Respect Through Actions


In my first acting class in college my professor declared,

“One cannot be sad, be happy, be angry. You cannot act a state of being. You can only act actions.”

She went onto to describe act as,

“Behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”

Most theatre people I know were also taught some version of this credo. The idea is- you cannot perform a being because states of being (happiness, sadness, anger) are results of actions and circumstances around you.

Frustration is caused by attempting to do something and having it fail. Frustration is the by product- not the formula. When you act you have to be able to do the formula, and formulas are made of actions.

The other day I was walking through an elementary school. I was looking at the artwork displayed on the walls and the slogans the school created.

“Don’t be a bully.”
“Be Respectful”
“Be Kind”

There are many of these plastered around all schools. My high school’s chant is still, “We are BE!”

But then I thought of the fabulous Deborah Kinghorn and wondered,

“Why aren’t we teaching the actions of respect. Wait- what does that even mean?”

The definition of respect is

“ esteem for or sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability.”

In other words an incredibly complex idea.

Instead of trying to teach concepts why don’t we teach the actions that show respect? Also why don’t we as educators hold ourselves to the same standards? I find being honest about why you do an activity or exercise yields more positive results than say, “Because I said so.”

Below is a list of actions I thought of along with a wonderful daily activity I found with a quick Google search. These all seem geared towards young children.

What are some ideas you have for middle/high schoolers? What about us as educators?

Please add to the comments below!

Actions of Respect

  • Speak with kind words
  • Say it in private
  • Listen with your whole body
  • Share the space
  • Ask for clarity
  • Speak in a calm voice

Listening vs. Reacting

This is much easier said than done. It applies not only to your students, but to yourself.


Listening To Yourself

You can’t teach and deny that you are a person with feelings. As an educator we constantly have to deal with negative emotions that we don’t often talk about. Confusion, frustration, failure, anger. We live in a world that undervalues how intense it can be to go through an entire work day and never have a conversation with someone over the age of 18. While the work is incredibly rewarding, there are toils.


Now I’m not trying to dwell in the negatives, but energy cannot be created or destroyed- just transferred. If you aren’t acknowledging those negative aspects they are seeping through into your life- and probable into your teaching.


So what to do? Take time in your day to say aloud or write the difficult things that have happened. I use my car ride home. Taking the time to just give notice to those annoyances means you aren’t holding onto them. WATCH OUT FOR CYCLING. Not the bikes. Sometimes we can’t solve a problem- such is life- so make sure that you acknowledging and releasing frustrations, not adding fuel to the fire.


Listening To Your Students

Just as life is happening constantly for you, it is also happening for your students. While they are dealing with problems large and small-- there will be times that a student cannot focus their attention in the room. It’s easy to take this personally, you’ve prepared a lesson, you’re doing your best, you are probably performing an incredible feat- and someone in the room is spacing out, talking, or trying to throw a wrench into your plan.

Our gut response is to shut it down. Shut down the conversation, reroute the attention, pull every single person’s focus to you. If they should dare tell us they don’t get it or don’t like what we are doing? WATCH OUT!

As in all things you have to balance.

Balance may mean re-routing your plan. Find as many ways to explain the same thing as you can! You never know which one of those explanations is going to land the right way.

Balance might mean giving everyone 3 minutes to discuss what you just learned with their table or a partner. Sometimes learning from a peer is less intimidating.

Balance might mean asking someone to leave the room. Or allowing a student to space out.

Sometimes a student won’t be able to be in the room. Don’t lose the rest of the class to focus in on one person.


What's Reacting?

You react when you speak out of anger. When you scold a kid for not understanding a simple concept, or asking a silly question. When you allow the negatives you are feeling or even the negatives they are feeling to influence how you teach.

Don't take it personallyYou will not reach every student with one lesson. That’s like getting a Grand Slam every hit. Just because someone didn’t get it- doesn’t mean you failed. Just take another swing.


Creating a Learning Environment vs. Managing Behavior


Whether it’s through common sense or Howard Gardener one of the first things we learn as educators is that everyone takes in information differently. While it’s a “duh” moment for most of us it is an idea that is sometimes difficult to implement in planning. When I was in school I rarely was allowed to get up from my desk or converse with other classmates. The majority of my in-school learning was verbal, written, and sometimes a visual (with a lot of writing). As I work with teachers today I see the same thing. I have been told,

“I know kinesthetic learning is important, but I don’t like when students get up from their desks.”

This, my friends, is the crux of the problem!

