Given the nature of school life, we often get bogged down in behaviour issues. Most days we deal with unpleasant incidents which take up our time and distract other students. While we have to deal with each incident as it occurs, we should also try and work out the root cause of bad behaviour and address it directly, rather than just continue to deal with the symptoms.It seems to me that one the prime causes is lack of respect. I’m not just talking about lack of respect for staff (although that is occasionally a problem), but students’ lack of respect for each other. I think if you had to define what makes someone into a civilised human being; respect for one’s peers would be the most important element. Children (or indeed all people) aren’t aggressive, rude or bullying to people they respect.
As with many of these issues, we are trying to address an issue which is much bigger than the school. A lot of our children see adults treating each disrespectfully every day, at home, in public, on television and in social media. They see older children behaving disrespectfully and they see it almost institutionalised in the community, through casual racism, petty crime and the gang culture.
“Respect” is often one of the core values promoted by schools. I would suggest it’s the most important, as it is fundamental to how you live your life. However, having the word appear in displays does not in itself make any difference and it is difficult for schools to instil respect when there are so many adverse influences.
We can make a start with a few small steps. Modelling is one way – we must always treat pupils respectfully, even if they are disrespectful to us and even when we are pushed to the limit. We need to pick up disrespectful behaviour whenever we see it in the classroom, playground or canteen. Language is important too – when pupils are being disrespectful by their words or actions we need to clearly tell them so and explain the effect of their actions on others; and we need to praise students explicitly for showing respect (especially to their peers).
We know that we can change attitudes and behaviour when we are consistent and relentless and experience tells me that following these guidelines will gradually lead to a more civilised environment.