Let's talk about R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
She was not only the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin's song about respect always hit home with me. One of the issues I have always had with the notion of respect is that it seems to have different meanings for different people and in different situations. If I am the one who feels I am being disrespected, the definition can look vastly variant from if I see someone else openly disrespecting another person (or group of people). In other words, there is such a personal nature to the concept, it is hard to remain neutral when talking about it.
There are, however, some universal truths that I have noted in the world of education (that naturally transfer globally to the business world and relationship world outside of education). Here are three of them:
1. Presence makes a big difference --- As someone who has the blessing and privilege of traveling to schools and districts all over the world, I see enormous differences in the presence of administrators. In some workshops I teach, I’m working with teachers. In some workshops, I am working with school leaders. No matter the type, I am always tentative about the culture of a school or district in which the leader isn’t present, physically AND/OR mentally. In a recent workshop, I was working with school leaders. The superintendent was there the entire time. He not only was present, he was totally engaged the entire time in the work we were doing. What does that say to the school leaders in his district? To me, it says, “The work you are doing matters to me, and if it is important enough for you to be engaged in this work, I better know about it as well.” I took a moment to compliment his presence, and he said, "What do you mean? Are there people who don't attend workshops with their principals?" Ummm...yes.
Sometimes, at school-level trainings, I have principals and APs move from table to table, sitting with each group for a “chunk” of time in order to hear their perspectives on the topics we are discussing. The opposite scenario obviously exists, as well; there are districts in which I have worked for years, and I have never met the Superintendent or Assistant Superintendent. How, I wonder, does this model the notion of principal presence in teacher’s classrooms or even teachers in student learning if the leader of the entire district isn’t practicing what they are preaching?
As a professor for online courses for students getting their Educational Leadership certification, I try to be present in the discussion threads at least once a day. The requirement is less than that, but I feel like I am called to model what good school leaders should do. So….I lurk. I listen (or, online, read) in on conversations to see where the misconceptions lie, where the disagreements lie, and where I might offer a bit of experience, if not expertise. Some of my students likely would like me to not be “all up in their business” so much of the time, and I have had many of them share with me, “I’ve never been in an online class before where the professor was so involved or wrote so much on my papers.” Presence, I believe, also means giving meaningful feedback based on the work I am seeing. While not every student thanks me during the course, I get so many beautifully written emails after the courses are finished, thanking me for pushing them. I do the same for all my workshop participants.
As Doug Lemov says, “Right is right” in Teach Like a Champion, and we shouldn’t expect less than that, or else we may be sending the signal that mediocre is really an okay place to be. I was blessed, as a school leader, to work in a school in which most of the teachers were willing to push themselves and didn’t need me to push them as much as I feel I need to push my students in my online courses.
2.Listening without an agenda shows respect---As I mentioned, I teach all over the world. I have seen so many different cultures of communication, it blows my mind to think of the variations. In one school district, the Superintendent has a no cell-phone policy for principal workshops. He says, “If someone from your school needs you, they know to reach you here.” Wow. In other schools, I have seen principals talk right over the teachers, while the teachers ignore what the principal is saying and carry on their own conversations.
When I begin a workshop, I set the norm that we are going to listen to each other with respect. What does that mean? I define it as: we listen without interruption while another person (whether it is the presenter—me—or others at your small group or during a whole group conversation) is talking.
No matter how you try to spin it to me, you can’t talk over people and convince me that you are still showing respect to them.
I, in fact, have witnessed groups who talk over each other (six people talking/arguing with one another at a time), and I have to pull everyone back and ask, “Is there anyone else in the room distracted by this behavior?” Many hands will be raised. My next question is, “How can you ensure that you are hearing and understanding another person’s point of view if you are talking over them?” Typically, if I have to ask this question, there is radio-silence, as there simply isn’t an answer that is going to bode well for your case for interrupting one another.
I am also so very blessed to get a chance to go into classrooms all over the world and observe teaching practices. I steal as many of the good ones as I can. Some of the most successful classrooms I observe have best practices for how to engage in respectful conversation. Many teachers use academic conversation cards or posters (signs that remind students to say things like, “I agree with _________, but I also think ________” or “What are some examples of what you are saying?” or “I need some more clarification on your perspective”). Obviously, these look different at different grade levels, but the fact remains that, if we can teach students to listen to each other without interrupting one another, then the adults in the building(s) should be expected to do the same.
3.Building rapport can make or break the feeling of respect
If you want to know what Dave’s and my phone number was when we lived in Carrollton, Texas when we first got married 26 years ago, he is your guy. He is the numbers guy, after all. I, on the other hand, am the name girl. When I was a guidance counselor and then a principal at an elementary school, my mission was to ensure I knew the name of every student in the school. It wasn’t some weirdo personal challenge on my part. I simply had a hunch that calling students by name has an enormous impact on whether they believe you care about them. For instance, when I was a guidance counselor at a middle school in Florida, the principal (who I adored and respected for this reason, as well) and I would do hall duty together during passing periods, which really consisted of telling students to “Slow down” or ask how they were doing. We ascertained that saying, “Hey….hey,….hey….walk….walk…walk….” didn’t quite have as desired an effect as, “Tommy, come here for a minute. Now, what problems have we talked about concerning running in the hallway?”
Making connections matters. I observed a 1st grade teacher who, in March, was still pointing at her students to call on them when she asked a question. Wait, what? Don’t you know their names by now? You only have 20 of them, after all. I can only imagine what that must have felt like to be six years old and have your teacher point AT you (there simply is no other way to describe it).
The same, I believe, works to my advantage when I present workshops. I give out nametags at the beginning of the workshop, but by two hours into the workshop, I have tried to learn all their names without looking at the nametags (sometimes, it is difficult, obviously, if I have more than 40 or so people). And speaking of 40 (or 50, don't judge), it began to get harder for me and takes longer for me as I get older. But I still believe in the value of calling students and workshop participants by name. That is the first way I can begin to build a climate of respect in our time together. Have you seen the youtube video of the teacher who has a different handshake for every single student who comes in her class? Way to build rapport with your kids!! Way too much kinesthetic memory for me, but I can do names, she can do handshakes, and Dave can…well, he can remember your phone number.
In what ways do you build and maintain respect in your own work?
Don’t forget to share your ideas with me! I want to hear some good ones!