Respect & Responsive Classroom

This past summer at the Responsive Classroom Schools Conference, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s keynote speech on the dimensions of respect gave me a new lens with which to reflect on Responsive Classroom and the work we do. Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot spoke eloquently about sustaining and nourishing respect and two important educational goals: achievement and social justice. She identified respect as the single most important ingredient in developing relationships, and she reminded conference attendees that in schools, as in all aspects of life, we gain respect by giving it.

Drawing from her book, Respect: An Exploration, Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot spoke of six dimensions of respect. Here they are, with some of my ideas about connections to Responsive Classroom practices:

Empowerment The first dimension of respect, empowerment, involves giving individuals and groups the skills and resources they need to take control of their lives.  Morning Meeting is a great equalizer and training ground for building the trust and skills that are crucial to realizing empowerment.

Healing The second dimension of respect, healing, involves nourishing a feeling of wholeness in others.  In responsive classrooms and schools, there is a balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community, between the academic and social curriculum, and between knowing others and feeling known for the gifts and talents that individuals possess.

Dialogue Dialogue, the third dimension of respect, embodies authentic communication.  Listening to others becomes an action of respect, and a skill that is taught, modeled, and practiced in meaningful, relevant ways.  Interactive sharing structures during Morning Meeting, representing meetings at the end of an Academic Choice lesson, and collaborative problem solving are just three of many Responsive Classroom practices that foster authentic communication and dialogue.

Curiosity Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot’s fourth dimension of respect is curiosity.  Curiosity leads us to wonder about the ideas, feelings, thoughts, hopes, and dreams of others. When teachers take time to ask, “What do you hope to learn this year?” or “What helped you to figure out the solution to that problem?”, we are communicating genuine interest in others.

Self-Respect Self-respect, or helping students learn to live by their own internal compasses, is the fifth dimension of respect.  Self-confidence grows when a child masters a new skill.  We nurture a child’s self-confidence and self-respect when we notice and name their good efforts.  Rewards, stickers and empty praise don’t build internal motivation and self-respect.

Attention Finally, Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot identifies attention as the sixth dimension of respect.  She asserts that by “offering our full, undiluted attention,” we are able to communicate the deepest respect. Sometimes offering that full, undiluted attention means creating the space for children to think, feel, notice, learn, and listen. One way we do this is by providing “wait time,” allowing children to be heard–and giving them space to do their best thinking and learning.

Babs Freeman-Loftis is a Responsive Classroom consultant and coauthor of Responsive School Discipline. She was assistant head of the lower school at the University School of Nashville for nine years.

Tags: Empathy, Encouragement