How to Empower Students to See (and Fix) Their Mistakes

How to Empower Students to See (and Fix) Their Mistakes

Children make mistakes. Guess what? They’re supposed to! It’s how they learn. It’s their job. It’s our job as adults (teachers, administrators and parents) to recognize that truth, bring it to light, then counsel and direct them about their choices.

When we take the time, we can help students discover and verbalize alternative behavior, give them new tools to practice and release them to make better choices. 

As a high school and middle school administrator, I would say 90% of the students who come to my office either lie to my face or don’t tell the whole truth about why they’re there. Frankly, I can’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to be sitting in my office either. Once they are in that seat, it has all gone too far, and it’s now time for relatively serious consequences.

Many students don’t lie or tell half truths on purpose. They tell their truth. In their mind, their youthful perspective is right and very justified. Your goal is to help them see how different choices lead to different outcomes.

Children make mistakes. Guess what? They’re supposed to! (tweet this)

Below are a few steps I have used when direct with young people when they exhibit less than admirable behavior to help them make better choices.

First, get both parties in the room.

Set ground rules:

We will speak the truth.

We will admit mistakes.

We will listen and don’t interrupt.

We will learn something important before we leave this room.

Ask why they think they are sitting in front of you.

The first step to changing behavior with a young person is acknowledging their current behavior. Give them a few minutes to tell their side of the story. Listen. Don’t interrupt them.

You can even go a step further and have them write about the situation descriptively, read it back to them and begin discussing it further.

Review the entire situation with them.

“From where I’m sitting, this is what happened, and correct me if I’m wrong…”

Make sure they are confident you have an understanding of the event.

Uncover the “why dids.”

  • Why did you do that?
  • Why do you think he did that?
  • Why did you say that?
  • Why do you think he said that?

The why dids will allow you to access their personal belief system and will give you a starting point to begin allowing them to reflect on the choices they made.

Identify alternate responses.

Find an instance or two where either party could have made a different choice which would have deescalated the entire incident.


  • If you said/did this rather than that, what sort of reaction do you think he would have had?
  • What could you have said/done differently in that situation to avoid the confrontation?

In most cases, both parties could have made better choices. Allow them to verbalize the choice or choices they need to make next time.

Always end with a “moving forward.”

Ask, “Do you feel like you can move forward now?”

A moving forward is like an ending review in a classroom. It provides an opportunity to revisit and cement in their minds the new tools they now have to deal with difficult situations should they arise again. (And they will, believe me. And that’s okay.)

Click on the image to download a printable PDF:

Managing Mistakes

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About Jeff Davis 10 Articles
With 14 years of experience in education in Florida and Tennessee, Jeff Davis is a middle school administrator, speaker and blogger whose passion is building lasting connections among teachers, students, parents and the community.