We all know what it feels like to be respected (or disrespected). But what does the word respect really mean? To teach respect in the classroom we must be able to define it. We won’t bore you with dictionary definitions—they’re not particularly helpful when working with kids, anyhow.

Respect can be summed up this way: It’s about treating others as you would like to be treated.

children raising their hand and being respectful

What does this actually look like in the classroom? Kids who show respect and are shown respect:

  • Feel safe around their peers and their teacher;

  • Don’t yell or talk over others;

  • Listen to others even when they disagree;

  • Don’t try to control others;

  • Talk openly about their needs and wants;

  • Admit when they’ve made a mistake; and

  • Freely express who they are and allow others to do the same.

Here are some ways to teach and encourage respect in the classroom:

  • Model respect. Children look to adults for clues about behavioral expectations. If they see their teachers and caregivers treating others with respect and compassion, they're more likely to do the same. Children are master imitators. When we expect them to show kindness or say please and thank you, we must act as role models and do the same.

Kids learning to draw in a classroom

  • Start with yourself. Too often adults make the mistake of demanding respect from children while treating children disrespectfully—by shaming, lecturing, or criticizing them when they "push our button." Teachers and caregivers must commit to unlearning ineffective or harmful responses to children. We can train ourselves to think before speaking and choose our words carefully, knowing that children imitate what they see and hear.

  • Discuss respect with students. Use age-appropriate language to let students know how they should treat others. Teach your children to use respectful words and phrases, like "Yes, Miss/Mrs. Smith," and say please and thank you. Explain that respect is visible in behavior, attitude, and actions toward others. Make sure kids know that it's not okay for anyone to use disrespectful behavior, including adults.

    • Praise respectful behavior. Recognize students when they demonstrate kindness, good manners, empathy, and respect for others. This intentional acknowledgment leads to positive outcomes. Imagine what happens when the school staff looks for these behaviors, publicly praises the students, and then records the positive behaviors on a chart. Students are more likely to repeat the behaviors, resulting in a more encouraging classroom environment and school culture change. One of the best ways for teachers to shift their focus toward the students' positive attitudes and actions is simple tools and training that quickly add structure to guide teachers. 

Integrating Positive Recognition Throughout the School


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  • Incorporate social-emotional learning. Focusing only on negative behaviors can make students feel like they are “bad” or “problem children.” Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a different approach—it uses positive discipline and deliberately emphasizes recognizing students for their positive character qualities. SEL equips children with the tools they need to manage their own emotions. And when kids can keep their emotions in check, they’re better at controlling their behavior and navigating interpersonal relationships.

Respect starts at home and in the classroom. It lays the groundwork for positive interactions and relationships throughout a person’s life. Respect is one of the core tenets of the HONORABLE CHARACTER™ Classroom Management System. Let us make it easy, painless, and simple for you to incorporate respect in the classroom.

Learn more about this highly effective, ready-made tool to promote prosocial behavior in students.

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