The latest blog post from Legacy’s education consultant and Advisory Board member on her blog: Education, From Inside and Outside

Education from Inside and Outside: Respect

Teachers who grew up and began teaching as members of the dominant American culture may have an idea that students should respect them simply because they are teachers, and “teachers deserve respect.” As educational practices move toward students having and taking more responsibility for their learning, and away from the teacher being the holder of all knowledge; and, as American culture moves toward including the presence and contributions of many cultures in addition to the dominant culture, respect has taken on a slightly different meaning. Students will show respect to teachers whom they trust. Students will show respect to teachers who show them respect. This requires a shift in teacher thinking, from an expectation of compliance and blind obedience, to an expectation that the teacher build trusting, respectful relationships with all of their students, whether they come from the teacher’s culture or not. This is part of what it means to live and work in a multicultural society.

Simultaneously, teachers must work together, respectfully and collaboratively, to ensure that their expectations for student behavior are consistent from classroom to classroom. If the responsibility of the teachers in any school is to create a safe learning environment, they must work together to create consistency of expectations for behavior — otherwise, students must navigate many different sets of expectations throughout the day, which is difficult and unsettling. Lack of consistent expectations for students leads to conflict among teachers, as students compare different teachers’ expectations and play teachers against each other. Teachers grow angry, hearing of student behaviors they do not tolerate being allowed in other classrooms. These conflicts distract from teaching and learning, for both teachers and students. To reduce such conflict, teachers must build trusting, respectful relationships with each other, regardless of their own personal philosophies, and must come to a collaborative agreement on student behavior expectations, for the good of the students. This requires strong communication skills, as well as the ability to be honest and courageous.

On Friday, February 2, I had the privilege of attending the first of a series of workshops designed to help teachers and youth workers develop the skills it takes to build respectful relationships: Relationship Building Blocks. The workshop was enlivening, challenging, and eminently practical. I highly recommend it to any teacher or youth worker. The workshop series, LivingSideBySide®, is a program from Legacy International, a non-profit youth leadership and peacebuilding organization. http://www.legacyintl.org/livingsidebyside/

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Mary Riser has worked in Virginia independent schools for 30 years, most recently as Head of School at James River Day School, a K-8 day co-ed day school in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she served as Head for ten years. Mary received her B.A. in English and Philosophy from Georgetown University and her M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Oregon. Prior to working at James River, Mary was the Middle School Director and an English teacher at St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville for fifteen years, and an English teacher and English Department Chair at the Blue Ridge School for Boys for five years. Between undergraduate school and graduate school, she worked as a legislative aide for the Honorable Pat Williams, the Congressman from Western Montana.

When asked what motivates her, Mary said, “I am passionate about learning. I believe that education should be designed to keep the learner at the center, and that the purpose of education is to cherish and challenge all learners to find their purpose and to thrive.”

Mary and her husband, George, live in Covesville, Virginia and have two adult children.