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How educators can help students repair damaged relationships and make behavioral changes

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The eighth-grade girl approached Principal Tom Adams in the cafeteria. “Dylan just asked out Samantha as a joke,” she said. “Now he’s laughing about it with his friends, and Samantha is sitting at our table crying.” Adams—who leads Newfane Middle School in Lockport, New York—saw red. He hauled Dylan into his office and started to let him have it, but then changed course. He suddenly recalled a specific phrase he’d read the night before in a tweet: “Do you think you were your best self?” The tweet was mine, and Adams wrote me the next day to tell how altering his approach changed that entire interaction.

Even subtle shifts in language make a difference when you’re interacting with middle schoolers. They’re acutely aware of the imaginary audience and sensitive to both real and perceived slights. They have to believe the adults in their lives care about them and want to help them, and they need to feel redeemable. In this “The Meaningful Middle” column for AMLE, I share this story, along with several ways educators (and coaches, mentors and others) can tweak their approach to help students repair damaged relationships and make lasting behavioral changes.

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