Teachers who grew up and began teaching as members of the dominant American culture may have an idea that students should respect them simply because they are teachers, and “teachers deserve respect.” As educational practices move toward students having and taking more responsibility for their learning, and away from the teacher being the holder of all knowledge; and, as American culture moves toward including the presence and contributions of many cultures in addition to the dominant culture, respect has taken on a slightly different meaning. Students will show respect to teachers whom they trust. Students will show respect to teachers who show them respect. This requires a shift in teacher thinking, from an expectation of compliance and blind obedience, to an expectation that the teacher build trusting, respectful relationships with all of their students, whether they come from the teacher’s culture or not. This is part of what it means to live and work in a multicultural society.
Simultaneously, teachers must work together, respectfully and collaboratively, to ensure that their expectations for student behavior are consistent from classroom to classroom. If the responsibility of the teachers in any school is to create a safe learning environment, they must work together to create consistency of expectations for behavior — otherwise, students must navigate many different sets of expectations throughout the day, which is difficult and unsettling. Lack of consistent expectations for students leads to conflict among teachers, as students compare different teachers’ expectations and play teachers against each other. Teachers grow angry, hearing of student behaviors they do not tolerate being allowed in other classrooms. These conflicts distract from teaching and learning, for both teachers and students. To reduce such conflict, teachers must build trusting, respectful relationships with each other, regardless of their own personal philosophies, and must come to a collaborative agreement on student behavior expectations, for the good of the students. This requires strong communication skills, as well as the ability to be honest and courageous.
On Friday, February 2, I had the privilege of attending the first of a series of workshops designed to help teachers and youth workers develop the skills it takes to build respectful relationships: Relationship Building Blocks. The workshop was enlivening, challenging, and eminently practical. I highly recommend it to any teacher or youth worker. Relationship Building Blocks will be offered again on Friday, March 23, 9-5, at Riverviews Artspace in Lynchburg, VA. The workshop series, LivingSideBySide®, is a program from Legacy International, a non-profit youth leadership and peacebuilding organization. http://www.legacyintl.org/livingsidebyside/