A stiff apology is a second insult. The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.
But I’m not sorry. Why do I need to say I am sorry if I am not sorry?
I heard these words in a conversation between a student and a teacher in the hallway during a break between meetings. I never heard the teacher’s response, because this sentence sent me on a journey of my own thoughts. I found myself reliving so many discussions and situations with colleagues and students around the “I’m sorry” dilemma. Should we make students apologize? Does it mean anything? What does it mean to say you are sorry? How do we move beyond our own feelings and think from the perspective of another person?
A wise professor once taught me about apologies in a consultation strategies course. The phrase he gave us to think about was: Intent vs. Impact. The idea behind this phrase is that an apology is not typically about what we did or planned to do, it is about the impact our words or actions had on another person. He explained that often when an apology is in order the person who needs to deliver it feels the need to defend the intention of his or her words or actions. In the process of trying to convince that we did not intend to offend or hurt we negate our apology. In most instances the person at fault did not intend to hurt anyone, but nonetheless it was the impact. In our defense we never honor the feelings our offense caused.
He talked with us about first taking a minute to think about the impact on the other person — focus on the feelings and perspective of that person. Then reflect on how you feel about causing that feeling. Can you apologize for causing that feeling regardless of intent? If we hurt someone can we say we are sorry for the impact of our words or our actions? By apologizing for our impact we are not saying we intended it, but we are recognizing the feelings of the person who was hurt. The apology should not be about us, but about someone else. When we remove fault from the apology it takes on a different meaning. It often opens the door to a productive conversation focused on understanding another person’s point of view and preventing this type of interaction in the future.
In my work I often get into situations when I hurt a teacher, student or colleague. I never want to cause these feelings and feel horribly when it happens. Sometimes I find out about these situations through a third party and the person impacted does not want me to know about how they feel. In these moments I realize how important it is to allow another person to say they are sorry for their impact. When I am not given that opportunity to apologize it festers inside of me and it is difficult to move forward. The only way to learn and grow is through reflection and it is difficult to reflect without a dialogue.
It seems that saying sorry is important for both the person hurt and the person who offended. When I focus on the phrase, Intent vs. Impact, it frees me from feeling defensive and trying to explain myself. I find that when I open myself up to understand another person’s perspective, regardless of blame, I can truly listen to them and learn how to communicate better.
An apology is not about being right or wrong – it is about understanding and caring about the perspective of another person.
This week we consider the needs of kindergarten learners. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Clare Landrigan founded Teachers for Teachers with Tammy Mulligan. She spends her days helping educators from New England and beyond do the hard, thoughtful, and rewarding work of improving schools for young readers and writers. You can find Clare and Tammy’s latest thinking at the Perspectives blog.
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Here are two resources from the archives on working with kindergartners.
Max Brand shares his essential books for kindergarten teaching:
Jennifer Schwanke lists the many strategies kindergarten teachers can employ to foster a love of reading in children in her essay Two Teachers One Kindergartner:
This eloquent letter from a veteran kindergarten teacher about why she is quitting is thoroughly depressing, but it also highlights all the wrong policy moves being made in schools, and how little say teachers have these days about them:
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Keri Archer writes about the importance of morning message for kindergartners:
Kelly Petrin finds animal backpacks are a wonderful tool for building literacy skills in young learners, as well as the home/school connection:
In this week’s video, Mandy Robek has a book choice conference with Drew. This is the first installment in her kindergarten conferring series:
Ruth Ayres confers with kindergartener Abby about her writing during the first weeks of school in this bonus video:
New PD2Go: Mandy Robek takes her kindergartners through a picture walk using Mrs. Wishy Washy as the text:
This video and workshop guide fulfills Common Core Standard ELA-Literacy RL.K.7: With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear (e.g., what moment in a story an illustration depicts).
That’s all for this week!