Creating Respectful Classrooms - How do we implement
classroom management strategies that support and maintain respectful teaching
The two questions educators usually ask when thinking
about classroom management:
How will I get my students to obey? This is asked by teachers who who want students to behave
compliantly in institutional settings. These teachers create classroom
management plans designed to control their students.
How will I learn what my students need and how will I meet those needs? This is asked by teachers who recognize that
a successful classroom management plan must derive its power from the quality
of the teacher-student relationship and from the mutually respectful quality
of the classroom environment. These teachers create classroom management
plans designed to build a mutually-respectful classroom community.
A mutually-respectful classroom community is built upon two essential things:
- Building trust in your classroom. To do this, you must have
the belief that if a student builds a positive relationship with his/her
peers and the teacher, they will make a positive attachment to people they
trust and they will have a better chance to succeed.
- Coming to class prepared each and every day with a content-rich, methods specific lesson plan designed to peak student interest.
Creating such a community is not easy, does not take place overnight,
and requires commitment and flexibility. It also requires:
giving students as much independence as they can handle by making their
environment manageable and by giving them chances to succeed; and
- creating an engaging, challenging curriculum.
Sample approaches to creating a mutually-respectful classroom. Any or all of the approaches must be establshed in the very first days of your teaching year.
- Creating reciprocity.
In Parker Palmer's book, The Courage to Teach, he says that
"good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young." He further
says that hospitable acts benefit the host - you, the teacher - as well
as the guests - your students. Thus, a respectful, hospitable classroom
involves acts of reciprocity. And reciprocity, of course,
requires the establishment of mutual respect. He continues that a classroom in which mutual respect has been established
is one in which:
teachers have treated their students with respect,
teachers have earned the respect of their students, and
students respect each other.
- Such respect consists of Teachers
- demonstrating kindness to their students,
- listening to the words as well as silences of their students,
- showing students the real value of their education,
- explaining why they are learning what they are learning,
- agreeing to acknowledge and solve problems when they arise, and
- expecting students to work at their full capacities...
- and of Students
learning about and being tolerant of people of different cultures and backgrounds,
- acting kindly and decently to classmates who are different or who have
been labeled "unpopular,"
- listening to the words of their peers, and
- agreeing to acknowledge and cooperatively solve any problems and to work
at full capacity.
- In other words, mutual respect cannot be established without dealing with
both the procedures of cooperation and the content of your given subject
matter. Having a respectful class requires students not only
be kind and tolerant of one another, but also that they
- are engaged in learning,
- believe that what they are learning is worthwhile, and
- are willing to work individually and collectively at gaining more knowledge.
- Establishing rules that are preventative and consistent. Robert Fried in The Passionate Teacher talks about establishing a "stance" on the first day of class by sincerely expressing any of the following:
- You are my students and I respect each and every one of you. I'm
going to work very hard to help you respect yourselves, respect one another,
and respect me.
- I care too much about you to let you get away with doing anything but your
best. So when I ask you to do something over again, itís my way
of expressing my faith that you have it in you to do really great work.
- You all have talents that nobody has found out about yet. Let's
discover those talents, and then we'll find a way to let the whole community
know about them.
- I bet each of you is a leader in your family about something. I wonder
what kinds of a leader you are. Let's find out about it, because
we need all kinds of leaders in today's world.
- Your job today is to work with a group to solve this problem for the rest
of us. But first, you need to make sure that everyone in your group
understands the problem and expresses her or his opinion about how to deal
- I don't want to see you put each other down. We have important work
to accomplish each day in here, and being mean and disrespectful makes
it more difficult to get our jobs done.
