misbehavior and how to find a replacement for that behavior. I learned that no matter how much I know about discipline, students will always push boundaries and I have to be prepared to help them with a life skill; if you mess up, apologize and move on.

Happy Teaching!

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “A Disciplined Classroom–Teaching Students to Take Responsibility by Writing a Formal Apology”

  1.   Deb White Groebneron 04 Mar 2011 at 8:02 PM     1

    Thank you for sharing your honest reflection! As a new teacher, I haven’t tried apology letters with my students, but I can totally imagine getting responses like the one you described (and probably worse).

    It seems like many students are unwilling or unable to appraise their own behavior in terms of the needs/expectations of the larger group, preferring instead to claim that the teacher is unfairly accusing them (“I wasn’t the only one” – which is funny in your case, since you detained more than one student) or that the inappropriate behavior was justified (“I was telling them to shut up” – as if they were being helpful rather than contributing to the disruption). I also find the “I’ll show you how unreasonable your expectations are – I won’t talk at all, ever again” threat interesting. It’s such an immature diversion from accepting responsibility that I’d like to chalk it up to being an 8th grader; unfortunately, some adults (and perhaps their own parents) model the same response.

    Have you tried or thought about trying a worksheet with prompts to communicate your expectations regarding the apology letter’s contents? Perhaps being faced with the task of writing an apology on a blank sheet of paper is more valuable; I’m not sure. Thoughts?

  2.   Jessica Piperon 04 Mar 2011 at 11:12 PM     2

    Hey, Deb! I do have sheets for the kids; I call them “think sheets” and they usually work really well! The situation that happened in my class yesterday was just out of the ordinary=) I can e-mail you a digital copy of my sheet if you’re looking for options. Thanks so much for reading and for your reply.


  3.   Bonnie Yelvertonon 22 Mar 2011 at 4:34 PM     3

    Hi Jess,
    I feel just like you did your first year (started Feb 1 in a small charter school with many difficult students.) … and Deb.
    I had been thinking about a thinking sheet. I’d love it if you’d send it to me. And I will set up a safe seat right after spring break! Thanks

  4.   Laurie Wagneron 23 Mar 2011 at 3:08 PM     4

    I just found your blog from a link from my National Board publication. I’m especially enjoying your thoughts on managing student behavior. I’m impressed with how much you’ve figured out in your (relatively) short time in the classroom! I’m in my 22nd year of teaching (still can’t believe I’m that old…), and I’m still always reconsidering the strategies I use to manage behavior. I also use a type of “think sheet” that requires students to reflect on their behavior choices. I would very much like to see the “think sheets” that you use. If possible, I’d love a copy!
    Thanks so much!


  5.   Carlyon 09 Apr 2011 at 4:02 PM     5

    Hi! I would love to see the think sheets as well!



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