How To Get Your Students To Feel Remorse For Misbehavior

For behavior to improve, your students need to feel remorse when they misbehave. They need to reflect on their transgressions and decide not to make the same mistake again.

Great, you say, but how might that be done? How do you get students to feel something many just don’t feel?

How do you break through when the culture, increasingly, is telling them that there is no right and wrong, that their truth is all that matters?

You remove YOU from the equation and shift responsibility to them.

Here’s how:

Define your rules precisely.

There must be no doubt among your students what does and doesn’t constitute breaking each rule. Thus, you must define your boundaries precisely.

Your students must know the instant they’ve crossed them without you having to point it out to them. There can be no gray areas or confusion over what is and isn’t okay.

In this way, breaking rules becomes a choice they know full well they’re making.

Be sure they know their purpose.

Students need to know, and be reminded of over and over again, why they’re in school and sitting in your class. They need to know what’s at stake and how their education provides freedom and opportunities.

They need to know that it’s about them.

It’s obvious to us, but few students see it this way. They don’t understand the massive implications their hard work, or lack thereof, has on their future.

Explain your job.

Your job isn’t to accept shoddy performance, do their work for them, or let them off the hook. It isn’t to threaten, beg, or implore them to behave or give effort.

It’s to provide world-class lessons. The rest is up to them.

When students feel this shift in responsibility—listening, learning, and behaving is their job—and grasp their role in the relationship, everything changes.

And they finally see the weight of misbehavior.

Show how your rules benefit them.

Your rules are there to protect their right to learn and enjoy being in your class. That’s it. They have no other purpose.

Be sure your students know this by modeling how talking, calling out, ignoring directions, and other disruptive behavior tramples on this right. In other words, show how their behavior affects others.

Be clear about why your rules are good and in their best interest. For many students, this is a radical change in perspective, something they’ve never realized.

Rules shouldn’t be cursed, but thanked.

Follow through.

If you aren’t consistent, then you’re communicating to your students that none of the above is true. You’re telling them very clearly that your rules don’t even matter enough for you to follow them.

That right and wrong doesn’t exist and you’re full of malarkey.

By the same token, your calm, decisive, confident follow-through says more about the sacred importance of listening, learning, and behaving than anything you can say.

Never create friction.

Refusing to engage in petty grievances, in anger, glaring, and raising your voice, in pulling students aside to lecture, question, or debate, safeguards your relationship with students.

It provides easy rapport, leverage, and influence.

It further transfers responsibility over to them. It tells them that you don’t have time to deal with silly disruptions beyond following your plan.

Too much is at stake. And you and they are too far above it.

Remorse, Naturally

Shifting responsibility for listening, learning, and behaving over to your students reframes misbehavior entirely. It makes it seem immature, absurd, even embarrassing.

It fills them with the notion that they’re better than that.

Consequently, even a simple warning becomes meaningful. It prompts reflection, empathy for those they’ve disrupted, and a desire not to cross the same line again.

It brings a wave of remorse that is strong and healthy and impossible to ignore.

It isn’t thrust upon them as a guilt trip, which then is summarily rejected. It isn’t an outside force they can ignore, deny, or refuse to acknowledge.

No, it comes from inside the student.

Where real change happens.

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