The power of sorry

It feels like a long time since I’ve written anything here – I meant to write up this post at the start of the year, but now, with term 2 starting tomorrow, I’m finally getting there.  Oh well, better late than never (sigh).

Reflections on the start of year…

In our faculty session at the start of the year I showed Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk “Every kid needs a champion” (again – I showed it to the faculty last year and I’ll probably show it next year too 🙂   )  If you haven’t seen it I’d highly recommend you go and watch it now.  Its here.  One of her suggestions in building relationships with students is to say sorry.

One of the other things we discussed as a faculty that morning was bringing consistency into some of our behaviour expectations of classes, including introducing The RED Box in each class.


The idea for The RED box came originally from Sam (thanks Sam!) last year, a few of us trialed it successfully and hence the roll out to full faculty this year.  It is for cell phones (and other distractions) in class.

My method for using it is as follows: when I’m ready to start the lesson, I say to the whole class something like “okay, lets get started – now is the times for phones to go away”.  They know this means in bags or pockets.  Then, if there is a phone out during class, I just quietly walk over to the student and hold out the box for them to put their phone in, I don’t stop what I’m doing, its just a really low-key non-confrontational way of dealing with the ongoing distraction of cell phones in class.   Also note that in the bottom of each box, there are red cards – if a student argues about the phone at all, they get the choice of putting it in the box or getting a red card – simple!  I’ve not had to give out a red card yet, but have threatened a few times when they start the “I was just checking the time…” arguments.

This method works really well – students know what to expect, know how the system works and I don’t make a big deal over it with them.  As an aside – I’ve moved back to using my basket that I used last year – I found the lid on the box annoying.  A second aside – yes, I sometimes forget to give the “phones away now” signal, so when I see a phone out I just say something like “thanks Nigel for reminding me that its time to put phones away , phones away now please”.


Right – that’s the brief background.  Day 1 in my MAS201 class (Year 12 Statistics, last period after a full day, first day back at school for the year) – my goal was to establish positive relationships while making sure routines and expectations were clear.  Yes, as part of this, I introduced The RED Box to my class and made a really big deal over the “phones away now” signal.

A few minutes later, I spot a phone out… yes, at the back of the room… yes, from a J-name boy! (what is that??!).  I went over, and held out the box, just like we’d discussed.  He started arguing about how he was checking the time, of course, I mentioned the red cards and J-name reluctantly placed his phone in The RED Box.

A wee while later – The RED Box vibrated from the front of the room.  J-name calls out “can I get that, it’ll be my Mum?”.  Unfortunately, I made a classic teacher-mistake of discussing this with J-name across the class, and after a bit of too-ing and fro-ing I ended the debate with “please see me after class”.  (thiank goodness, now at the start of term 2, I can’t remember all the details!)

When J-name came to collect his phone from me at the end of class, our debate continued re using his phone in class, the appropriateness of answering it, even if he knows it was his mother, how come his mother was calling in class time etc etc.  It wasn’t pleasant, nor a moment that I felt I handled well at all.  J-name is a big personality in class, I knew I needed to get him onside, I was pretty sure I’d blown it – I worried and mulled over it all night before realising that I needed to channel Rita.

So the next day… the first thing I did as J-name had come into class and sat down (yes, at the back again) was to go over to him and apologise for the way I’d handled things yesterday – I told him that I’d worried about it all night, and I really wanted to just start fresh today.  I was really impressed with the reaction from J-name.  He also apologised and said that he had been a dick (yes, his word) and yes, that we should start fresh from then on.  Whow! How to turn things around Dr D…

But hang on – J-name’s phone was out again near the end of that period, I made a judgement in the moment to ignore it that time aiming to build that positive relationship.  Next day, I mentioned to J-name at the start of class that I’d seen him with his phone out again yesterday and that I was disappointed.  I’d have to get The RED Box out if it happened again – it did, but no argument at all this time (and I remembered to ask him to turn it off before it went in); when he collected it I suggested that he was welcome to put his phone in The RED Box at the start of the period when he came in as a preventative if he wanted to.

J-name hasn’t done this, I’ve had his phone (and plenty others) in The RED Box over the term but no grumbling about it at all from him and I think we have a pretty good relationship now, and lots of good work is being done.

Moral of the story – apologise, be humble, keep working on building the relationships but keep your expectations high and keep working towards them in a way that supports all the other things you are trying to do.  Never give up on your students.

From Rita: Teaching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion? Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.  Is this job tough? You betcha. Oh God, you betcha. But it is not impossible. We can do this. We’re educators. We’re born to make a difference.



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