Respect (noun) a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
This is something that all of us want and most of us will fight to have. The most difficult place to gain respect is in a classroom. There are three ineffective and often utilized roads to respect that too many educators travel: fear, bribery, and friendship.
Road #1: Respect by Fear
I would also call this, Respect by Title.
“Because I’m older”
“Because I’m the teacher”
“Because I said so”
Respect by fear is thought to be effective for one reason, at some point it probably worked on the person using it. Unfortunately getting your respect by fear leads to one of three things
Fear: How is anyone going to work their best if they are in a constant state of fear?
Lying: Don’t let the smile fool you, someone who figured out that you are operating under the hope that they are scared of you is playing you. They can find your weakness and are probably exploiting it in some pretty sneaky ways.
Rebellion: There is no amount of fear that a healthy raised rebellion can’t handle. Unfortunately, this is the inevitable product of fear- it will not always work.
Road #2: Respect by Bribery
This is the cousin to Respect by Fear. Offering privileges for normative behavior. Keeping in mind that every person has their own “normal”, meeting an expectation is not a reason for a candy or a treat. Offering a credit/higher status for the base amount of work is insulting to the work and to the person to whom you are offering the reward. This will also cease to work after time. Effective bribery requires a scaling of the prize, eventually you will make promises you can’t keep. Once you are unreliable, the bribe is as well.
Road #3: Respect by Friendship
Now it’s not impossible to help educate a peer. But someone’s respect for your position and your abilities cannot stem solely from them liking you. Two major flaws in this equation:
Friends are equal- Educators aren’t. The primary idea of educating someone is you have a knowledge or skill they do not have. You are inherently unequal in some aspect- hence you have been put in the position of passing that knowledge to them. To create a relationship where you and they are on the same level negates your purpose.
No one can be liked at all times. Even the best of friends fight. If your method for gaining respect is through some buddy/buddy relationship, what happens when you hit your rough patch?
The True Path: Respect by Respect
I don’t like to deal in absolutes, but for this I make an exception. Effective and long-lasting respect can only be earned through respecting. The reason this terrifies us as educators is the act of respecting your participant first puts you, the educator, in the most vulnerable spot in the room. You are putting yourself in harm’s way instead of forcing the onus unto the people you are working with. At the same time THAT IS EXACTLY WHY IT WORKS! Showing your group that you have the courage to step out first is what wins them over. Accepting them as they are and not as you want them to be- PERFECTION. Imagine if you walked into a room, you were about to learn something new and scary, like advanced calculus, now the teacher stands at the front of the room and says,” Whatever you know right now, whether that’s a little or nothing, that’s enough for us to start. What you know right now, is all I need you to know.” What would that feel like?
It boils down to expectations. No one likes being less than. No one wants to be the dumbest person in the room. No one wants to be called out, picked on, or revealed to be different than the person they say they are. Especially not the person teaching the rest of the room. The easiest way for educators to hide is by pushing their students into the limelight. Calling attention to their participants' insecurities, shortfalls, even their skills. By offering your respect first, you remove your power to judge, and without a power dynamic all you are left with are people in a room- some who have a knowledge to share, and some who want a knowledge to learn.
Given that dynamic all that there is left to say is…
Sock it to me!