Why does it matter?
The question “Does your teacher treat you with respect?” can help educators build schools where all students feel their teachers respect them. Teachers are most likely to receive respect from students if they exhibit respect toward students. That’s a human tendency — when disrespectful people demand respect, we don’t want to comply. If you want respect from your students, start by modeling it.
Carol Ann Tomlinson, William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership, Foundation, and Policy at the Curry School of Education, regularly shares advice from prior experience and current research in the field to help early career educators. For the September 2011th volume of ASCD’s Education Leadership, Tomlinson shares strategies for cultivating positive beliefs in the classroom, choosing words carefully, and watching what one does to create a culture of fairness and respect. While emphasizing that it’s OK for teachers to make mistakes sometimes, Tomlinson has some suggestions for how to minimize a teacher’s missteps when it comes to respecting students.
Cultivate Positive Beliefs
Teachers display respect through words and actions. According to Tomlinson, teachers who respect students:
- Understand the power of beliefs in shaping their practice. They rid themselves of any covert persuasion they may have that kids who are like them in race, economic status, language, beliefs, or motivation are somehow better or smarter than those who are unlike them.
- Believe their work can make previously unimpressive students shine—and can raise the ceilings of possibility for impressive students.
- Teach students how to grow academically and personally.
- Enlist students’ partnership in creating a classroom that dignifies each person within it.
Choose Your Words Carefully
When communicating with students, a teacher’s tone matters. So do the words they choose to use. Interruptions, or even facial movements like raising an eyebrow, can impact how a student perceives a teacher’s respect. Tomlinson shares what careful word and tone choice should look for teachers:
- Listen to students—and hear them.
- Use positive humor, not sarcasm.
- Provide corrective feedback in ways that foster student effort.
- Acknowledge student growth.
- Use your words to defuse difficult situations.
Watch What You Do
It doesn’t matter whether or not a teacher believes in a student if the student doesn’t perceive it to be so. In the words of Tomlinson, teachers who act respectfully toward each student will do the following:
- Study their students continually to understand how to teach them better.
- Connect with their students, and connect their students with one another.
- Ensure that each student contributes to the success of the class.
- Make curriculum engaging and meaningful for each student.
- Expect much of each student and provide the support necessary for students to meet those expectations.