How Can We Bring Respect Back Into Our Schools?

Photo: Ed Sweetman / iStock / Thinkstock
On January 23, 2014, The Harris Poll® reported that Americans’ perception of respect in our schools has declined dramatically. When asked to compare their own K-12 school experiences with their perception of respect in schools today:
  • 31% believe that students respect teachers today (compared with 79% when they were students)
  • 61% believe that teachers respect students today (compared with 86%)
  • 49% believe that parents respect teachers today (compared with 91%)
  • 64% believe that teachers respect parents today (compared with 91%)
  • 58% believe that administrators respect teachers today (compared with 88%)

If we agree that respect is an important ingredient in the recipe for a positive school climate, this poll signals a significant—and negative—climate change.

What’s the Solution? Can We Reverse the Decline? 
Did you notice that our perception is that respect is eroding in all directions: student to teacher, teacher to student, parent to teacher, teacher to parent, administrator to teacher? Although it’s not indicated in the poll, can we assume that there’s a decline in respect from teacher to administrator, as well?

The empathic educator tries to see things from the perspective of the other person. How do you feel when you’re made to feel that you’re not respected? How do those feelings affect you? How do your attitudes and behaviors affect the student’s or the parent’s attitudes and behaviors? Might the concept of the Integrated Experience (or that my attitudes and behaviors affect yours and vice versa) suggest a possible starting point?

While it’s not always easy to put our own feelings aside, perhaps the reversal of this trend can begin with us. A colleague once shared his mother’s advice: “Be the bigger person.” Perhaps if we treat everyone with respect—even when they do not reciprocate—we can take a first step on the path to positive climate change.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Perhaps only respect can drive out disrespect. Are you willing to lead the way?

What’s Your Perception?
Do you think that respect in our schools has declined? What factors contribute to a decline? How can we reverse the trend? How do you create a climate of respect in your classroom?

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About the Author

“With empathy and caring as our guiding values, we can never compromise treating others with respect and dignity.”