Teaching Channel. (2012). Inquiry- Based Teaching: Building a Culture of Respect. [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.o2. rg/videos/build-a-respectful-classroom
This video features a round table conversation amongst Math, ELA and history teachers from a school in New York around building respectful classroom space. This conversation mentions three ways to build a culture of respect in the classroom: do not permit personal attacks, avoid labeling “wrong” answers, and fair arbitration.
One of the first points raised in the film is the importance of letting students say what they wish to say without being personally attacked. Students should feel comfortable about expressing ideas: unpopular or not. It is important to ensure that students know and feel their right to express their opinions because of the commonly understood culture of respect that they have amongst their peers and with their teacher. There is a difference between attacking content behind an idea, and the individual. While the video does not go into full depth about how to mitigate the two, I think it is important that teachers differentiate between the two when defining the boundaries of a respectful classroom. In discussion-based classes like the humanities, it is not uncommon for students to play devil’s advocate. They may be expressing ideas that may not be as socially acceptable or what they personally believe in, and still should be allowed to do so without their character being insulted. Instead, if there is disagreement, address the idea itself.
The second method of creating a respectful environment involves the teacher not jumping down student’s throat because they don’t have an answer or the ‘right’ answer. Putting your hand up to speak in class discussion can be nerve wracking as it puts the student in a vulnerable position of sharing personal thoughts to an audience, who will undoubtedly judge what they’ve heard. Teachers should recognize that not all students are willing to speak candidly an openly (which may due to many factors in their personal background) and should avoid labeling responses as ‘wrong’. Again, the video touched briefly on this point. To elaborate, when a student provides a response that may not be relevant or in the same direction of thinking that the teacher was looking for, take the time to ask the student how he or she came up with their answer. Their rationale might be revealing of their thought process, and now the teacher, understanding where the student is coming from, might springboard from this response and draw other meaningful connections.
As the video mentions, in order to cultivate a respectful classroom, all teachers in the school, regardless of subject, need to enforce a culture of respect. When there is a school culture of respect, individual teachers feel more confident in their classroom structure and may facilitate deeper, more meaningful and controversial subject matters. Students must trust their peers and their teacher in enforcing fair arbitration. For example, teachers may shy away from having discussing about black slavery (as is done in the video), but so long as the teacher commits to being a fair arbitrator, they can uphold the climate of the classroom.
As a humanities teacher, the structure of my classes will include plenty of classroom discussions. As an educator, I am keen on pushing my students to think about issues that may be controversial in order to expose them to perspectives that would otherwise make them feel uncomfortable. Thus, it is necessary to ground my classroom culture in one of respect. Discussion often results in the sharing of multiple perspectives, and it is both important to encourage and recognize that these differences can be productive, rather than problematic. That being said, this video outlines three essential components of building a culture of respect which is the basis for establishing rapport in the classroom. Without it, the classroom will continue to function as a highly power threatening space that is divisive rather than inclusive.