Creating a Respectful Classroom Environment
-an excerpt from Your Quick Guide to Effective Classroom Management (A Not So Wimpy Teacher’s Manual) written by Kathie Wainwright
Since the start of my career, I’ve always worked in schools where I had to deal with challenging behaviors. I went to Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) for undergrad and I spent every semester in the classroom as part of my course requirements, but no coursework could prepare me for what I would have to deal with once I got my own classroom. I am sure we all have funny stories from our first day of teaching….I know I do! Let’s just say I was bamboozled by a group of 1st graders. My second day of teaching was another story!!! It was after my first day that I realized, “OMG….I am responsible for ALL of these little people…and their parents trust me. I have to get it together …” That is a big deal for a 21 year old who’s biggest responsibility was making sure I had gas money and that the dog was walked…. I knew that I had to create a safe environment both emotionally and physically for my students; I knew that I had to make sure that they not only made it home in one piece, but that emotionally they felt safe…they needed to feel respected. With respect at the foundation of building my classroom community, all of the other elements of creating a responsive classroom would come naturally. Since then, not only have I learned to deal with challenging behaviors in my classroom, I’ve also learned how to take a proactive approach to creating an environment conducive to student learning and social growth. I am constantly thinking. Thinking about ways I can make something better, or how I would deal with a situation in the event that it should occur again. I make it a point to only say things to my students that I would say if their parents were standing right there…. I work hard to establish a learning community built on respect, trust and security.
Respect is the foundation of any successful classroom. Without it you have chaos, fearful learners hesitant to take risks, and missed opportunities to push your students far beyond what they think they are capable of. Here are a few tips on how I create a respectful environment.
#1. All students deserve respect. Even when they “take you there”, they need respect. By assessing your beliefs/knowledge about the students in your class and addressing any generalizations and/or misunderstandings you may have about their culture/background you are working to create a respectful environment. When teachers consistently give respect to their students, they are taking the first (and most important) step to creating a respectful classroom. It sounds easy enough, but it is important to remember this even when a child displays their most challenging behaviors.
#2. All students can learn. Teachers set the tone for teaching and learning in their classroom. When a teacher sets high expectations for their students, it sends the message that you believe in them and that you want the best for them. Students are intuitive and can sense when they aren’t expected to do much; if your language and/or actions lead students to believe that you don’t expect much from them, chances are you won’t get much from them. When you set the bar high and press students for their best work you show the students that you respect them and will help them to be successful.
#3. Acknowledge student differences. Something as simple as pronouncing a student’s name incorrectly (repeatedly) can send the message that you aren’t interested in that student or that you don’t respect the cultural differences in your classroom. As a teacher it is important that we understand that all students come to school with unique qualities and interests, diverse backgrounds and a range of abilities. It is important not to think that all students can be taught the same. Being aware of these differences is necessary for meeting the social and academic needs of all of the students in your classroom.
#4. Demonstrate that we are all lifelong learners. By showing students that we can learn from each other, we create a mutual environment for learning and taking risks. Students develop the understanding that they can learn from others. In the growing age of technology, students can be given the opportunity to teach others (including us) about what they know and can develop their understanding of how technology works and why it is so important.
For an easy to use end of the year activity that can help your students show appreciation for one another, download my FREE Student Smile Strips activity.
"When I think about how much my students change in one school year, I can’t help but think about the student who was shy, or the student who had a difficult time making friends. At the end of the school year I like to highlight all of the positive changes that I’ve observed in the school year. I share this in a brief letter that I write to each student on the back of a candid classroom photo. It is also important for students to acknowledge these things in each other. Each year I use this activity to help students share the positive qualities that they see in their classmates."
What are some ways you teach RESPECT in your classroom? Feel free to share a favorite tip below!