Opportunities to teach respect in the classroom.  

What is respect in the classroom?

Respect in the classroom can be observed when students socialise positively with peers using kind words and good manners.  Respect shown towards staff can be seen when students follow instructions and classroom rules.  The opposite of respect is disrespect.  Disrespect can be identified in the classroom as rudeness, defiance, harassment, verbal or physical abuse and severe disruptions.

Why teach respect?

Most students are taught how to be respectful at home and have great role models to learn how to behave respectfully.  Sadly, some students do not.  No matter what level of understanding students have regarding respect it is always important to grow and continually develop.

When behavioural expectations are untaught and unclear, antisocial behaviour is more likely (Mayer, 1995), and students who have poor social skills often are rejected by peers and experience future mental health, delinquency, and adjustment problems (Hollinger, 1987; Mathur & Rutherford, 1991).

There are many reasons why teaching such skills to students is important.  Students who are respectful to their peers get along better. When students are respectful to staff and follow instructions, it creates better learning environments and positive school culture.

Students who display antisocial behaviours and social skill deficits are at risk for alcohol abuse, peer rejection, and delinquency (Lewis, 1994; Oglivy, 1994); and later adult adjustment, mental health, and criminality problems (Strain & Odom, 1986; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995).

How can we teach respect?

Respect can be taught at a classroom level and a whole school level.  I use every opportunity in my classroom to teach respect.  Opportunities where I teach respect include group work and transitions, the most time I spend teaching respect is during the first three weeks of meeting the class. 

When you first meet a class of students and introduce your rules and norms, discussing respect plays a big part.  I invest time in discussing my classroom rules of Learning, Respect and Safety.  When I introduce respect I break it down further into respecting ourselves, each other and the environment we are in.  Keep reading for more examples.

When providing social skill instruction at the school-wide or classroom-wide level, expected behaviours should be taught in the same manner as academic skills (Sugai, 1992; Sugai & Lewis, 1996). 

Classroom strategies.

There are many opportunities as a classroom teacher to teach respect. Explicitly talking about what respect is and what it looks like in the classroom is essential.  Using displays of student disrespect as learning opportunities for students is essential, we do not have to use a punitive approach.  Although some behaviours displayed will need consequences. 

Social behaviour errors must be viewed as learning mistakes and seen as opportunities to teach appropriate behaviour (Colvin & Sugai, 1988; Sugai, 1992).

Using tools from your classroom management strategies toolbox such as reminders and positive modelling are powerful ways to ensure disrespect is addressed without having to give consequences every time. 

It is also powerful to display posters as reminders for students regarding how to show respect in the classroom.   I like having posters up to help remind myself also.  Classrooms are busy places, and sometimes we can forget.

Take these three opportunities to teach respect.  1. Prompt students they need to act a certain way before entering into a social setting.  2. Remind students to be respectful if they are not.  3. If students display respect, praise them for their efforts.  Praise encourages more of the same behaviours but can also work as a ripple effect.  Continue reading for examples.

Students are pre-corrected or reminded about using the appropriate skills and praised when they demonstrate expected social skills (Colvin, Sugai, & Patching, 1993). 

  • Precorrection 

A pre-correction is a prompt given before entering a previously problematic situation and designed to occasion the desired social skill (Colvin, Sugai, & Patching, 1993). 

For example, as a student is about to enter a small group activity where materials are shared, the teacher asks the student to restate and demonstrate the expectation for sharing materials with others. 

  • Reminder 

They are used in a situation where a specific social skill is not being used. Reminders can take forms similar to pre-corrections, but they are applied within the problem context. 

For example, a student is sitting at a table with a number of his friends and is talking in a loud voice. The teacher stands to the side of the student and points to the rules for expected behaviours posted on the wall “Use a quiet voice in the cafeteria”. 

  • Praise 

Increasing the probability that students will continue to display social skills, students must receive positive feedback or reinforcement that acknowledges their accurate and fluent use of the skill (Wolery, Bailey, & Sugai, 1988). 

Although teacher praise is one of the most common and efficient forms of feedback, other forms of positive reinforcement can be used. For example, smiling at the student and positive gestures like a thumbs up. 

Whole-school strategies.

Whole-school strategies to teach students respect can be taught at assemblies where a common language can be taught to students and staff.  Student rewards and certificates can be given to students and celebrated school-wide. 

Displaying posters with examples of positive behaviours can be used around the school. For example, displaying good manners posters in the cafeteria.  In hallways display being a good friend and in the changing rooms displaying being a good sportsperson.  


Colvin, G., Sugai, G., & Patching, B. (1993). Precorrection: An instructional approach for managing predictable problem behaviors. Intervention in School and Clinic, 28, 143-150.

Hollinger, J. D. (1987). Social skills for behavioral disordered children as preparation for mainstreaming: Theory, practice, and new directions. Remedial and Special Education, 8(4), 17-27.

Lewis, T. J. (1994). A comparative analysis of the effects of social skill training and teacher-directed contingencies on social behavior of preschool children with disabilities.  Journal of Behavioral Education, 4, 267-281.

Mathur, S. R., & Rutherford, R. B. (1991). Peer-mediated interventions promoting social skills of children and youth with behavioral disorders. Education and Treatment of Children, 14, 227-242.

Ogilvy, C. M. (1994). Social skills training with children and adolescents: A review of the evidence on effectiveness. Educational Psychology, 14, 73-83.

Sugai, G. (1992). Instructional design: Applications of teaching social behavior. Learning Disabilities Forum, 17, 20-23.

Sugai, G., & Horner, R. (1996). Discipline and behavioral support: Preferred processes and practices. Unpublished manuscript. Behavioral Research and Teaching, University of Oregon, Eugene.

Walker, H. M., Colvin, G., & Ramsey, E. (1995). Antisocial behavior in school: Strategies and best practices. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Wolery, M. R., Bailey, D. B., Jr., & Sugai, G. (1988). Effective teaching: Principles and procedures of applied behavior analysis with exceptional children. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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