It is the rare adult that intentionally uses strategies to explicitly show respect to others. Our students are learning a lot of things, not just math, and respect has to be one of them.
Last week I wrote about how to teach responsibility. The quick version: give and expect responsibility. This week, respect. The quick version: give and expect respect!
In both cases, it’s harder than it seems, which is my best excuse for writing pages and pages about it. This post will focus on tangible ways to increase the level of respect in your classroom right now. I write as a teacher of high school students at a private boarding school and as a director of a summer camp with 25 staff and 150 campers – two places where respect is vital to my mission. I do not work at a school with a single student who would cuss me out in the middle of class, though I have been called some names and broken up a (singular) fight in the last five years.
Easy Ways to Give Respect
- Please say “please” when you ask someone to do something, and thank them after they do it. I direct a summer camp and this is almost a mantra I try to repeat with the counselors. We make little kids do say “please,” right? As adults, we sort of forget to do it, or understand that we’re all comrades and forgo the explicit “please” to… save time? Anyway, saying “please” and “thank you” is probably the easiest way to show your respect for someone. “Take your homework out” becomes “Please take your homework out,” an expectant pause while they do it, and then “Thank you.”
- Say “Thank you” when you’re thankful for something. For extra power, name explicitly that for which you’re thankful. “Thanks for being prompt, everyone” or “thanks for getting so into this material, guys, it makes my job really fun!” This has the top-secret side-effect of making it easier to give negative feedback when you need to do that.
- Let them know how you’re feeling. You have to trust them before you can do this one, but once you do, it really shows them that, uh, you trust them. “When you guys get into discussing a concept so thoroughly it makes my job fun because the concepts are my favorite part!” If they understand that you have favorite parts, bad days, pet peeves, and personal triumphs (“I’m really proud of this lesson plan”), they will all but have to respect you. You trust them and you are a person and you are telling them all the ways you are trying to help them. How could anyone resist?
Already, with this easy stuff, you are implicitly creating and reinforcing a culture of respect. There’s deeper respect than adding a few words to your diction, though.
Hard Ways to Give Respect
- Make the schedule of your class clear, and stick to it. If you say you’ll hand back graded work the next day, please actually do it. If you say there will be a test every Friday, please be ready to give one every Friday, and if you say your office hours will be at 7:30 on Thursdays, don’t change that at the last minute. If you do need to change the schedule, please show respect in that as well, by announcing the change as soon as possible ahead of time. If you change things up all the time, take variable amounts of time to grade work, and are inconsistent with your schedule, please do not expect the students to have their work done when you want it to be, or for them to even show up to class on time!
- Find ways to make students part of their own assessment. If you can trust a student to be his own judge (in any part), he will see that you respect him and his time. You’re saying, “hey, I’m getting paid, and you’re required to be here by law. I think you should have some say in what goes on here.” If you can find a way to let students guide the class as a whole, that’s even better. “You’ll go to jail if you leave (or whatever happens), but while you’re here, I want to do my best to make this interesting and enriching from your point of view.”
- Tell students what you’re trying to do with the class. Just tell them everything. This was hard for me in some sort of ego way I can’t describe.
- Apologize when you waste a student’s time. The obvious corollary is Try Not To Waste Students’ Time, but you’ll fail in that for at least some kids (sorry, I’m a pessimist I guess). When you do give a stupid assignment or are unprepared for a lesson plan (not that I’ve ever been unprepared!) just apologize for it.
- State the objectives of your lesson. It’s OK if they know your plan. Bill Ferriter, a NC county teacher of the year, explains why the pedagogy is good. But it also just shows your students that you want them involved in the process. You think they’re smart enough to be in the know.
- State everything else. “I was hoping you would do xyz.” “I never thought of that!” “It’s frustrating to me that you won’t focus on this.” “Today we’re going to try something that I’m a little worried about” (and then all the reasons you think it’ll be great, of course).
These harder things to do are hard for me because I can’t remember to do them all the time. Some of them are a lot of work and some of them just don’t occur to me naturally. Why do the students need to know what’s going to happen – they’re about to find out! But intentionally striving to express your respect is worth some extra work to me, and, I’m not kidding you guys, I’ve seen these methods improve my classroom and camp culture dramatically. Please try these out!
Explicitly Appreciate Respect You Receive
All the same reasons, and all the same benefits. “I appreciate you letting me know that you’ll have to miss a class next week,” “thanks for getting back to me about this,” “thanks for waiting so patiently while I answered Sarah’s question,” “it was so nice of you to think of this!”
Don’t Accept Disrespect
Frankly, I have much less experience with this than some other teachers at my school. I don’t know if my methods of fostering respect are just SO GOOD, or that I mostly teach older students, or what, but I don’t get a lot of disrespect directly. More often one student will disrespect another in some way. Whether I get it or a student gets it, I address it directly and immediately by saying briefly something like “that was disrespectful, and disrespect has no place in our school.” I’m serious when I say this. I’ve got a controlled anger in my voice even for such a small infraction as “shut up” (“shut up” usually gets said exactly once per year in each of my courses). I ask the students involved to (please) find a respectful way to express whatever they want to communicate.
This is a high priority for me and I will stop a lesson to talk about respect even when we’re a week behind my original schedule (“sorry class, we have to change the schedule because I made unrealistic estimates/you guys aren’t in to it/you guys are so into it”).
I hope you’ll give some of this a try. I bet all of you think of your students with respect, and I’m sure almost all of you treat your students with respect. It is the rare adult, though, that intentionally uses strategies to explicitly show respect to others. Our students are learning a lot of things, not just math, and respect has to be one of them. Please audit your own communication methods and see if there are any ways you can build more respect into them!