Respect is a condition where one holds something or someone in high regard-a critically important component of human relations. When we respect someone, we convey value and worth to that individual, which is most often pleasing and self-assuring to the recipient. As Maya Angelou wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That powerful quote resonates in people’s hearts and minds and gets at the root of respect. Students value teachers who respect them and make them feel important. Teachers who welcome students by their name at the door each day; who ask how their favorite ball teams or American Idol contestants are doing; and who generally keep a tab on their daily lives convey the message, “I care about you; I’m interested in what you value; and I respect who you are.” Not surprisingly, research shows teachers who earn the respect of their students are more apt to be effective than those who do not.
Initial findings from the Gates-funded MET Project are fascinating. Using a tripod approach to measuring teacher effectiveness, researchers are looking at the relationships of value-added state test results, student perception surveys, and teacher observation data on overall teacher effectiveness. Student perception survey results speak to the power of respect and caring on teacher effectiveness as evidenced by the survey item with the strongest correlation to middle school math gains, “Students in this class treat their teacher with respect.” Other Met Project survey items with strong correlations to student achievement were, “My teacher in this class makes me feel that s/he really cares about me,” and “My teacher really tries to understand how students feel about things.”
Hmmm. Is it really that simple? Just show a little respect and caring and get great results? Well, when combined with content knowledge, pedagogy, and assessments, it can be that simple. As a secondary science teacher years ago, I remember how powerfully important relationships were to my students and their (and my) success. Smiles, laughter, and a genuine caring attitude were what made the difference for us. We were successful because we respected one another. I remember how hard my students worked as a result of our classroom environment. They valued my efforts to be as good a teacher as possible, and they responded in kind. Were their exceptions? Of course. At risk students struggling with personal and emotional issues had their good and bad days. However, student failure was my failure, and that was not acceptable to me or the class. We managed to be successful as a whole because of our respect and interest in one another.
Martin Ford (1992) wrote, “Motivational interventions that do not respect the goals, emotions, and personal agency beliefs that a person brings to a situation may produce short-term effects, but in the long run they are likely to fail or backfire.” When it comes to teaching, we can not mandate what matters to our children, nor can we demand, cajole, or beg for their participation. Rather, through facilitation and sincere respect for their interests, beliefs, and background knowledge and experiences, teachers can indeed motivate children to succeed beyond their expectations. After all, when the day is done, it’s how we add value to an individual’s perceived worth that truly matters.
Ford, M. E. (1992). Motivating humans: Goals, emotions, and personal agency beliefs. Newbury Park, California: Sage.