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respect

August 26, 2022

Building a Respectful Classroom

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A mentor once told me, “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.” This couldn’t be more accurate when working with teenagers. If you want your students to invest in learning and place importance on completing your assignments to the best of their ability, you must first establish a strong rapport with them. One key to relationships is respect. In order to create a positive learning environment, students must feel that there is a mutual respect between teacher and students. Everyone wants to feel as if they are treated fairly and equally. This is no different for your students, whether they are in kindergarten or 11th grade. Let’s look at four ways to build respect: showing students respect, respecting diversity, setting norms, and teaching students to respect each other.

Showing Respect

The first step to building respect is for you to respect your students. It’s important to begin with the default perspective that all students deserve respect. I spoke with a teacher who worked with students at an alternative school for at-risk middle and high school students. He told me, “These students don’t deserve respect. If they did, they wouldn’t be here.” With that attitude, his students are doomed to failure. We must give all students a chance. There are several strategies you can use to show respect for your students. First, build a good relationship with them. Smile, show interest in their interests, make positive comments about them whenever you can—and if you can’t, try harder. Remember, the students who act the worst need you the most.

Respecting Diversity

Another aspect of respecting students is to respect the diversity of others. When we respect our diverse students, we choose to recognize that each one is a person to be valued. The same is true for our students. My grandmother loved to make quilts. One of my most cherished possessions is a quilt she made before she died. It is a patchwork kaleidoscope of colors and patterns. I love it because it is one of a kind. There has never been one like it, and there will never be. It reminds me of her, an inimitable, colorful set of surprises. She would buy scraps of cloth in different stores; she didn’t go in and pick everything in advance. She picked up odds and ends and then sewed them together to make this beautiful quilt.

When you celebrate diversity in your classroom, you do exactly the same thing. You welcome each of your students, celebrating their backgrounds and various worldviews because each one has something that can contribute to a textured and beautiful classroom community. If your response is, “Great, I can mix and match these together to make a beautiful quilt,” you are already on the road to celebration.

One way to celebrate diversity is to have students build culture boxes, posters or digital exhibitions. Simply ask students to collect items, pictures or drawings of anything that reflects their culture or family. Then, they display them and share the items with your class. Not only do you understand your students better, so will your students. As a follow-up, students can describe things they have in common with their peers.

Setting Norms

To establish an atmosphere in which respect reigns, consider asking your students to help you build classroom norms—an agreed-upon set of expectations for conduct in the classroom. Ask students how they want to feel when they are in your room. As they brainstorm a list of words, write them down. Afterward, ask them what they can do to ensure that each classmate experiences these feelings while in the room, and write down what you will agree to do as the teacher as well. This is a good starting place for a class contract.

sample contract

This student-centered and student-created set of “rules” is more like an evolving, breathing set of guidelines that give life to the learning community in your room. Shared values and a shared vision will allow your students to grow together, make mistakes together and celebrate achievements together in a mutually respectful atmosphere, where everyone is making the choice to be a part of something greater.

Students Respecting Each Other

Finally, we want students to respect each other. If you want to build a community of learners, where everyone works together, respect is critical. You might use a student credo to teach students how to show respect.

Student credo for respecting others

A Final Note

One aspect of a positive, effective learning climate is respect. It’s important for you to show respect for your students, but it’s also crucial to build shared norms and help your students respect each other.

New Teacher Collection

We know as a new educator, you must have a lot of questions (and may be a bit nervous), but that’s where Share My Lesson comes in. We’ve put together a set of resources and practical tools from experts and educators in the field – just for you!

Barbara Blackburn

As a teacher, a leader and a university professor responsible for graduate training for educators, Barbara Blackburn has used her knowledge and experiences to write over 25 best-selling books.

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