ASCD Wants You!

From the ASCD website:

Educational Leadership is doing an upcoming issue on Promoting Respectful Schools (September 2011). We’re looking for stories about creating respect among teachers and students. Selected responses will appear in the September issue.

Contributions need to be under 200 words…not much for such a worthy subject.

Here’s what I wrote (198 words):

Displayed on my classroom wall and in the window of my classroom door was a sign that said, “Respect Zone/Zona de Respeto.” I talked about this when I briefly introduced myself to a class.

After telling students who I am (and why I was there in the case of post-retirement substitute teaching), I explained “The Respect Zone” like this: “Unlike a lot of teachers you know, I only have one rule in my classroom. I respect you. You respect me. All the rest of the rules are in your student handbook.” Lots of surprised and attentive faces greeted that announcement.

 I further explained that The Respect Zone extended beyond the classroom…in fact, everywhere.

If a student disrespected a peer, or challenged me, I gently reminded them of The Respect Zone. Often other students offered verbal support for the idea of mutual respect, something we all crave.

If a student needed to pay more attention to mutual respect, I invited them into the hall for a private conference and explained that teaching is a difficult job and I can’t do it alone. “I need your help too,” I told them.  I usually made an ally that day.

Paring the subject down to 200 or less words required some thought. But here on my blog, I’m free to include all my rough draft thoughts on student-teacher respect...the key to effective classroom management and augmented student achievement.

Respect in the Classroom (rough draft)

As a middle school social studies teacher, and after retirement as an occasional secondary substitute, I would introduce students to the concept of “The Respect Zone.”

Prominently displayed on my classroom wall and in the window of my classroom door was a bilingual sign that said, “Respect Zone/Zona de Respeto.” Both as a regular teacher and as a substitute I would talk about this when I briefly introduced myself to a class.

Keys to The Respect Zone: After telling students who I am (and why I was there in the case of substitute teacher), to give them a connection to a fellow human being, I would explain The Respect Zone like this: “Unlike a lot of teachers you know, I only have one rule in my classroom. I respect you. You respect me. All the rest of the rules are in your student handbook.” I would further explain that The Respect Zone extended beyond the classroom…in fact everywhere.

If a student disrespected a peer or challenged me, I would gently remind them of The Respect Zone. Often other students would offer verbal support for the idea of mutual respect, something we all crave.

If a particular student acted out and needed to pay more attention to mutual respect, I would invite them into the hall for a private conference and explain that teaching is a difficult job and I can’t do it alone.” I need your help too,” I would tell them.  “Come on, let’s go back inside and make it work for everybody.” Besides avoiding a public confrontation, I usually made an ally out of the previously recalcitrant student because they felt the respect I was giving to them.

This isn’t a foolproof “fix” or system. It sometimes fails and I have had to issue a behavior referral, but I never averaged more than five referrals in a school year (and that included mandatory referrals for the occasional hallway fight I had to break up).

The Respect Zone requires a large degree of humility on the part of the teacher, which means, not being perfect myself, that if I ever spoke sharply to a student, I would apologize to them in front of the entire class. But encouraging respect in this fashion pays off for me because it results in more instructional time and less time devoted to behavioral intervention. And, did I mention, way less stress.

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