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Modeling and Measuring Respect in a Primary School

Here are notes from a conversation between a primary school teacher and Steve Hein on the first day the teacher modeled, discussed and measured respect in her classroom. The students were ages 7-8.

The teacher starts her description of the process by saying:

I did the attendance, they listened to the announcements and then I took them to sports class, so I thought I'd do the respect thing when they came back from sports. So when they came back and had all gone to the bathroom and everything I gave them just a little work to do and then I said "I am going to chit-chat with you for a little while. We are going to talk about something really important. We are going to talk about respect. Then I started by asking "Can you tell me what it means to feel respected?... A few people spoke up. Instead of really defining it, they used examples. I think someone said something like not talking when someone else is talking...

So then I wanted to explain the difference between feeling respected and showing respect. So I asked them what it meant to show respect to someone else, and that is when it started getting easier for them and they started giving me more examples...

Then they didn't really quite understand what I said next. I asked whether respect was earned or whether it was demanded and forced. I could see they were having some trouble with that so I gave them the example that you gave me a long time ago about a man coming in the room and stealing a girl's purse. I said "would you respect that?," and they all said, "Noo!"

I said some teachers might tell you that it is a sign of respect to stand up when a stranger comes in the room, but you really don't know if he intends to steal someone's purse so he hasn't earned respect. I said the teacher might make you stand up, but that doesn't really mean that you respect the person. (1)

I think then they started to get it. I tried to explain that respect is something you give someone voluntarily, but I don't think they understood the word "voluntarily" -- it seemed fuzzy. But I think the example helped clear up the difference.

Then I talked about the difference between doing something I ask because they respect me versus because I threaten them so they are afraid of me. They all seemed to get that pretty easily and laughed about it when I said, "What if I told you to stop talking or I would break your arm? Would you stop talking because you respected me?" Then I explained to them what mutual respect was and they seemed to understand that."

After that the teacher told the kids that later she would ask them how much they felt respected by her, and she would tell them how much she felt respected by them. They said "okay."

So around 10 in the morning she stopped class to do the respect survey. She told them to hold up their fingers to show how much they felt respected by her. She said 10 fingers means the highest respect and two closed fists would equal zero.

To her surprise all the children held up all ten fingers. When she asked why, they gave her specific reasons such as "You don't write our name on the blackboard like the other teachers do when we are talking." "You come and help us when we have questions." "You don't yell at us or say you will send us to the principal." "You helped so-and-so when he couldn't understand something."

The she asked if they wanted to know how much she felt respected by them. They said "yes." She said about a six. They looked very disappointed and they asked why it was so low. She told them that sometimes people were talking when she was talking or when others were asking questions, etc. She said "Do you think you can raise your scores?" They gave her an enthusiastic "Yes!"

Then she asked "Now how much do you feel respected by your classmates?" She got a wide variety of scores and asked the kids to explain their scores. They said things like "Well, so-and-so was pulling on my hair even when I asked him to stop it."

After lunch, she took another survey. She still received all tens. The students still had a wide range of scores for each other, but generally the scores were higher. When she told them she now felt respected by them an 8, they looked proud of themselves, but they still were not satisfied. She asked if they thought they could raise it even higher, again she got a very enthusiastic "YES!"

She said from that moment on till the end of the day she had one of the quietest, most well-behaved classes she has ever taught. She said the children were self-monitoring each other. If someone talked too loudly, the others would motion to them to be quiet. She never did another survey because there was no need to. The children could sense how well they were doing, and it was clear they had risen to the occasion.


More Detail

These notes were taken from a phone conversation in 1997. The conversation was taped recorded with the teacher's permission so we could both learn from her first experience at testing some of Steve Hein's ideas about using mutual respect as the basis for managing a classroom. The teacher was taking the place of the regular teacher, so it was her first day with these children.

As far as we know, this is the first time students have ever been asked how much they felt respected by their teacher on a scale of 0-10. The results are extremely encouraging for those who believe it is both desirable and possible to teach in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

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