Respect—it goes both ways. You have to give it to receive it. From the custodian to the cafeteria worker, from the secretary to the teacher assistant, from the teacher to the student teacher, from the dean to the assistant principal, from the… Well, you get the gist of what I am saying. Everyone should be encouraged to show respect. Many think this is something only students need to learn, but just because you are the adult doesn’t mean it is automatically given, especially in today’s society.
As a school leader at a high school, I stood in the cafeteria line and modeled for kids to say “Thank you” as they received their lunch. It was also a model for the adults to show respect to the students who were receiving the meal, because for many, it was the only meal they would receive until the next morning at breakfast. What I saw develop was a reciprocal relationship between students and staff. Staff began to notice new hairstyles and haircuts of the students, and students noticed when the cafeteria workers put on special things for the holidays.
The ladies in the cafeteria put their heart and soul into the food they prepared for “their kids” each day, and the students appreciated it. They learned each other’s names and actually cared for and respected each other. There were a few students who were vegan, and because of the relationships and respect they had for each other, the staff made sure those students got their “special” vegan lunch, or when they made salads, they made sure to make some with no meat and cheese specifically for these students.
Students were taught to respect their space. I shared with them that this was “our home”, as we spent eight to ten hours there a day, and we could not expect anyone else to respect our space if we did not do it first. I focused on changing what they saw in their space. Instead of blank walls, I hung a bulletin board in every hallway and required teachers to have a minimum of three bulletin boards in their classrooms—a motivational one, a data one, and one that represented the college they graduated from so that students could learn about them. This was non-negotiable. I hung positive quotes over all the windows throughout the building because when students looked out the windows, I wanted them to be able to see the possibilities, not just the dreary world outside the walls of the school.
While staff grumbled putting the bulletin boards up, expecting the students would tear them down anyway, at the end of every year, the quotes were still up. If some were missing, it was because some students had taken them and placed them in their locker or used them for a project in their classes. There were positive quotes on banners above their lockers—they were immersed in positivity. The students noticed them so much that the valedictorian gave the quotes a shout-out in her speech at graduation. Positive affirmations were all around.
The schoolwide expectations were hung throughout the building, and schoolwide classroom expectations were posted in every classroom. I could not take it for granted the students knew what respect looked and felt like. I had to teach them what it meant for us in our building. At the beginning of the school year, all teachers actually taught a lesson on the expectations and shared what the behaviors looked and felt like. At weekly town hall meetings, students were recognized for meeting schoolwide expectations and exhibiting the school’s character traits.
We ended the year with a RESPECT DAY Assembly.
This assembly was a part of the Encourage Me I’m Young (EMIY) organization (www.emiyworld.com) founded by Calvin Mann. Additionally, it is a nationally recognized day on April 6 in the State of Michigan. Students took a pledge to respect each other, and they signed the pledge with their name and handprint. These banners were hung in the cafeteria to remind them of their commitment. Students also received RESPECT ‑T-shirts, donated by the sponsoring organization, and again, they were able to wear them in lieu of the uniform. Students were less likely to misbehave wearing ‑T-shirts that promoted positive messages. There was an expectation set for them and they met it.
As I mentioned before, respect goes both ways. The adults in the building had to learn that inside the big bodies of the students were really little babies who had not learned how to handle conflict appropriately and whose first response was to fight, not freeze nor flight. The entire staff was trained in the Restorative Practice process. The administrators were trained to use this process to resolve situations among groups of students. Our first action could not be to send them home. It had to be to respect them, listen to what had happened, and get to the root cause of the behavior so it could be changed and the student could repair the harm they had caused.
Were there situations where the restorative process did not work? Absolutely! But for the most part, it helped change the mindset of the adults when they had to sit and actually talk to the students about the behavior exhibited and how it had caused harm and how it would be corrected. Did every teacher like it? No! But it did make them think twice before they automatically wrote a referral for a student. It did allow teachers to sit and solve problems with a student and learn about the child. In most cases, better relationships were built, and both developed more respect for the other. These were just a few of the things instituted to help build a culture of respect among teachers, staff, parents, students, and administrators. Reflect on the three questions on the following page on how you could build a culture of respect in your school.