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Respect in and out of the classroom

How do we build an attitude of respect in our students both in an out of the classroom? How do we encourage them to respect their peers, their parents and their teachers? (by Paul Madsen)

Respect for others, for authority, and for self is very important in everyone’s character development. The teacher’s clear understanding of respect is a key to the student’s understanding of respect. But we must remember that respect is always dependent on relationships and functions in the context of relationships. Luke 6:40 reminds us that, "Every student when fully educated will be like his teacher." This is a relationship that is developed through quality interaction over time in many settings and circumstances. Our students need to see teachers that live a life of respect and then they will be willing to apply those principles to their own lives as we teach the real value of this character quality through our daily interaction with them.

The first relational dimension of this character quality is respect for God. A healthy fear/love of God is what motivates and enables us to do the right thing even when no one is watching - this is the real definition of "character". The reward for strong character is the true respect of others and God's blessing on our life and efforts. Remember that this is the greatest commandment! Matthew 22:37 reads, "Jesus replied, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'"

The second dimension is respect for others. An understanding of the value of others is the basis for strong relationships. This happens in steps: openness, hospitality, acceptance and friendship. The reward for friendship is a new “other-centered” perspective on life and companions with whom we can share the daily joys and sorrows of life. Matthew 22 continues, "And the second is like it, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

The third and final dimension is respect for self. An understanding of your position (a healthy humility) as well as proper care for your physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing are the indicators of real self-respect. The reward for humility is a life of purpose leading to continual growth and potential for success. James reminds us that "God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble."

There are 3 relational roles between teachers and students which build respect and positive student-teacher relationships (based on research*):

1.    The teacher as an instructor: Being a good instructor is being a teacher worthy of respect because you know what to teach and how to teach. This type of instructor includes at least the following characteristics: Demonstrates an enthusiasm for learning, enjoys what they teach and the process of teaching, is a good communicator (clear in their explanations and requirements), considers how students learn best (activity, collaboration, practical application, real-world projects, etc.), teaches students to ask the right questions, sets goals that are high but reasonable, teaches children how to think instead of just what to think, protects their students from distractions.

2.    The teacher as a manager: Being a good classroom manager means being in charge with a clear concern for the positive personal growth of each student. Being fair means treating all of your students equally and expecting all of them to learn as well as possible, regardless of their intellectual capacity, ethnicity, culture, gender, socioeconomic or physical characteristics. We must know the difference between being authoritative and being an authoritarian, this means being in control for the right reasons.

3.    The teacher as a person: Being an active listener involves a serious interaction with the student and his or her ideas while providing proof of your understanding. Being genuine means expressing your true feelings and opinions so that your students can trust what you tell them. Being friendly means being open and approachable so that students can reveal their values and opinions and know that they will be important to you. Communicating acceptance means letting the student know that you value them as a person even when they fail or behave badly. (Address the behavior, not the character of the person!)

Questions for your consideration:

How do you daily demonstrate respect for God, for others and for yourself? What is your primary motivation in demanding respect from your students? In what ways do you encourage respect through your relationships with students... As a professional instructor? As a classroom manager? As a person?

* For more reading, see Classroom Behavior Management in a Diverse Society by Herbert Grossman, Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, California, 1995.