RESPECT in the Classroom by Dr. Jason Hilton

Treat others with respect – The most popular classroom rule no one can enforce fairly.

Who hasn’t been in a classroom where the most famous of classroom rules – “treat others with respect” – is displayed prominently for all to see? Of course we should treat others with respect, and in return we hope they will similarly treat us with respect… but as a classroom rule, it doesn’t make much sense. Here is why.

Respect is vague and extremely subjective. When a teacher posts the rule “treat others with respect” what they are actually saying is “treat others in a way that matches my personal definition of respect.” How often have you seen such a definition written on the wall next to the rule? Likely not often and as a result the rule represents a puzzle students must figure out in order to remain in compliance. Classroom rules are meant to be clear, not enigmatic. While the term “respect” is commonly used, do not assume the interpretation is common. Many cultures, ethnicities and even those of different social classes view behaviors differently in regard to respect. Classrooms are about acknowledgement of diversity – not stifling diversity – so teachers enforcing such a rule inadvertently force a particular view upon their students. This vagueness also may cause a misinterpretation of the behaviors of students who may be trying to respect their teacher in way not understood by the teacher.

If you want students to treat each other with respect it is more important to figure out what that actually means for you the teacher, your students and the classroom environment. Once you have this figured out, create clear rules and procedures that allow these behaviors to occur and take the guess work out of interpretation. Anyone who has taught children knows they have a unique ability to take unclear information and reform it into interesting and unforeseen final products. Don’t allow your students to subject your most important classroom rule to this same creative process.

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