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The Teacher Tip

Encourage Students to Resolve Their Own Problems

December 27, 2017

Adapted from What Every Middle-School Teacher Should Know by Dave Brown and Trudy Knowles

When our students behave in ways we’d rather they didn’t, we often lapse into familiar patterns of communicating. Traditional responses such as, “Go over and apologize to her for what you said,” “It’s not that big a deal,” or, “Why did you act that way?” don’t help adolescents to solve their problems, and their feelings and frustrations may linger. 

Try this: “empathetic listening,” which requires listening without judging or moralizing, and encourages students to resolve their own problems. Young adolescents are more likely to take responsibility for their actions and words when teachers use empathetic listening. 

A few diffusing responses:

  • “I noticed you’re late again. Is there anything I can do to help you get here on time? It means a lot to me to have you here when class begins.”
  • “I see you don’t have a pencil again. What can you do to resolve this problem? Do you need my help in getting supplies?”
  • “How do you think your behavior might affect others?”
  • “I see you’re quite upset. Do you want to talk about it?”

To learn more about What Every Middle-School Teacher Should Know and download a sample chapter, visit 

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