- Each of you has a story to tell that is bound to be interesting to someone
both inside and outside our classroom. I want you to get your stories
down on paper in your own style, and then be ready to share your story
Fried goes on to say that there are three simple rules to a respectful classroom:
- Every person deserves - and owes - respect;
- Nobody may interfere with another person's right to learn; and
- School is a place to learn how to settle disputes by talking through
- Celebrating multiculturalism in your class. Initiate a discussion within the first week of class about multiculturalism
- what it is, why it is controversial, why it will be a focus within your
classroom, and how it is related to creating and maintaining a respectful
- For many Americans, multiculturalism smacks of divisions, tribalism, efforts
to put people into separate special interest groups, anti-White viewpoints.
They argue that America is about a melting pot of people who meld together
into one group called Americans - not a bunch of groups with hyphenated
- Ask students how they think they will feel about a multicultural curriculum?
Do they think they will benefit by such an approach?
- Explain that you will be using multicultural literature and primary resources.
Remember, if using multicultural literature, you may run into some problems.
Books are realistic - they show oppression and the harsh realities of prejudice
and intolerance; they often use offensive language. Many parents and teachers
do not want their kids exposed to such horrific realities.
- Remind students that learning is not about making everyone feel comfortable,
but rather about introducing new issues and ideas that we can disagree
and subsequently, learn about.
- Begin by saying, "This book contains the N-word. How do you feel
about that word?"
- Explain "This novel/ poem/ play represents a time when this was the way
some people used the language. Many of these terms are racist, sexist,
classist and/or homophobic, but in order to remain authentic to the time,
this language is used." Explain that this very authenticity tells
us a great deal about that time in history.
- Exploring the cultural resources
within your own classroom. Create a project that allows students
to introduce themselves to their classmates through cultural and geographical
explanation of their roots. This can be done in several ways:
- Explain that they have a week to conduct oral interviews with one or more
family members. The interview should ask the following kinds of questions:
- What is the main cultural/ethnic/ racial heritage with which you most identify?
- What cultural traditions does your family celebrate? Which do you celebrate?
- How long has your family been in the United States? From where
did they come? Why did they come here? Where did they originally
settle in the U.S.?
- If you are American Indian, what are your opinions
about the Anglo-European migration to the Americas? Are you aware of any
assimilation experiences your ancestors had after they were settled in
the US? How were your people affected
by Anglo immigration? What are one or two of the earliest stories you can
remember about your ancestors? What were the occupations of your early
ancestors? What particular cultural, religious, or other traditions do
you continue to celebrate? What are these traditions and what do
they mean to you? Have the previous and present generations in your family
faced any type of prejudice, discrimination, mistreatment, or other victimization
related to your culture/ethnicity/race? If so, please explain at
least one such experience.
- Students are to condense their information into a 5-minute presentation
that includes: marking the country of their origin (as many generations
back that their family can remember) on the world map with a colored pin
or dot; marking their family's first point of settlement in America on
a U.S. map with a colored pin or dot; and explaining 2-3 things that they
think their classmates should know about their cultural origins and any
- A great way to begin this project is to prepare your own 5-minute presentation.
A great way to end the project is to have students turn in a piece of paper
with the 2-3 things they shared about themselves in the classroom.
Put all this information together and ask students how they and their experiences
are similar and dissimilar. Then ask them how they can use this information
to build a special community for the year.
- Or alternatively, write a letter to your students in which you tell them all about yourself.
Then, invite them to do the same. When you have read all their letters,
prepare a discussion day where you can share what you have learned about
them. Then ask them how you can use this information to build a special
community of learning for the year.
- Instituting a year-long challenge to your students to make their classroom learning relevant to their lives. This can be especially effecting if you give students credit for bring their Popular Culture experiences to class. To get an idea of how effective this approach is, watch the YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Jba5HsWDsA
- Making your classroom a "no hurt" safe zone. This is especially effective in middle school by using "The Pain We've Felt, The Hurt We've Caused." It can be used with modifications in high school. The first
time you hear a student call another student a name - or that a student
tells you that name calling has been occuring in the classroom - immediately
announce that you would like them to stop whatever they are doing and attend
to a new assignment.
