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Building Respect in the Classroom

education best practicesBuilding Respect in the Classroom

March 6, 2020

Respect is essential to every healthy dynamic. It should come as no shock that this is also true when building relationships with students.

Students—particularly children and teenagers—often learn to reciprocate respect, empathy, and other positive attributes by way of a strong example.

Here’s some thought-starters and tips for all educators on promoting respect in the classroom — to cultivate a learning environment grounded in respect and understanding!

Respect in the Classroom: What Does It Look Like?

While standards of respect vary according to individual and circumstance, the basics of respect in the classroom can be characterized by five simple classroom behaviors.

1. Attentive Listening When Peers or Teachers Speak

Listening quietly and attentively when someone is speaking is a fantastic example of respect in the classroom.

Whether the individual speaking is a teacher delivering a lesson, a student sharing a report or project, or a classroom visitor like administrators or special guests, refraining from engaging in excessive chatter, movement, or other distractions creates a respectful environment that is ripe for growth and learning.

2. Following the Rules

Following the rules is one of the most basic yet pivotal behaviors for building respect in the classroom.

Following the rules demonstrates respect and appreciation for the classroom and all its inhabitants. Rule-following also reinforces habits and mannerisms that support high levels of respect and will serve students as they progress in their educational journey.

While almost every student will occasionally struggle to stick to the rules, consistent flouting of classroom rules can indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of respect in the classroom and call for educator intervention.

3. Demonstrating Kindness and Consideration of Others

Treating others the way you want to be treated is the gold standard of respect for a reason.

Teaching students to be kind and considerate to their classmates, teachers, and administrators is crucial to cultivate classroom respect. Maintaining high standards for classroom kindness is also vital to foster an environment that feels safe and inclusive for all students.

With over 50% of middle and high school students reporting feeling unsafe in school, kindness and consideration have never been more pivotal for ensuring equitable and open access to learning opportunities.

4. Self-Control and Patience

Another sign of a respectful classroom is the controlling of disruptive impulses that harm the learning experience.

For example, a classroom with low levels of respect may have several students who speak without raising their hands during classroom discussions or refuse to wait for their turn during classroom activities or playtime.

Both of these behaviors indicate low levels of self-control and patience, which are vital skills for success inside and outside of the classroom.

These behaviors are also closely linked to rule-following, so a student who struggles to follow established classroom rules is likely to struggle with controlling distracting or disruptive impulses during class time and recess as well.

5. A Commitment to Honesty 

To put it simply, respect requires honesty.

Positive student-teacher relationships hinge on trust, and the foundation of trust is honesty.

Educators must make their own commitment to honesty and fairness in order to develop honesty in the classroom. They should consistently expose their students to the benefits of honesty to reinforce its importance (even when a student is fessing up to something frustrating!).

Respect and Generation Alpha 

Generational differences can play a significant role in the way individuals conceptualize respect, particularly when it comes to the use of technology.

Generation Alpha was born into a technological world, where devices and screens are used for everything from hobbies to entertainment to education. In fact, tech has become such a ubiquitous part of life for Generation Alpha that 90% of Generation A students started using handheld electronic devices before reaching 12 months old.

While this comfortability with electronic devices can be a boon to learning experiences, it can also lead to issues in the classroom.

Educators should take time to set clear boundaries and codes of conduct when it comes to technology in the classroom to avoid consistent issues, while also examining their own biases surrounding technology to ensure their classroom policies are centered around respect rather than tradition.

Why Teaching Respect in the Classroom Is Important

Respect is an integral part of human relationships and society.

And while the basics of respect are first introduced and reinforced in infancy, children and teens still need a fair share of guidance to develop into kind, considerate, and respectful members of society.

Teaching respect in the classroom is also crucial for supporting the educational success of students.

Respect in the classroom boosts teacher effectiveness and encourages active and appropriate participation in classroom activities. Positive, supportive, and respectful relationships between teachers and students even increase students’ odds of long-term academic and social success.

But what does teaching respect in the classroom mean?

Let’s explore this crucial question together.

Teaching Respect Means Encouraging Honesty

As we mentioned before, honesty is a major factor when thinking about how to respect students.

Turn-based games that follow specific rules provide great opportunities to teach students about honesty. Students can build trustworthy habits by adhering to the rules of the game and can also learn about the consequences of dishonesty if they give in to the temptation to cheat.

Teaching Respect and Expressing Gratitude

Gratitude plays a large role in the development of respect in the classroom.

Teachers can teach and encourage gratitude by holding discussions about what gratitude means and its important role in daily life. To further reinforce gratitude, teachers can create art projects that encourage students to reflect on what they’re grateful for and creatively express it.

Teaching Respect for and Appreciating Differences

Teaching your students to respect and appreciate differences is crucial for creating an equitable and inclusive classroom that makes all students feel safe and welcome.

Teachers should take charge of this topic by holding ongoing, relaxed discussions about appreciating the differences that make us unique. Fun exercises and additions to lesson plans are a great method to discuss equality in an engaging way.

5 Examples of How To Build Respect In the Classroom

Students model and internalize the repeated and influential behaviors they observe in adults. These steps can help show you how to teach respect in the classroom.

1. Define Respect in Your Classroom

Experts recommend avoiding assumptions about any student’s understanding of respect, particularly as it relates to your classroom. Instead, regularly share the clear and specific definition of “respect” in your classroom. Adult respect helps strengthen and dignify childhood growth in the classroom.

This provides a strong foundation for behavioral expectations and avoids potential miscommunications that could lead to frustration and stunted learning success.

But simply saying “show me respect” is not effective and not certainly enough. It’s never safe to assume a student knows what is meant by that phrase, so always be specific. Define what respect means to you, and describe examples in detail. Then, describe what those examples may look like in the classroom.

2. Explain Expectations

It’s important to take discussions surrounding classroom respect beyond rote rule memorization.

After educators establish the meaning of respect in their classroom, they can engage students with social stories that display respectful and disrespectful actions or behaviors.

Social stories help children identify and understand prosocial behavior in different scenarios and deepen their understanding of behavioral expectations.

Prosocial behavior is behavior that benefits others and society as a whole. On a larger scale, educators can promote ethical values by speaking about them at school events like assemblies or in workshops

3. Augment Achievements

Negative classroom behavior goes hand-in-hand with decreased academic performance amongst a host of other issues. Efforts to encourage and develop positive and respectful behaviors lead to more positive student learning outcomes.

Positive learning outcomes create a positive feedback loop for everyone in the classroom — other students are inspired to learn and the respected teacher will naturally encourage more expanded learning.

4. Show Respect to Teach Respect

Humans are excellent at learning through example, and learning respect is no different.

Teachers can create more respectful classrooms by showing genuine attention, consideration, concern, and appreciation to their students. These examples of positive behaviors reinforce students’ perception of respect and its importance in the classroom.

Teachers can also teach students how to be respectful in a variety of real-life scenarios using scenario cards.

Scenario cards provide realistic examples of day-to-day interactions that allow students to identify respectful and disrespectful behaviors. Scenario cards can also be great tools for sparking further classroom discussions about the tenets of respect.

5. Cultivate Caring

Helping students expand their "circle of concern" is another effective way to create atmospheres of respect, care, and cohesion.

A circle of concern consists of the people we as individuals have empathy for, and this circle can be expanded by holding educator-initiated role-play scenarios where students practice empathizing with different perspectives.

This practice encourages students to grow their sense of empathy by reflecting on who is inside their own circles of concern.

Want to read more tips for educators? Here are 5 Strategies to Help Educators Facilitate Personalized Learning.

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