I Brake For Respect

Recently, I’ve had a class with an overall classroom environment trending towards disrespect and unkind behavior. Behavior directed both peer to peer and towards me. This class has always been a bit energetic and a bit wild. However, progressively over the last few weeks I have seen a downward spiral leaving me exasperated, stressed and frustrated at the end of each class, which happens to be the last block of the day, making everything seem magnified after an already long day.

One of the hardest parts, and most emotionally draining aspects of teaching for me is trying to get students to stop being mean to each other. Even through my best efforts to redirect this student energy, model, and explain why language is hurtful, I have found myself unsuccessful. Not to mention the damage is already done once I am correcting a student on a comment.

This spiral downward ended with a crash, burn and explosion during a 80 minute lab block last Thursday, which ended 2 students having to leave to meet with the assistant principal for unsafe lab behavior.

So, in response to this I knew I had to go back to basics if there was going to be an improvement.

On Friday as students walked in I handed them a piece of paper with three questions on it.

1. How do I want to be treated in Biology class?

2. How should I treat my peers in Biology class?

3. How should I treat Mr. Reid in Biology class?

For almost 15 minutes I had them answer these questions. As I walked around I noticed each student said they wanted to be treated with respect in one form or another. I then prompted them to think about and write: “What does respect mean to you?”. Two students tried to turn the activity into a joke, so I asked them to leave, and having told the assistant principal I was doing this, sent them to have the conversation with him, and work on their own without an audience.

After the independent write, we brainstormed ideas on the board. To do this, one at a time I called on students to share a thought they had for each of the questions. I then emphasized that each person wrote that they wanted to be treated with respect, and went over the list of things we came up with to describe what respect meant (listening, indoor voices, appropriate language, speaking one person at a time, to name a few). Then through continued conversation we came to the conclusion that the best way to get respect is give to respect, and tied this into the “golden rule” treat others how you want to be treated.

Finally, I had one student write down all the ideas from the board, which I then typed up and handed out on Monday during class. At which point we reviewed our class expectations. After reviewing on Monday we moved into the class activity and I saw a huge change in behavior. Even one of the students who left Fridays activity came in with more appropriate responses typed to give to me. During class students were accepting of the new class norm to raise hands (quietly) if you have something to add, the popcorn style had not been working, and there was  a clear decrease in picking at each other, trying to instigate controversy. This pattern continued into Tuesday and I have my fingers crossed for tomorrow’s long lab block.

I hope that this 40 minute break from Biology will be the stimulus for the much needed long term changes in classroom environment. I plan on returning to, and reviewing our new class expectations from time to time. It is certainly a lesson learned to have such an intervention much sooner at the signs of similar downward trend.

Sometimes we all need a reminder of what it means to Respect others.