Listen up!

We demand it, we ask for it, we give it, and we get it. At least we hope so. But respect is extremely important when thinking about how we use the Common Core in order to engage our students in close readings, discussions, and Accountable Talks.

Respect is shown when we look at someone who is talking, when we recognize what was said, and we do not repeat each other because we weren’t paying attention. Simple listening skills that we all expect our students to utilize. Yes, I would love to have students doing this while I speak, but I also know that it is a must for when students are speaking to each other. 

Now the question is: how do we teach this? I’ve seen videos like this one from the Teaching Channel that show students listening, reacting, interacting, and commenting appropriately when other students speak. And those are just fourth graders! I want that! Actually, I need that in my classroom.

Is this something that comes from having the same expectations across a team or grade level? Instead, we set different rules and expectations, or worse yet, simply lament the fact that our students do not seem to care about what their body language says to their speaking peers.

As I was reading Kim Campbell’s book If You Can’t Manage Them, You Can’t Teach Them, she talked about respect and the role that it plays in teachers’ sets of rules.

One of my expectations is that we respect each other… After several years of this approach, I realized I was operating under the (faulty) assumption that students understood exactly what I meant. Teachers continually demand respect. But students do not always know exactly what it means or what it looks like in a classroom.

Uh oh. That sounds an awful lot like me. I am very conscious to avoid long rules lists on the first day of school. The word respect encompasses everything that I want to see in my classroom. But the meaning of the word respect varies greatly among my students. That is what needs to change. We need to know what respect looks like in my classroom because that can have the same meaning for everyone.

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One thing I am trying is the use of the hand signals that you see to the right. I recently added the “I agree with you” signal to encourage active listening as well. This gives the listeners a reminder that it isn’t just about the person speaking. It also asks the listeners to think about what they plan to say ahead of time and see where that fits in with what is currently being said.

As teachers, we can spend our time complaining about the poor manners, listening skills, and peer interactions, or we can start teaching students what to do instead. I’m in, now I just need to know where to start!


How do I start my school year?

One of the things  that students notice is if they are valued, respected, and recognized. Greeting them by name and with a smile on your face is the most important first impression that you can have. I still cringe when I hear someone say that they won’t remember students’ names until Christmas. Do what you have to do to know names of students without any introductions! That is the first main step in building an atmosphere of respect. Calling students by first name as soon as possible shows that you care about them and respect them. Watch a student’s face light up when you know their name before you are expected to!

I have used a variety of things from Harry Wong’s First Days of School as a reference. There is a link to a pdf that had a few of the important parts to start the year. This is one particular part that I pay attention to.

  • Seven things students want to know on the first day.
  • Am I in the right room?
  • Where am I supposed to sit?
  • Who is the teacher as a person?
  • Will the teacher treat me as a human being?
  • What are the rules in this classroom?
  • What will I be doing this year?
  • How will I be graded?

One thing that I try to do is to avoid going through a rules list. On the first day of school, I give a reading survey, play a “Find someone who…” game and highlight a few of the things from the list above. I now just project the syllabus and highlight a few key points. One thing that I am happy about, and I hear it every year from students is that they were so grateful that they didn’t have to sit and listen to classroom rules and procedures the entire time on the first day. School should be a positive thing, I’d love it to be a celebration! I’m probably not quite to that level, but I want to be close!

Practicing procedures the first week is something important as well. I start with just the first 5 minutes or so on the first day, where we do the task on the board before the song is finished. This gives me a chance to take attendance and get myself ready while the students are doing something productive. We practice checking out books from my classroom library in order to become familiar with the procedure. This also gives students a chance to look at some books and see other students who are excited about reading. The more we talk about books, the better!

Those are a few things that I do in order to make students feel comfortable in my classroom and begin our journey to a great year. What other ideas do you have for valuing students and making them feel respected, comfortable, and ready to learn?