Respect for All Week and Three Questions

In a bold attempt to draw attention on a system wide level to the increasing concerns around bias, bullying and harassment of student, the New York City Department of Education has created “Respect for All” Week from Monday March 8 through Friday March 12.  (Download the flyer here.)

The City Council, New York City Department of Education, and many community based organizations are all turning their attention toward giving young people options from kindergarten through 12th grade to consider how to treat each other with respect.  Our goal at Tanenbaum, and I’m sure the goal of all of the people involved in this effort, is to figure out how to extend these activities, conversations and lessons beyond one week.

If I asked ten people the question, “What does respect look like?” I would get ten different answers.  The concept of respect is rooted deep within our individual identities.  We learn about what respect is, and the behaviors that show respect, from a variety of places and people.  Children learn about respect from every encounter they have with another child or adult.  They learn what respect looks like from the interactions in their families, the manner in which adults engage with each other in their neighborhoods, how their parents and siblings are treated in stores, what they see and hear in their places of worship and most importantly from each other.

There are three questions that we train educators to use as part of the process of children creating for themselves “Rules of Respect,” contracts on how as a class community they will interact with each other.  Those three questions are –

                  What does respect look like?

                  What does respect sound like?

                  What does respect feel like?

There is no answer key.  Young people know the answers to these questions.  They can express what is fair and unfair.  They can give you answers and examples for all of these questions.  And, they can hold each other to the letter of the contract better than any Dean of Students.  But we’re still left with how to have this conversation last beyond a week.  Perhaps the key to the answer is to continually ask these questions of students and to listen very carefully to their answers.