In some of the educator/counselor Facebook groups I’m a part of, there has been a lot of talk about R-E-S-P-E-C-T. People complaining their students are disrespectful, people wondering how they can teach respect to their students, and people worried that their faculty and students have differing ideas of what respect really means. As human beings, we all have an innate need to feel respected by others. Everyone is happier and more productive when people show respect to one another at school. So how can you teach students about respect in a meaningful way?
Laying the Groundwork
The first step is getting students thinking about their own beliefs and ideas about respect. Four corners is a great movement-based way to do this. Ask your students questions about respect, or ask them to finish sentences about respect, by going to one of four designated corners. For example, “I feel respected at school…” A) All of the time, B) Usually, C) Sometimes, or D) Not very often. As you read the answer choices, move to different corners of the room so students know where to go to show their answers.
Next, come to some sort of an agreement with your students about the definition of respect. Here are the two I provide them:
Ask them what they think about the definitions. What would they want to change or take away or add?
Then work together to get a clear picture of what respect actually looks like, sounds like, and feels like within the school. I recommend tackling one section at a time, letting students chat with a partner about their ideas and then sharing out whole group. Or, have students work on their own mini-anchor chart independently first.
And then comes the discussion that might make some folks a little uncomfortable. The discussion about WHO deserves our respect and HOW we decide to respect someone. In my experience, there’s more disagreement here than there is in defining respect. Often times, faculty feel disrespected by students when there’s a mismatch between how someone gets respect. Here’s a quick script for how you can facilitate some student reflection here:
“We know what respect is and what it looks and sounds and feels like. Now let’s talk about who we give our respect to, and how you decide whether or not to give someone your respect. I’ll read an idea about how someone might get your respect and you give me a thumbs up if it’s something that makes you choose to respect someone. (if students need more movement, consider asking them to stand to show their agreement, maybe even included a crouch/half stand for partial agreement)
- Does someone get your respect…because of their intelligence? Do you give someone respect because their smart?
- Is it about them being a certain age? Like you choose to respect someone because they’re older versus younger?
- Does someone need to earn your respect? (if students give a thumbs up for this one, ask them how someone would earn their respect)
- Does someone get your respect by showing respect to you first?
- Or does someone get your respect just for being human?”
You likely won’t come to a consensus about this with the group, but it’s important for students to reflect on their own beliefs about this and for faculty to see where the students are coming from.
Getting Specific While Teaching about Respect
Once the main ideas behind respect are clear in your students’ minds, you can work with them on some specific examples. One way to do this is by having students examine different actions or words to determine if they’re respectful or not AND why or why not. Use pre-made example cards or come up with ones that fit your group best. You can do this whole class, or put students in groups to have them go through different examples. Cards can just be pulled one at a time from a pile, or they can do something more structured like a “pick a card!” where they take turns having different “jobs”: fanning the cards, selecting and reading a card, answering, and adding on or agreeing/disagreeing.
There are lots of different ways to show respect in different types of situations. Some students are champs at being able to generate ideas on their own. Some need some more scaffolding. I made a set of “types of respect” puzzles; ten different things or places to show respect with two examples each. They were created to be put together and talked about in groups.
Reflecting and Moving Forward
Once students have a firm grasp of what respect is, what it looks like, and how it’s applied in schools, it’s helpful to include some more self-reflection pieces. You can do an activity where students mix, find a partner, then both respond to the same “finish the sentence” prompt, then mix, find a new partner, finish a different sentence about respect, etc. You can incorporate questions like:
- My teacher respects me when they…
- I respect my teacher by…
- My classmates respect me when…
- I show respect to my classmates by…
Students can also reflect with a simple exit ticket, sharing an example of how/where/when they feel respected and how/where/when they wish they were respected more at school. I also believe (and research has shown!) that peer reinforcement is really strong. Simply having students give “Kudos Cards” when they notice their classmates showing respect can help keep these ideas on their minds.
Tell me about your school. What are some ways you or your faculty help students understand and demonstrate more respect? How do faculty and administration help faculty show more respect? What other suggestions do you have for how to teach students about respect?