How to Teach Respect in School
Even young kids understand when an adult is treating them respectfully or fairly. Think carefully about how you model respect and encourage their own good behavior. Students at any age can be active in discussing and creating classroom rules, learning how to be responsible, thoughtful people.
Model respectful behavior at all times.Be conscious that you are a role model to your students. Treat them and others with respect. If necessary, discuss your behavior with your students so they understand why they should act that way.
- Think about how you address your students. If you only use "Mr." and "Ms." in sarcastic or punitive contexts, you are teaching the wrong lesson.
Role play respectful behavior with students.Have your students practice a respectful conversation with a partner. Before they begin, discuss the particular behaviors involved, and demonstrate them yourself. For example:
- Listen attentively when your partner speaks.
- Express a disagreement politely without disrespecting the other person's opinion.
- Don't dismiss another person's opinion or preferences even if you disagree.
Identify and discuss behaviors that come up in the classroom.This doesn't just mean correcting poor behavior. When you notice students acting respectful in everyday classroom life, point it out and praise it.
Put up signs and charts.If students need a visual reminder of classroom rules, make a wall decoration to remind them. Consider a chart that awards each student points for good behavior, and removes them for bad.
- Show the students that respect is a two-way street by including your own name on the chart. Allow students to discuss or vote on whether a particular behavior was good or bad.
Assign students leadership roles.It may not be a good idea to give out titles or formal roles, as this can seem like favoritism. Nevertheless, let students contribute to running the classroom and leading discussions. Even before they fully appreciate or understand what's going on, encourage them to analyze information and give feedback on the lesson structure. Treating them as collaborative scholars will demonstrate respect and show them that you value their role in the classroom.
Make use of school counselors.School counselors are trained to address problematic social behaviors and teach students to cope with conflict. If a serious concern comes up, have a school counselor address it. This can be in one-on-one sessions with a student, or in a presentation on topics such as bullying.
- The school counselor may be willing to arrange a presentation for parents as well.
Cooperate with other teachers and staff.Talk about issues of respect with other school employees. Think about what messages the school sends through its policies, and its treatment of students at recess, lunchtime, and detention. Any adult who disrespects the students is undermining your lessons.
- Some teachers arrange to let disruptive students into each other's classrooms for some down time. This gives the student another chance to model respectful behavior before you initiate punishment.
Write a classroom contact.In especially difficult cases, discuss classroom rules with your students, and type them up into a "contract" for everyone to sign. Hang the signed copy on the wall and pass out copies for everyone to take home and show their parents. This can be a wake up call to parents to start enforcing good behavior at home as well.
Lessons for Young Students
Ask your students to come up with their own guidelines.Ask your students to write down an answer to "what is respect?", "What is a nice way to treat people?", and "Who should you treat with respect?" Have the students read them aloud, then hang them up on the wall. Return to these answers every few weeks and ask if the students want to add anything to their answers. You'll often see surprising answers, and watch how your class's understanding grows over time.
Use children's literature to explore the topic of respect.Compile a bibliography of appropriate books to read aloud or assign as reading for students. Create projects and conduct discussions based upon the books selected. Assemble bulletin boards around the topic, and put together a library corner featuring appropriate books.
- If you're not sure which books to choose, talk to other teachers or search online for ideas.
Teach basic social interaction to young kids.Starting in preschool, children learn the basic rules of interaction in the classroom. Make sure you cover these topics in lessons and everyday behavior:
- Saying Please and Thank You, and asking for something respectfully.
- Showing kindness, and noticing when someone could use help. This includes holding open doors, helping younger kids, and cleaning up messes.
- Waiting in line, taking turns, and sharing.
- Resolving conflict.
- Setting and respecting boundaries.
Invent special events.If your students are not learning respectful behavior, make it the focus of a lesson. Here are a few fun ideas that younger kids may enjoy more than a normal lesson:
- Have a "Thank You week" or a "Please week" where the students try to use the word as often as possible.
- Host a tea party where your students must say "Please pass the...".
- Hold a talent show and teach everyone to show respect to the performer.
Get them thinking about right and wrong.For students aged about six through nine, discuss basic morality problems. Try the game "Good Idea / Bad Idea," where you draw a picture of a behavior on the board and ask them to tell you why it would be a good or bad idea.
- Some children may find the idea of right and wrong judgmental, especially if they have a parent in jail or a treatment program. Don't reduce these lessons to good and badpeople, only good and badbehaviors.
Discuss behaviors in history lessons.By age nine or so, children can begin to understand historical references in greater depth. The last few years of primary school are a good time to relate historical events to morality and rights, and conflict resolution.
- For example, in the United States, teach lessons on the civil rights movement, the 60's war effort, Harlem in the 30's, and the Great Migration. International lessons are important as well, for example on the Dayton Peace Accords on Bosnia.
Lessons for Teens and Preteens
Give the students responsibility.Students at this age can make their own classroom rules, set consequences, and keep the classroom in order. They should learn that one or two students misbehaving can affect the whole class, so they have a responsibility to hold each other to good behavior.
Teach lessons on negative judgment.Students are often negative about another person's intelligence, physical appearance, clothing, and home life. Call out this behavior when it happens, and make it clear that this is not acceptable.
- Also watch for students that envy people who have more money, popularity, or family stability.
Enforce respect for all students.Unfortunately, the kids themselves can identify "good kids" and "bad kids" without understanding the root causes. Often the children who misbehave in class are the ones who have learning challenges, don’t know how to read, or have problems unaddressed at home. Poor diet, lack of sleep, poverty, and having to be “the adults” too soon can tax a child's emotional intelligence and self control. Don't let a student's frequent misbehavior make him a scapegoat or punching bag. Continue to treat him with respect and don't assume he's at fault before you understand a situation.
Role play real world scenarios.Prepare your students for real world situations involving cooperation. For example, have the whole class decide how they would run a pizza parlor. Who would greet the customers, wait tables, cook, design a menu, handle the money, take phone orders, pay the staff, clean up? Discuss how the students can respect others' preferences for what they do, while still completing all the tasks. Show them that it's necessary to do something for the team, even if it's not enjoyable.
Respect the Earth.Students of all ages can learn to appreciate the natural environment, and take care of it so everyone can enjoy it. The older your students are, the more you can discuss how this relates to real-world issues, such as energy conservation, recycling, and global warming. Here are a few projects to consider:
- Make craft projects from gathered items.
- Make a birdhouse or other animal habitats.
- Paint flower pots and plant flowers.
- Conserve water use.
- Teachers, staff, and parents who scream at children may be violating emotional abuse regulations of Child Protective Services standards (or similar regulations for your region). Research your local laws to find out whether you can report these adults.
- You may need outside help if a child has a severe avoidance response to authority figures. Children four through twelve may benefit from client-centered play therapy. A trained therapist can also identify developmental delays, psychological disorders, and their underlying causes.
- If your classroom or school uses punishment as the main response to bad behavior, the students may not learn that there is another path. Give students opportunities to change their behavior and correct their mistakes, and praise them when they do so.
- Students from a different culture often have a harder time fitting into classroom norms. Brainstorm ways to make these students welcome, and address issues without being excessively hard on them.
Video: UNICEF: Teach Respect - Teacher
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