I have always had two class room rules:
1. No Put Downs
2. No sarcasm
Put downs diminish self-worth, discourage participation and build resentment. Put downs quell growth, learning and curiosity. Sarcasm is equally destructive in the classroom. Sarcasm stings. It is a personal attack that ridicules personal traits, qualities or choices. It is never funny for the recipient, no matter how much that person may laugh or seem to enjoy the attention. Joining in the laughter is often seen as the best way to bring to minimize the embarrassment and end the negative attention.
Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Every day. Every classroom. Every school. Everywhere. Treating each other with respect creates a classroom climate where students feel safe taking risks, expressing opinions, doing something that is different from what other classmates may be doing.
There are many ways to build student to student respect. Of course the first and most important way for the teacher and all adults in the school to model respect toward each other as well as toward students. When students do not know each other well, mistrust and fear can sometimes be a cause of disrespect. The more we know our neighbors, colleagues and classmates, the more likely it is that we will see our similarities and find qualities that we like in another person. An enjoyable way for students to find out some interesting things about classmates is to use Mystery Student from The Teacher’s Toolbox for Differentiating Instruction – 700 Strategies, Tips, Tools and Techniques. These pieces of information can become the basis for finding commonalities and opening the door to conversation and friendship.
Mystery Student takes less than a minute and is a quick way to help students get to know each other. On a note card, each student lists three statements such as hobbies, interests, sports, or other information. For primary students, the card is sent home for a parent to fill in. Older students select two fun facts and one fib to write on the card.
All of the cards are dropped into the Mystery Student Bag. Periodically or as a transition between activities, a Mystery Student card is drawn and read but no name is provided. Classmates guess the identity of the student and guess the fib. Students of all grade levels will ask, “Do we have time for Mystery Student?”
Co-teachers can include themselves in the mix and create Mystery Student cards themselves as a way for students to get to know them better. Learning about each other others builds camaraderie and acceptance. Abraham Lincoln said it so well, “I don’t like that fellow. Maybe I ought to get to know him better.”
Try this same strategy at the beginning of a faculty meeting but instead of putting cards in a bag, have each person write three facts and one additional statement that is not true in any order. Ask everyone to tape the note cards to their shoulders and walk around inviting colleagues to guess which “fact” is the fib. Expect laughter and exclamations as people discover that they the person who has taught next door for five years grew up twenty miles from their home town, had a hobby no on knew about or a colleague lists a new pregnancy as a “fact” and it’s true! The camaraderie continues log after the faculty meeting ends.