Many teachers have the following one rule in their classroom: respect. Often it is expanded into respect for yourself, respect for others, respect for property. Respect is a quality that is essential to creating an environment where we can all flourish.

Is this something that we always reciprocate to our students though? It is not that we do things intentionally to disrespect our students. I would actually argue that as educators we go over and above to continuously nurture our students and care for them. However, there are some little things that we do that could be taken the wrong way by our kids.

For example, we continuously talk about how kids are a lot different from when we grew up. Of course they are. Society has changed as well; how could they not be different? It is when we say it in the context that we were actually better back in the “good old days”. If you ask any of my grade 7-10 teachers the same question, I am sure that they would take students today.

Sometimes it is in our language. Simple terms like, “they are just kids”, can be demeaning whether we say it to our kids or to other adults. Throwing the word “just” in to a phrase that describes a group can often be very demeaning whether we say it to the kids or to other adults.

They are just teachers. She is just the principal. They are just parents. He is just the substitute teacher.

None of those sound good, no matter the context. The intent is not that we don’t value our kids but it is that little word (just) that may send the wrong message.

One of the basic elements of respect is a mutual trust. Take Will Richardson’s recent article, “The Teacher Cloud; How do we re-envision the interaction between teachers and students?” In it, Will talks about the trust that we need to extend to our students:

What if, however, we stopped doing that (deciding what and when to learn for our students) and trusted the kids? What if we as teachers saw ourselves as part of a much bigger “cloud” of adults whose main role was to develop and support the enthusiasm for learning that our children innately bring with them to school but that we all too often temper in our zeal to “deliver” the curriculum? That would represent a huge shift not only in the role of the teacher but also in moving the classroom to a rich, ongoing, passionate learning space that children want to attend.

In this type of setting, many feel that our expectations are sometimes lowered for our students as they just frivolously wander around the room. In fact, the standard should actually raise significantly. In the “traditional” model, there is only so much a student can learn from one source leading the way (the teacher). When we put this element of trust into our students and provide different sources from students to learn from (rich resources, technology, peers), the output should increase significantly.

Reading Marc Prensky’s, Teaching Digital Natives; Partnering for Real Learning, he discusses the importance of working with our students and some of the key elements that they are looking for in their learning:

They do not want to be lectured to.
They want to be respected, to be trusted, and to have their opinions valued and count.
They want to follow their own interests and passions.
They want to create, using the tools of their time.
They want to work with their peers on group work and projects (and prevent slackers from getting a free ride).
They want to make decisions and share control.
They want to connect with their peers to express and share their opinions, in class and around the world. They want to cooperate and compete with each other.
They want an education that is not just relevant, but real.

We always need to take care of our kids and sometimes, yes, we need to do things that they do not agree with to ensure their safety and well being. However, we also need to ensure our actions constantly align with this belief in respect.

Maybe one of the biggest elements of respect is that we want more for our students than we ever had.

“…we must conceive of what educators do in a new way—not just as teachers, but as rocket designers, building and sending off the best rockets we possibly can.” Marc Prensky’s, Teaching Digital Natives; Partnering for Real Learning


  1. Jeff said:

    Thank you for the reminder George. When it comes to respect for our students, we do have to be conscientious and reflective about our interactions. I sometimes smile when I hear a colleague comment on a students lack of interest or perceived apathy. I smile because if I think hard enough, I can remember when I was in junior high. In truth, I was excited about the things that interested me–not necessarily about learning for the sake of learning. I will readily admit that two of my primary motivators were athletics and social time. You are right…we should want more for our students, we should give them the freedom to pursue their interests and we should be cognizant of respect. In the process, it doesn’t hurt to be a little reflective and remember what we were really like at that age…it might help us build better connections. Thanks for the post!

    April 2, 2011
    • Thanks Jeff…I definitely know that you are leading the way in this area. Keep up the great work in Arizona!

      April 2, 2011
  2. Sydney Bullock said:

    Another way to show respect: Include the student in YOUR learning process. Be in the process together. Be vulnerable like this article:

    April 6, 2011
  3. Tony kuc said:

    Thanks George

    Good to be able to back track to this submission as it was first posted prior to my following on Twitter. I remember back a long time ago to the comment made to me by a student who I was being cross with (I didnt get on well with him) – and it has been a constant reminder to me ever since. I commented to him that he was being disrespectful to me, and his reply was ‘sir you have to show respect to get respect in turn’. Two-way traffic.

    April 7, 2011

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