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Mutual Respect in the Classroom

“Great teachers empathize with children, respect them, and believe that each one has something special that can be built upon.” Ann Lieberman

Mutual respect in the classroom is necessary for a safe, encouraging, and engaging classroom. Mutual respect involves more than the interaction between students and the teacher, it should mean mutual respect between your students as well. Mutual respect sets the stage for a classroom that is conducive to learning taking place and where students feel safe and included.

Building relationships with your students begins with modeling respect for your students and setting expectations for respect among your students. In a respectful classroom environment, everyone’s voice is recognized and appreciated. In a classroom where mutual respect exists, you will also see the essential elements of democracy – liberty, justice, common good, equality, diversity, and truth – all of these are necessary for students to thrive and contribute to their classroom in respectful ways. These essential characteristics should be a part of the first days of the school year. Begin modeling respect on the first day, and not just with your students. Show respect for parents, coworkers, administrators, and school staff. Your students need to see you showing respect for those around you as well as your students. They mimic what they see. Show them what respect looks like. A large part of creating a classroom environment of mutual respect is ensuring that your students feel safe; they need to feel safe socially, emotionally, intellectually, and physically.

Often, students/people who act disrespectfully do so because they feel disrespected themselves. Spread the respect. “Emotions are contagious. When we feel listened to, taken seriously, appreciated, and respected, we tend to ‘pay it forward’” (James Comer, 1999)

Activities to foster respect and inclusivity:

  • First and foremost, create trusting relationships with your students; let your students know you care – ask how things are going in their lives, pay attention and respond to students’ comments, express sincere appreciation for their efforts and accomplishments, and reaffirm your faith in your students’ ability to learn.

  • Be aware of your students’ cultural backgrounds; use regular check-ins, class meetings, conferencing, observations of students and their work, and communication with family, and use dialogue journals or writing prompts so students can share their experiences with their families and their cultures.

  • Model and role play critical social skills; these should include sharing and showing sympathy. Model concepts like respect and compassion, guide norm-setting for these concepts as well.

  • Encourage student voice, responsibility, and cooperation.

  • Acknowledge students who demonstrate kindness, respect, and thoughtfulness; this can be through a classroom display, in your weekly newsletter, or on your website. Let your students know you observed what they are doing and how they are treating each other. Take this a step forward and give your students opportunities to recognize and acknowledge the same actions in their classmates or to acknowledge their classmates’ strengths. Again, this could be through a display in the hallway, students writing notes to each other, or during class meeting times.

A personal moment of relationships, respect, and your students feeling safe:

Here go those relationships again . . . This is what is important, especially for the ones I taught, but really for all children! Every child should FEEL SAFE at school or anywhere. A student once sent me this text. “I loved being in your class. I always felt safe when I was close to you. And I will stay in touch.”

It truly is about building relationships, ensuring your students are engaged, that they feel safe and respected, and that you care about them.

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