Practical Application: Creating a Respectful Learning Environment

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Increasing classroom diversity means a need for respectful interpersonal engagement. These three scenarios will allow you to apply your knowledge by creating guidelines for respect in the classroom.

Encouraging Respect

Classrooms expose students to people, ideas, and behaviors that are often far outside their usual social circle. Because of this, it's only natural that differences are stark and similarities are all but invisible. How do you encourage respect among students?

The following three scenarios will provide you the opportunity to apply what you learned in the lesson Creating a Respectful Learning Environment as you establish guidelines for respectful interpersonal interaction.

Scenario 1: Pushing Buttons (Elementary)

Omar had been cleared to volunteer in his son's kindergarten classroom once a week. Omar took a group of five students to read aloud together for about a half hour. As he arranged his reading circle, one of his students unexpectedly let out a loud, high-pitch scream that at first seemed unprovoked. When Omar asked the child what happened, he looked away and mumbled something Omar couldn't understand.

A few minutes later, it happened again. This time, Omar saw what happened. One of the other students in the reading group lightly poked his neighbor in the arm. Although the poke was barely even perceptible, it had twice elicited the disproportionate audible response - a fact that delighted his young tormentor.

  • What is going on here, and why is the response so disproportionate to the offense?
  • Is it normal or abnormal that a kindergartner would find this behavior funny?
  • How could you go about changing things so that respect, rather than provocation, is the new ''normal?''

Reflecting and Discussing Scenario 1

The tormented child in Omar's reading group has a mild form of autism, and the stimulation of unwanted physical tough is traumatic for him. But let's not come down too hard on his tormentor just yet. While he's not being respectful, it's also clear he doesn't have an understanding of the situation. It's a perfect opportunity to introduce the concept of respectful interpersonal relationships.

Now put yourself in the role of the teacher and provide Omar with some guidance for establishing boundaries and expectations for respectful interaction in the reading group.

Scenario 2: Feud on the Court (High School)

Yesterday, during a basketball practice, a minor feud occurred between Gavin and Derek. Although they both play on the same team, Derek accuses Gavin of being a ball hog. For his part, Gavin often loudly asserts that Derek has inferior skills and that giving him the ball would be ''wasting an opportunity.''

  • Is this behavior disrespectful or motivational?
  • Is (or should) the behavior demonstrated here more acceptable on the basketball court than it would be in a classroom? If so, what's the difference?

A few days later, an incident occurred that quickly drew the coach into the fray. After missing two game-winning free throws, Gavin shouted at Derek, ''You're an embarrassment! Your mom could shoot better than that! C'mon man!'' Derek wheeled around, charged Gavin and knocked him to the ground. Coaches and teammates quickly broke them up, and there were no significant injuries. After they were separated, the coach barked, ''That's enough! It's over now. Hit the showers!''

  • Did the coach's response promote a respectful climate? Reflect carefully before choosing what may seem like an obvious answer.
  • If you were the teacher or coach, what would you do (if anything) to followup on this incident?

Reflecting and Discussing Scenario 2

Whether right or wrong, many teachers would take an approach that ''leaving it on the court'' is actually the best way to handle this. Taking this position necessarily requires the conclusion that certain behaviors that are acceptable on the court would be inappropriate in another context. Teachers who would consider this conduct unacceptably disrespectful in any setting should consider the distinct role of students, teachers, and the school as a whole in facilitating respectful interaction.

Using the knowledge you have acquired, construct a brief framework that outlines the roles of each of these three entities as it relates to the incident. Remember to include expectations related to both verbal and non-verbals cues, the role of modeling respectful behaviors, and what standards of respectful conduct should be vigorously enforced.

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