School & District Management Opinion

Schools Must Continue to Teach and Practice Respect

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 10, 2018 4 min read
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A school community will always find success if it is build on a foundation of respect. Seldom do we make such absolute statements but we believe it is a fundamental truth of leading schools. Here are a few more absolutes. Never will a leader make everyone happy. But, leaders can deal respectfully with opposition and can even discipline with respect, allowing dignity and differences to coexist. A leader who doesn’t extend respect won’t get it in return. Oh sure, maybe obedience and compliance could be garnered but they are surely not the same as respect. Respect can grow as people interact but it is always a gift and it is best when it is shared and exchanged.

Teachers and leaders expect and give respect. Parents and children do too. We fear that, given the current political milieu, may become a lost value. Hence, our imperative of raising it into consciousness. Those old standard messages of “respect your elders” and respect your teachers” are fading away. We almost feel foolish remembering them. They have fallen to cynicism and to the mockery of the moment. Schools, teachers and educational leaders must stand as models. And, while we expect students to be respectful, we struggle sometimes to give respect to those hard to love children. Yet, those are the very children we can turn around if we hold ourselves and others to a high standard of behavior toward them.

Respect is a noun: a deep feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements or a verb: to admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Respect is a very important foundational factor in the development and maintenance of a healthy learning environment. It is respect that opens space for the development of trust and learning. In schools, as we who work within them know too well, things happen that require others to trust us and follow our lead. There are situations where details cannot be shared and decisions not explained. Much of our work is held confidentially. Yet, we ask others to follow us.

In the healthiest of school environments the respect adults share serves as a model for students. Yet we all know of the subtle ways disrespect is shown in schools and the children notice it even more astutely than we do. A teacher speaking of a colleague or of the principal, or a student, or parent with eyes rolling is noticed. Speaking about others with distain in a meeting, whether witnessed by children or not, contributes to an environment in which respect and the resulting trust crumble.

When suspending a student for breaking the rules, a colleague reports, after the student and his parents left the office, secretaries and teachers who were present expressed concern that rather than leaving the office in shame, they were walking tall and seemed unaffected. In fact, in the privacy of the principal’s office, the student’s ‘bad acts’ were acknowledged and discussed. The resulting discipline was explained with a clear message that the behavior was not acceptable, and that the student was valued, respected, and welcomed back after the suspension. Faculty and staff who want a punishment to cause embarrassment and shame indicates there is still work to do. Discipline with dignity allows for behavioral change to be a choice.

Respect for all flows deeply in the ground water of a system. Education is a people business. We value the efforts and achievements of the successful. Without realizing it, sometimes we devalue those who are struggling or acting out or even the teacher whose personal life is falling apart or who is struggling to make an inclusive classroom a constructive learning environment for all. Educators need to return daily to the place where the wonder of developing children touches us. A faculty and staff that has differing values about how to treat children has the same effect as two parents who treat their child differently. It is a fractured, confusing and multiple message experience. Having children enter schools while being treated to an environment in which their value is appreciated by some and not by others is also fractured and confused.

ASCD just published the 4thEdition of Discipline with Dignity: How to Build Responsibility, Relationships, and Respect in Your Classroom. It is a good read for teachers to revisit their own thinking and actions with children and discipline. Dignity is a human right, essential for all in schools. As with all things in schools, leadership matters. A disrespectful leader will cause the erosion of respect throughout the system. That will happen easily and quickly, one incident and one parking conversation at a time. We wish it were as easy for a respectful leader to build a respectful culture system wide. It isn’t but it is definitely worth the daily effort. And, it has integrity.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photo by geralt courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.