- Have several sets of white 3 x 5 cards and another several sets of colored
3 x 5 cards accessible. Pass a white card to each student.
Then tell them that the assignment requires an absolutely silent classroom.
- Ask them to close their eyes and remember a time when someone - a friend,
family member, teacher - called them a name and to remember exactly
how it felt and what happened.
- Then, ask them to write down the name and briefly describe the event.
Do not have them put their name on the card. Collect the cards.
- Pass out a different-colored card to each student and ask them to remember
an incident when they have called someone else a name. Then, have
them write the name and specfics on that card.
- While they are completing this exercise, quickly skim the first cards and
highlight the various epithets. Collect the colored cards.
- Write two columns on the board: "Pain We've Felt" and "Pain
We've Caused." From the first set of cards, read aloud names
you have selected and write each on the board. Do the same with the
second set and put the names in the second column.
- Discuss with the entire class the situations, emotions, and other motivations
that set the stage for name-calling. Then ask them if there is anything
they can do to avoid setting such stages. Discuss the long-term impact
such name-calling has on people.
- Keep the cards readily accessible in case another name-calling incident
occurs. Then, bring them out and remind the class about your previous
- Creating and nurturing a "prejudice-free zone" of respect in your class. Explain that everyone
in your classroom will be treated with respect and dignity regardless of
differences in race, national origin, family status, mental and physical
ability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or health status.
Explain further that:
- This zone requires that students leave hateful, prejudiced, and biased remarks
and words out of the classroom, and hopefully, out of the school in general.
Be sure that in your own terminology, you include such words as "fag,"
"bitch," "spastic," "retard," "nigger," or "taco." Explain that you
cannot ignore such words, not only because they are hurtful, but because
ignoring them means you are passively showing approval or agreeing.
Be ready to respond to such language with a classroom discussion.
- You will respond to any use of disrespectful language and there will be
appropriate consequences for any repeated use. Be sure to determine
what those consequences may be. You might also have students
decide what the consequences could be. Whatever the consequences,
make sure they are explained and consistently enforced.
- You will encourage your students to create positive change in their lives.
Talk to them about how they can respond to disrespectful and prejudiced
thinking or acts they observe. Help them recognize instances of stereotyping,
prejudice, discrimination, disrespect, unkindness and discuss how they
can when they see such things in action. Refer them to television,
news and entertainment shows, movies, newspapers and magazines that provide
opportunities for discussion.
- Declaring that in your classroom, you will all "Stomp out Bullying." Begin by defining bullying.
- Method Discussion: Let's use another Think/Pair/Share, but this time, you don't need to write anything down. Take 1 minute to define bullying in your head. Turn to your partner and take 3-5 minutes to come up with a definition. One person in each pair should be ready to discuss their definition with the class.
- After coming up with a common definition, explain that in any type of bullying, there are four actors:
- the bully who commits the bullying action;
- the victim(s) who is/are hurt by the bullying;
- the bystanders who participate in starting the bullying, laugh or give attention to the bullying thereby encouraging it, joining in the bullying once it begins, and/or remaining silent during the bullying event; and
- the upstanders who do something that prevents or reduces the bullying they see, or comes to the aid of another child who is being bullied.
Ultimately, what every teacher hopes to do is create a community that understands that being a bystander contributes to the problem and that upstanders stop the problem. Research shows that others speaking out or taking action stops bullying behavior over half the time within seconds! But moving from being a bystander to becoming an upstander takes courage.
- You will have to start your "Stomp out bullying" campaign by helping your students become more aware of bullying behavior and how it is affecting the lives of EVERONE - not just the victims.
- Help them understand that upstanders begin to feel a sense of anger about the injustice they are witnessing and they are able to see the pain the victim experiences and take action.
- Becoming an upstander requires taking action which includes telling a bully when to stop, taking action by getting others to stand up with them to the bullly, helping the victim, redirecting the bully away from the victim, and finding someone - like a teacher - to help.
Resources to help you include: