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Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 33, No. 5, April 2006 ( 2006) DOI: 10.1007/s10643-006-0091-1

Creating Respectful Classroom Environments Regina Miller1,2,3 and Joan Pedro1

Creating respectful classroom environments Respect is a critical variable in education. It is critical to each individual child in the classroom environment as well as to the teaching and learning that takes place in the classroom. Children learn by example. Where do they get their examples? This article explores the parameters of teaching and encouraging respect in classrooms for young children. Emphasis is placed on the creation of respectful classroom environments taught by teachers who have themselves been prepared to nurture this kind of environment. KEY WORDS: respectful classroom; character education; values; standards; teacher preparation; code of professional responsibility; reflection; self-reflection; emotional climate; diversity; tolerance; ethics; behavior; models; teacher attitudes; bias; dignity; caring; validation; degrading language; violence; heritage; socioeconomic level; safety; threats; sincerity; relationships; curriculum planning; inclusive teaching.

something of a disturbing nature. You might have also been taught that whatever the person did was ‘‘OK’’ because that person was the teacher and as such, it was assumed that all behavior in which the person engaged was appropriate. The notion of respect for position or age did not address concepts of respect that are considered very important in the world of education today. This kind of respect did not encourage appreciation of the ideas, traditions, rituals and culture of others. It did not tend to encourage exploration of the viewpoints of others that might lead to the genuine tolerance of peoples of diverse cultures. In the world in which children find themselves today, understanding and appreciating those with whom you attend school, learn and play makes for a much richer living and learning experience, expands horizons and breaks down traditional barriers. Today we know that teachers are persons just like any other and that there are some teachers who are good and some that are not such good people. We know that there are those who work or interact with children who are not respectful of them. In some settings, children are exploited, used and abused. We also know that children are being raised under varying conditions in environments that might not

INTRODUCTION Respect is a fundamental human value that forms the basis of character and personality. It can be considered a principle or standard and an appropriate way of acting. When you were growing up did people tell you that you did not have to like everybody but you must respect them? You might have been told that you needed to respect teachers and other adults. Respect was often equated with age. You were to respect your elders. Was this respect for the person or was this really respect for the position of authority or the station in life the person held? How did you feel when a teacher or another adult engaged in behavior that brought to surface feelings of non-respect? You probably did not engage in disrespectful behavior because you were raised in an environment that taught you a set of behaviors that included remaining silent when you encountered


Education, University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT, USA. Education, University of Hartford, 200 Bloomfield Avenue, West Hartford, CT 06117, USA. 3 Correspondence should be directed to Regina Miller, Education, University of Hartford, 200 Bloomfield Avenue, West Hartford, CT 06117, USA; e-mail: [email protected] 2

293 1082-3301/06/0400-0293/0  2006 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.

294 teach them about respect or how to recognize when an adult is behaving in a way that is not respectful towards them. It is not uncommon to need to teach children about ways in which they can protect themselves from adults in positions of authority who may not have the best intentions towards them. Trissler (2000) states that students are influenced by many outlets and that the values they hold are shaped by parents, peers, television, music and other external sources. If this is so, then children bring with them a wide range of behaviors to the classroom and it is up to the teacher to shape these behaviors appropriately to match what is expected in school. Alderman (2000) indicates that many children today do not know right from wrong and that this imbalance has led to many of the world’s problems. There are many reasons why respect has declined over the years. Current practice is vastly different from the traditions of yesteryear when adults would pass a learned set of values to their children. As Sidney, Howe, and Kirschenbaum (1978) emphasized, this approach is becoming less effective, since there are competing values capturing the attention of impressionable children. Their values that might compete with those from parents, the church, and peer groups, might come from Hollywood, magazines and various other sources. Individuals are bombarded with so many choices that it makes it very difficult for one individual to bestow his/her own set of values on another (Sidney et al., 1978). If this is so, then it is important to teach respect to our students in order to create a respectful classroom environment. The establishment of this kind of respectful environment requires that we explore various ways that respect can become an integral value embedded in the education of children and ways pre-service teachers can be prepared to create a respectful classroom. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE Respect as a term has been broadly used and represented in the education system in the United States. Considerable work has been done and agreement exists on the desirable virtues and moral qualities that are good or meritorious and underlie desirable character traits or habits (Benninga & Wynne, 1998). There is the notion that some traits are not innate and must be learned at school ad at home and other agencies in the society. Respect is one such habit that exemplifies courtesy and brings out proper behavior and civility towards others (Benninga &

Miller and Pedro Wynne, 1998). Those who call for character education stress the importance of whole environments operating systematically to foster good character formation which includes not only the physical elements surrounding students, but also the people around them (Benninga & Wynne, 1998). In the literature are found numerous education programs that propose respectful behaviors and environments. The U.S. Department of Education has funded pilot character education projects in 12 states. Although the evaluations of these programs’ effectiveness are yet to be done, many schools boast of improvements in students’ performance and behaviors (Graef, 2000). The county of Chesterfield, Virginia with its 59 public schools has invested millions of dollars in reforming its school system. It has as its main focus maintaining high academic standards in a safe and respectful environment for learning and promoting involvement in schools. In New York City three public schools are making a difference in a system fraught with problems (Dunne & Delisio, 2001). It is evident that at these schools students are nice to each other, and there is no name calling, teasing, shouting, or pushing. Teachers are respectful to students, and students are respectful to classmates and their teachers (Dunne & Delisio, 2001). These examples demonstrate that financial efforts to put conducive infrastructures in place and teacher attitudes and commitment go hand in hand to create respectful environments. Sanville (2003) believes that teachers and administrators need to be mindful of their own biases and to consider the contexts of children’s lives, and to inquire about what we are teaching our students. Wessler (2003) defines a respectful classroom as a place where all students feel physically and emotionally safe and valued for whom they are. He goes on to state that students who do not feel safe and valued will find it impossible to focus on academics or relationships with others. The teacher’s role is imperative to successful teacher student interaction and creating a positive classroom climate. There is a positive relationship between teacher expectation and student achievement, and teachers must be mindful that all students are entitled to their help, attention and feedback (McConnell & Elliot, 2003). There is also a correlation between the teacher’s role and motivation for learning (Colville-Hall, 2000). Communication that includes a positive tone that conveys empathy and sincerity can help in sending and receiving messages. Feedback with nonjudgemental comments, as well as

Creating Respectful Classroom Environments positive statements where the teacher can use both statements and questions at the appropriate time are important in the process. The teacher must be an active listener who engages her students in clarifying their feelings and choosing options (McConnell & Elliot, 2003). If what is supported by the literature is valid, how then can we ensure that the teachers working with children in classrooms provide the safe respectful environments for students under their care? What follows is a presentation of some ways that teacher educators can nurture pre-service teachers to selfreflect in order to prepare safe and respectful environments. Curwin and Mendler (1988) suggest a number of strategies: help all students set goals; set high expectations for all students; challenge learners to greater achievements; involve students in the evaluation process; provide instruction that uses a variety of models and approaches; involve learners in class activities; encourage students to persist; and teach social skills when assigning cooperative tasks. THE TEACHER AS THE CORE OF RESPECT—WHERE AND HOW DO TEACHERS LEARN THE IMPORTANCE OF CREATING AND MAINTAINING A RESPECTFUL CLASSROOM? An issue to consider is this: can pre-service and in-service teachers learn to respect children through reading, studying and class discussions? Does respect for children come from exposure to environments in which children are respected? Is respect for children an innate behavior that cannot be taught but can be enhanced? Teachers are models for the children they teach. In order for teachers to foster respect among students, teachers need to reflect on their own values and biases, consider the contexts of student lives and ponder what it is they are teaching their students (Sanville, 2003). Is this a value that is natural to all teachers? Can this value be taught to teachers? States have instituted standards for teachers that spell out the critical nature of respect as a core element (i.e., Connecticut, North Carolina). In the Connecticut Code of Professional Responsibility for Teachers, the following statements are listed under ‘‘Responsibility to the Student: A—recognize, respect and uphold the dignity and worth of students as individual human beings and therefore deal justly and considerately with students: C—nurture in students

295 lifelong respect and compassion for themselves and other human beings regardless of race, ethnic origin, gender, social class, disability, religion, or sexual preference. The standards for North Carolina teachers highlight the importance of respect in their Core Standard VI: Teachers respect and care about their students. One part of this Core Standard states that ‘‘Teachers maintain the dignity of each student: Teachers teach students to respect themselves, other students, and adults in the school. They establish a respectful, caring classroom atmosphere where every student feels worthy and valued. Even when it is necessary to correct student behavior, it is done in ways that maintain the dignity of the student’’ For teachers to have respectful classrooms they must self-reflect (Sanville, 2003). Often, teachers work in schools with populations that are very different from what they encountered as they were themselves developing. Teachers need to be well read, open to new people and cultural experiences, as well as reflective. They must approach situations from a base of knowledge and understanding. When teachers understand the community surrounding the school and the demands on the lives of the children they teach, they will be more respectful of the burdens some children face each day. Too often, assumptions are made concerning groups of children and what they might have and not have. Getting to really know the children in their classrooms helps teachers to dispel those assumptions. WHAT CONSTITUTES A RESPECTFUL ENVIRONMENT? We feel the following variables contribute greatly to creating a respectful classroom environment: CREATING THE EMOTIONAL CLIMATE OF A RESPECTFUL CLASSROOM When you walk into a classroom or other setting in which children and adults are to engage in teaching and learning, can you feel an air of respect and what contributes to that feeling? Respect takes many forms and can be demonstrated in a variety of ways. Respect can be held for persons, materials, ideas, values, and traditions. Respect can be tacitly held, actively demonstrated and felt. When there is a feeling of respect, the behaviors that demonstrate respect will follow. Respectful classrooms depend on respectful schools. Wessler (2003) states that a respectful classroom means different things to different people.

296 He contends that in a respectful classroom, students feel physically and emotionally safe and valued for whom they are. Wessler also states that a teacher in a respectful classroom notices the interactions between students and does not tolerate harassment or social exclusion. To create a respectful classroom the teacher must notice the interactions of students and follow-up if something unusual or harmful is happening, and show no tolerance for social exclusion or harassment of individuals within that environment (Wessler, 2003). Wessler cites many examples in his study where students place importance on teachers’ respecting their feelings, where the teachers were willing to put aside their lesson plans to talk with their students about what was happening. He states ‘‘They talk to their students and asked them for their thoughts about the major events affecting their lives’’ (Wessler, 2003). Respect for students’ feelings, about their personal experiences and traumatic events are important as well as validation of students’ thoughts and feelings in the creation of a respectful emotional climate of the classroom. Wessler (2003) emphasizes valuing our students’ emotions and lives outside the classroom as key to a respectful classroom. He states that when students believe we care about their feelings, they more likely will respect themselves and their classmates. RESPECT FOR PERSONS One way of disrespecting a person is by using degrading comments and slurs. In many classrooms and schools despite the effort of multicultural education to teach respect for individuals, no matter what groups they belong to, we find children using degrading language and making slurs to each other. How do teachers respond to this situation in the classroom? Wessler (2003) invites teachers to respond immediately and to send a firm message that they will not tolerate or accept disrespect and incivility in their classrooms. Teachers should interrupt incidents of degrading language so as to avoid the escalation of threats and violence. Wessler goes on to explain that teachers should be models for all students and show them the confidence to stand up to harassment. Respect for persons should permeate a classroom. Children should know that all children and adults in the classroom are valued and are equal members of the community. Children need to learn that regardless of color, heritage, socioeconomic level, etc. all children in the class will have equal access as well as

Miller and Pedro equal responsibility. It is our belief that as teachers we must demonstrate respect behaviors towards our students regardless of age. Many adults including teachers maintain that they should be the ones to instill good behaviors and teach respect. In many instances these behaviors are often harsh and command like causing our children to rebel against our ‘‘orders’’. According to Strike, Haller, and Soltis (1998), we should not impose values on our students. However, as part of our ‘‘hidden curriculum’’ within the school, respect can be one way schools serve to socialize students to learn respect for themselves, teachers and peers. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A RESPECTFUL ENVIRONMENT? The development of a respectful classroom leads to a greater understanding of and appreciation for diverse populations within a school community. Diversity is not always that which is immediately visible. Diversity takes many forms and needs to be understood in order to support a child and his/her family. A respectful classroom environment decreases the fear of the unknown and unexplored. Children in such a classroom are encouraged to get to know each other and about others, share ideas, explore new content and carry this out with the feeling of safety and appreciation. In this type of environment there is a greater likelihood of willingness to share more of self because respect permeates the environment. A respectful classroom is an open-minded classroom. In such a classroom students feel safe when they are sharing ideas. They should be able to accept each other’s ideas and values even if they do not agree with them. If this takes place, everyone will feel a connection to each other. HOW DOES ONE ACHIEVE A RESPECTFUL ENVIRONMENT? A major component of a respectful classroom is the development of relationships. Teachers are models for developing relationships. Students observe teachers to see how they negotiate the social and moral environment. The models set by adults in the classroom and external to the classroom play a very large role on the development of the respectful classroom. When students observe teachers, they can assess what is genuine and what is being play acted. Children thrive on sincerity. They deserve to spend their time in classrooms where teachers respect the need for honesty and integrity.

Creating Respectful Classroom Environments Children can be taught to respect materials and equipment if they see the adults around them doing the same. When a teacher takes the time to arrange classroom materials and equipment in an attractive and useful manner, this conveys respect to the children in the classroom. When new materials come to the classroom and the teacher takes the time to introduce the materials to the class, this too conveys respect and the expectation that the children in the class will treat the materials with care. WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A RESPECTFUL ENVIRONMENT? In a respectful environment, people of any age use respectful words. Their language conveys a respectful tone of voice. Their actions are respectful. They are provided with the time and space in which to demonstrate their uniqueness. In a respectful environment, individuals convey respect through their body language. Their attitudes are respectful. These characteristics cannot be turned on and off. Respect must permeate the environment and must be practiced and supported every day. The following checklist can be used to help in the development of a respectful classroom environment. The checklist is designed to encourage teachers or pre-service teachers to view the many possible classroom components that are critical to the establishment of a respectful classroom climate. RESPECTFUL CLASSROOM INVENTORY In My Classroom I • • • • • • • • • •

• • •

model appropriate behaviors am polite to students am polite to parents am polite to the adults in the school community set the tone for tolerance and acceptance of people, behavior and ideas set high expectations for all my students engage in on-going monitoring of student behavior speak directly to my students to show respect and to help them take responsibility for their own behavior convey respect when students are speaking in class establish guidelines for treating one another with courtesy, allowing others to maintain their sense of dignity and appreciating other’s individuality enforce and follow-through on the behaviors of individual students who do not follow these guidelines use cooperative learning groups to expose students to and encourage respect and working well with others work effectively with all my students regardless of ability level

297 In My Classroom My Students • • • • • •

are polite to their classmates are polite to teachers treat their classroom and school environment with respect use body language that conveys respect listen attentively to each other demonstrate that they know what the following words mean: respect, dignity, courtesy, individuality , uniqueness • work well together regardless of ethnicity and/or ability

My Classroom • has written rules and expectations for students when indoors • has written rules and expectations for students when outdoors • has students engaged in lessons that infuse the concepts of respect • has students engaged in studying about individuals who worked to gain respect for others • contains books for students to read that focus on respect and respectful ways of being with peers, community members, family members, etc.

BUILDING FOR CONTINUITY IN THE YEARS BEYOND THE EARLY CHILDHOOD PERIOD There are classroom practices that help to provide for continuity of respect from one school year to the next, from one classroom to the next. Cooperative learning is one way to engage students in the practice of respect. Cooperative learning groups involve establishing small teams, each with students of different levels of ability, and the use of a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject. Each member of a team is responsible not only for learning what is taught but also for helping teammates learn, thus creating an atmosphere of achievement as well as cooperation. Documented results of cooperative learning include improved academic achievement, improved behavior and attendance, increased selfconfidence and motivation, and increased liking of school and classmates. Cooperative learning is also relatively easy and inexpensive to implement. Teachers can begin to institute cooperative learning in pairs, utilizing activities such as construction puzzles, recalling information or matching ideas (Lyman, Foyle, & Azwell, 1993). As students work cooperatively in smaller groups, the teacher can institute larger cooperative learning groups (Lyman et al., 1993). The teacher’s role is critical to the success of cooperative learning (Foyle, Lyman, & Thies, 1991). The teacher


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observes and monitors and intervenes during various group interactions and provides the stimulus and rewards for good group behavior. Cooperative learning groups can start at an early age to teach young children positive interdependence and individual accountability to self and the group (Foye et al., 1991). Once these behaviors are established, they will easily carry into the elementary classroom years. IMPORTANCE OF DIVERSE POPULATIONS BEING INTEGRATED INTO SCHOOLS AND CLASSROOMS Students learn from teachers through multiple ways. Students observe the practices in which teachers engage. It is critical that cooperation and respect between teachers is something that permeates traditional boundaries, i.e., cross grade curriculum planning and implementation groups; parent/teacher working groups; cross schools working groups (district-wide). In addition to these observable examples of cooperation and respect, cooperation and respect between teachers and administrators that is obvious to children also needs to be a critical component of the school environment. In order to facilitate positive respectful relationships that will support children between school and home, cooperation and respect between teachers and parents needs to be clearly visible to children. WORKING WITH PARENTS Children do not come to school alone. They are part of a constellation known as family. Whether children live with their natural or adoptive parents, grandparents, one parent, an extended family member or guardian, it is very important to develop a respectful working relationship with the care-giving adult. It is these people who help form a family partnership with the school. Parents have potential to serve as sources of information for teachers if you have developed a respectful relationship with them. Teaching and learning is much more successful when teachers are able to contact parents as resources for support for themselves and the children they teach. WORKING WITH THE COMMUNITY Children do cannot speak for to advocate for nurtured to see

not have a measured vote. They themselves so children need adults them. The community should be schools as centers of teaching,

learning and respect for all. Communities need to pay attention to the lack of respect evident in their communities and advocate for change. Just as the media exposes children to inappropriate language and behavior, media can also be a vehicle for exposing children to positive, respectful models, language and behavior. Community advocates can help to make that happen. If we engage individuals to help to create more respectful opportunities for children, those who advocate for children need to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of individual children and children who have commonalities based on their unique culture. Children are exposed to different behaviors and language at home and in their neighborhoods. Children look up to adults as models and for support. If they imitate the adults they are with, and the behaviors are detrimental to the children, the children will be confused. Communities need to ensure that children have the right people in their lives so they can have the best start to leading lives filled with respect and good opportunities.

TEACHER PREPARATION As pre-service teachers learn about the complexities of curricular design and classroom management, it is important that they have develop the understanding of the appropriateness of classroom teachers conveying to the children they teach that striving to be respectful might be challenging for them. With the emphasis on basic skill acquisition and high stakes testing, pre-service teachers need to be supported in learning how to include character education as a critical part of the classroom curriculum. In much the same way that it is critical that character education be infused into daily life in the classroom and not reserved for ‘‘extra time’’ one day per week, multicultural education is an important vehicle for learning about and respecting others. In order to facilitate this for pre-service teachers, diversity experiences should also be infused into preservice teacher preparation. Pre-service teachers must also be taught strategies in inclusive teaching to convey respect, fairness and high expectations. These strategies include: considering students prior knowledge, orienting students to your ways of teaching, and giving students strategies for successful learning. Research concludes that inclusive teaching supports student learning and plays a role in student achievement.

Creating Respectful Classroom Environments CONCLUSIONS As a virtue, respect has been sought after historically in education. In the 4th century, Plato and Aristotle called for education that considered the training of good and virtuous citizens. In the 17th century, John Locke, believed that learning was secondary to virtue (Skinner, 2004). In the 1960s the teaching of character and values gained prominence in schools (Skinner, 2004) and again in the 1990s the Federal government made grants available to school systems invested in piloting character education programs. Many of these programs are based in the United States Constitution and in the United Nations charter as well as common civil and moral values (Skinner, 2004). The focus of respect is just one of the many pillars of character embedded in the educational programming for our children. What we are advocating is not a specific program to be implemented but rather an environment that needs to be created where respect permeates the interaction of teachers and students. This environment would in turn aid successful teaching and learning. In creating a respectful classroom, teachers need not rely on the implementation of a sophisticated program. Teachers just need to practice respect and to require respect from their students in all that takes place in the daily running of a respectful classroom, where the ‘‘hidden curriculum’’ would engender respect for all within the classroom. There are a few studies that conclude that as we facilitate social development, we concurrently advance academic function (Skinner, 2004). This is not too much to ask of teachers. Respect should be a critical component of all classroom environments.

REFERENCES Alderman, C. (2000). Why is it normal to teach values as well as normal school subjects. Internet, page42.html, 2000. Benninga, J., & Wynne, E. (1998). Keeping in character: A timetested solution. Phi Delta Kappan, 79(6), 439–446.

299 Curwin, R. L., & Mendler, A. N. (1988). Discipline with dignity. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Dunne, D., & Delisio, E. (2001). Common elements of respectful schools, Education World. a_issues/issues168.shtml. Foyle, H., Lyman, L., & Thies, S. (1991). Cooperative learning in the early childhood classroom. NEA Early Childhood Education Series, U.S. National Education Association. Graef, C. (2000). Teaching respect ranks with the three R’s. St Petersburg Times. Lyman, L., Foyle, H., & Azwell, T. (1993). Cooperative learning in the elementary classroom: Developments in classroom instruction. U.S: National Education Association. McConnell., & Elliot (2003). Positive classroom environment and student-teacher rapport preventing challenging behavior in the classroom. Sanville, P. (2003). What is respect? Beyond tolerance. Perspectives, Massachusetts Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.–3.htm. Sidney, S., Howe, L., & Kirschenbaum, H. (1978). Values clarification. Sunderland, MA: Values Press. Skinner, R. (2004). Character education. context/topics/issuespage.cfm. Strike, K., Haller, E., & Soltis, J. (1998). The ethics of school administration. NY: Teachers College Press. Trissler, T. (2000). Should values be taught in public schools? Wessler, S. L. (2003). Rebuilding classroom relationships – It’s hard to learn when you’re scared Educational Leadership, 61, 1 .

DOCUMENTS Center for Instructional Development and Research (2003). Inclusive teaching. convey/html. Connecticut Code of Professional Responsibility for Teachers. North Carolina Professional Teaching Standards. Nova Scotia Department of Education (2003). Creating a safer and more respectful environment in schools education. http://,ns/news/printpage.asp. Report of the 1996 Bond Referendum Projects