Teacher-student relationships are enhanced by teaching respect, which grows from the root of politeness; "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" go a long way toward establishing a respectful classroom climate. Taking social skills to the next level requires that a tone of respect permeate your classroom.
As with the teaching of all other classroom values, this begins with you. Teacher-student relationships form a foundation for learning respect, and children who learn to act respectfully toward adults will also act more respectfully toward each other.
Classroom routines are built upon repetition. Respect breaks down into three areas of focus:
- Not interrupting
- Tone of voice
- Choice of words
This is huge. This can be very difficult for kids to learn, but nothing is more important for establishing a respectful climate.
Think of conversations between many of the adults that you know; what it really boils down to is two people who can't wait for the other person to stop talking so they can say what is on their own mind.
Little kids and big kids
As noted elsewhere, kids are just small adults in many ways; when it comes to conversations, adults are just big kids who have learned to be polite enough to not interrupt (even though they really want to).
What your students learn from you regarding teaching respect will take them a little step closer to being a respectful adult.
Don't allow students to interrupt. Based on your teacher-student relationships, handle it differently for each of these scenarios.
If a student interrupts while you are teaching or speaking to the class, say:
"Excuse me Diana, I wasn't asking for input. Please hold your comment until I am done."
If a student interrupts while you are speaking to another adult, say:
"This is an adult conversation. Go back to what you were doing until we are finished."
The words, "adult conversation" is their cue to leave and not stand by waiting (and listening). On the other hand, if it is OK for them to stand by, let them know that.
If a student interrupts while you are speaking to another child, say:
"I'm helping Andreaz first, please wait."
"It's not polite to interrupt; please wait until I'm done."
If a student interrupts while another student is speaking to the class, say:
"Let's respectfully listen to Kristina. You can have a turn when she's done."
The exception to these scenarios is the "bathroom emergency." Let your kids know up front that if they have a true emergency and need to interrupt, they can say, "I'm sorry, it's an emergency." Still interrupting, but at least it is done politely.
Classroom meetings are a good place for kids to practice not interrupting each other. When each student has a turn to speak, other children can begin to appreciate the value of listening to another person's input and ideas from start to finish. This enhances more than teacher-student relationships; it reinforces student-to-student relationships as well.
Tone of Voice
Tone of voice can be a tricky area, for what sounds fine to one person can sound a little testy to someone more sensitive. We are not looking to create meek children who never speak...so for our purposes, it is enough to focus on loudness of voice rather than the nuances of tone when teaching respect.
Model how to speak, even speak with emotion and intensity, without shouting. Raising the voice a little is fine (as you can certainly bet I did in some of the bullying case studies on the classroom team building page ) but a teacher should never truly shout at her kids unless it is a safety issue...as in:
"Stop! That will burn you!"
...projected across the room during a classroom cooking session. If you save your "loud voice" for those situations, you can bet that you'll get immediate attention when it really matters.
But 99% of the time, use your "inside voice" and insist that the kids do as well. When making a correction to loudness, it is usually most effective to do more than remind; ask the offending student to repeat what was said in at an appropriate level to reinforce your expectations.
TIP: Simply focusing on how loud a child is speaking will go a long way toward moderating their tone of voice and create a more-respectful classroom climate.
Choice of Words
Elementary kids are pretty straightforward in their speech and not generally capable of disrespect based on a turn of phrase, so word choice comes down to use of inappropriate words.
Words like, "stupid," "dumb," or "retarded" have no place in your classroom.
These words can be very hurtful. Use of them should result in an apology to an individual and/or the entire class by the offending student.
"I'm sorry I shoved you, Mr. Desk!"
You can have some fun with teaching respect while reinforcing appropriate responses. When I see a student "disrespect" an inanimate object, either intentionally or unintentionally, I'll ask them to apologize to it...pat it and ask if it is OK.
Even the toughest kid will sometimes get a grin when she is talking to the chair she tipped over...and in the process practice how to apologize to a person the next time she bumps someone. It's a fun way to reinforce teacher-student relationships while making a point.
Cultural influencesA word about cultural expectations regarding word choices. Different ethnic groups and regions have differing expectations, particularly regarding honorifics. For example, if the norm in your area is the use of "sir" and "ma'am," then you should enforce this custom when teaching respect.
Teacher-student relationships...When it comes to social skills, respect demonstrates that a person really "means it."