Most of us currently teaching were taught with pencil, pen, book, and powerpoint. We all know it doesn’t work for everyone- but there has been a long-standing tradition of the following equation:


Quiet Class + Obedient Students = Great Teacher = Amazing Education

In a quiet classroom students might be “under control”, but “under control” means they are following orders.

Educate: to develop the faculties and powers of (a person) by teaching, instruction, or schooling.

Whether it is a kid or a plant nothing can develop by pruning along. Just because a student isn’t speaking or moving doesn’t mean they are learning. And just because they are moving and speaking doesn’t mean they aren’t taking in every word you say!

The following is a brief scene based on true events.

Setting: I’m explaining a game to a room full of 15 middle school students. One student, Larry(not his real name), is moving around dancing, and singing the Little Mermaid. I have asked him to “Listen” several times.

(while Larry sings ‘Under The Sea’ in a whisper)

Me: So that’s how we play the game. Three things are important: You have to be safe, you have fun, and if you don’t listen you can’t play.

Larry(still whispering the song) Under the sea, under the sea

Me: Larry. What did I just say?

Larry: We have to be safe, we have to have fun, and if you don’t listen you can’t play.

(I stand completely stunned for about 10 seconds)

Me: Larry, when I am speaking can you try not to speak?

Larry: Sure!

He was hanging on every word I said, he just didn’t need to be silent to listen and learn. However, he was often not in our class because his activity made him an easy target to get sent to the office.

So everyone can’t be silent and everyone can’t be talking all of the time- how do you create a classroom that’s inclusive to all learners without removing kids like Larry?


“The Theory Organized Chaos”

1.     In order to learn all students must be given an opportunity to engage in a physical or interactive way.

2.     Physical and interactive methods will create non-quiet classrooms

3.     It is okay to have a classroom of students moving and speaking as long as the following remains true:

a.     I can assess what students learned

b.     I have an effective focus check

c.     I am comfortable setting boundaries

The Theory of Organized Chaos controls two things: your students and you.

It isn’t working if:

  • If you are focus checking more than once in 15 minutes.
  • If you are letting people run, scream, talk about parties, throw things around the room, or text.
  • You have to scream or raise you voice- EVER.
  • When you go to assess no one understands what has just happened

We all have the quiet classroom equation in mind. The world is not quiet- it is bustling, it is busy, it is physical and interactive. We as educators have to embrace that. We also have to make sure they we are setting boundaries in our classroom so that when we do an activity the students are getting what they are supposed to get from it- not using it as free time.  This means being vocal and present- an activity is not time to “get something done” it is time to be in the trenches asking questions- assisting and giving every student a few seconds of focused attention. If you are walking around the room no one is spacing out- they are getting things done. If someone steps over the boundaries then keep your boundaries intact by asking them to leave the classroom. The goal of Organized Chaos is to parse out vocal learners from disrupters. Disrupters still exist and you have to be ready to deal with them whether it is during silent reading or an activity.




This: Quiet Class + Obedient Students = Great Teacher = Amazing Education

With this: The Theory of Organized Chaos

  • Keep your boundaries
  • Diversify learning
  • Know the difference between being in control and controlling your students


A Side Thought on Raising Your Voice

Raising your voice is the biggest indicator that you are not in control. I don’t believe in teaching by fear. I believe in teaching by respect. A focus check should be calm, repeatable, and simple. It should take no more than 30 seconds to get everyone’s attention- but it might take 30 seconds. When you yell or scream- it is because you have not built structure in your room. I have been the screamer, and every time it makes me feel icky- because I feel like I haven’t done my work. Screaming is not a choice. Screaming is a reaction.

Well I hope you enjoyed this first installation of Am I Educating? Until next week!

NEXT WEEK: Obstacle 2: Listening vs. Reacting

Am I Educating? : A Self-Checklist

Experienced or new there are a lot of obstacles for educators to navigate. After 10 years as an educator, these are the top 5 things I seek to balance in my craft and the questions I ask myself.


1. Creating a Learning Environment vs. Managing Behavior

            Are my students learning their material or following my orders?

2. Listening vs. Reacting

            Am I paying attention to my students needs or am I responding because I’m upset?

3. Engaging vs. Performing

            I’ve planned an awesome lesson! Am I just doing it by rote- or am I making sure they are with me?

4. Moving Forward vs. Stepping Away

            There’s a conflict in my classroom am I engaging and disengaging at the right time? Am I escalating bad behavior or pushing a student through a struggle?

5. Career vs. A Gig

            I’m an educator. Am I in this all the way- or am I just treading water?