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Promoting Respect and Civility in the Classroom

Every human being, of whatever origin, of whatever station, deserves respect. We must each respect others even as we respect ourselves. 
—U Thant (UN Secretary General 1961-1971)

Civility costs nothing and buys everything. 
—Mary Worley Montagu

In the professional arena, respect is reciprocal: you show respect to the client and expect it in return. The same is true for respect and civility in the classroom. Respect needs to be mutual between the teacher and the students: a respect for one another and for the learning community.

As stress mounts and students start checking out, the threads of community you have built within your class can begin to unravel. Bringing respect to the foreground once again promotes a positive learning environment, builds on existing community, and demonstrates professionalism. So what can you do to revitalize and keep the positive momentum going in your class?

Below are some strategies to help build and maintain a civil environment:

  1. Set a strong example during the first weeks of the course by responding to students in appropriate ways. This means acknowledging really good work and comments from students, encouraging and modeling honest and tactful communication, and letting students know when they have been inappropriate. If a teacher ignores inappropriate comments, students will think the teacher is condoning them.
     
  2. Plan, in advance, ways you will address issues of incivility. A timely response is important, and if you have thought the situation and response through, you will be able to respond more effectively. It is often helpful to come up with a hierarchy of responses to potential situations. For example, if a student is talking over you, first make eye contact, then move near the student and pause, before speaking to him or her in private.
     
  3. Keep communication open. Make a point to greet your students by name as they come into class. Try to seize on other opportunities to personally connect with all of your students, giving each student equal attention and a sense of value.
     
  4. Foster unity and inclusion through pair work, group work, and “roundtable” discussion that promotes the mutually respectful sharing of ideas and responsibilities.
     
  5. Respect students’ privacy and dignity. Never post grades that display the students’ names—only ID numbers. Even when using ID numbers, rearrange the order in which students are listed so that it’s not easily recognizable to others.
     
  6. Respect students as individuals, taking into account a student’s learning style, strengths, background, and demands on time. This can be done without compromising the high performance standards you have set.