George Lucas Educational Foundation

Saying "I'm sorry" to students

Saying "I'm sorry" to students

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I just wrote a post on my blog titled "The Importance Of Saying “I’m Sorry” To Students." In my post, I share a formula I use “regret, reason and remedy” that I try to model in my apologies. I've found that these "I'm sorry's" definitely strengthen my relationships with students. What has been your experience saying "I'm sorry" to students?

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Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

When you've messed up, it's essential to say you're sorry AND to say what it is you are sorry for. I insist that my students not only apologize to someone but say what they are apologizing for. It's important that I practice what I preach. I tell students that I mess up every day - often more than once! Teachers are human just like students. As the saying goes, "to err is human".

Alice Mercer's picture
Alice Mercer
Elementary Computer Lab Teacher

I try to do this. One time I had a student run to the bathroom (I'm in a converted kinder class, so I have them in the room). I chewed her out a bit for leaving without permission. I found out later she had been sick to her stomach and vomited. I made it a point to apologize to her in front of the class and let them know that they didn't need to ask to go if they were going to be sick. This was important not just for my relationship with the student, but because it's in my own self-interest not to have kids throwing up on the carpet while they wait to get permission, which was the lesson they could have taken from that.

Lynn Jacobs's picture
Lynn Jacobs
Seventh grade ELD teacher, Eighth grade AVID teacher.

Sometimes I realize that I've been impatient and have cut a student off, or have in some other way been less than respectful of them than I believe I should be. When I catch myself in that position I make a point if speaking very clearly to them, not in private. I'll tell them that I owe them an apology. Then I tell them specifically what I did and what I should have done instead. And then I apologize to them. It does work to increase the respect in my relationship with that student, as well as build a more respectful tone in my classroom.

Ron Shuali's picture
Ron Shuali
Keynote Speaker and Workshop Trainer at Shua Life Skills

When you apologize, say it once and mean it. If you don't truly mean it, find something else to say. Also, if you think you can keep your promise, tell them "It won't happen again". In addition, kids know that "I'm sorry" are two words that let them get away with alot. When kids say "I'm sorry" to me, I watch their faces and look for facial microexpressions to see if they mean it. is a great site to learn how to detect true emotions. We as adults have to train ourselves to notice these things, kids can see them quickly and naturally.

Emily Holbrook's picture
Emily Holbrook
Elementary teacher of 6-7 year olds in Ohio

Learning the facial expressions of students would be a great way to know more about what they are really meaning when they are talking. I am going to look into this on the internet and see if I can find some free resources to get information about this topic. Thank you for sharing!

Susan SegalWood's picture

It should go without saying. If you as a teacher or an adult do something wrong or out of the realm of what your kids/students expect than by all means you should do the right thing and apologise

Stephen Hurley's picture
Stephen Hurley
Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

I had an incident yesterday where this became very important. I received a phone call from a parent whose daughter is in my grade eight class. Apparently, in a busy morning rush this week, when students were at our classroom door collecting pizza money, valentine cookie money, and trip money, I made a comment to Sarah. I remember what she was doing at the time, but I do not, for the life of me, remember saying what it was reported I said. It wasn't even something that I would imagine saying, even in the confusion of the moment. But I did remember Sarah being different around me on the day that I received the phone call. I figured it was just one of those days.

I was devastated, however, to learn that my words upset Sarah. She didn't want her mom to call, but I was so glad that she did. INstead of waiting for the next morning to come along, I asked if I could speak to Sarah on the phone. When she came to the phone, I expressed my regret, apologized and asked for her forgiveness. I didn't make any excuses, but told her that there was no excuse for my words, and that I regretted having hurt her.

I felt somewhat better after hanging up the phone, but I still didn't get much sleep last night.

This morning, nothing was said, but there was a silent recognition that things were fine. Sarah was back to her old self and me, although a little tired, learned an important lesson!


Emily Bayley-LeQuire's picture
Emily Bayley-LeQuire
Montessori preschool teacher 24 years, BA Early Ed, Master Student in Ed,

I believe in treating students/children the same as I would treat any other human being of any age, so apologies are part of any ongoing relationship. I generally explain why an apology is due to the person/student and then sincerely regret the incident with an "I am sorry" or what ever words seem to fit the situation. It also acts as a model for the children to feel safe to apologize and note that it feels good to apologize to another person. This creates a bridge to communication and reunites the person who made the infraction with the person who received the infraction. I am currently in a Masters program and my action research is in the realm of, " Is there a need for pre-service teacher candidates to receive training in how to speak to children in a kind and compassionate way thus creating a safe environment for optimum learning to take place. A apology when it is the right thing to do is certainly part of a respectful relationship between students and teachers.Thank you for brining this subject up. Emily

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