Teaching the “3 Rs”: Responsibility, Respect, and Refinement

A podcast from Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of How Rude!® The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out.

Sixth in a monthly series of podcasts from Free Spirit Publishing.

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Podcast transcription:
HowRudeIt used to be that the biggest manners violations teachers had to worry about were spitballs and gum chewing. Nowadays, teachers are expected to deal with bullying, sexual harassment, and CELL PHONES! What can school staff do to encourage better behavior in their students? Etiquette expert Alex Packer is here with some tips you can use to help your students graduate with a masters in good manners.

75% of adults I surveyed for How Rude! believe that students are LESS polite today than they were a generation ago.

So, what do we do? We turn to you. To teachers. We expect YOU to teach manners.

As if you weren’t already on maximum overload with classes, counseling, caring, coaching, correcting, testing, planning, meeting, grading, and disciplining.

We ask YOU to fight the forces of culture, media, politics, inequality, bigotry, and lax parenting that have contributed to society’s slide into the Cesspool of Incivility.

And you know what? You’re already teaching manners. Because you care about your kids and community and country, and you know that having good manners can make a big difference in your students’ lives.

Here are a few ideas that may help you encourage better behavior in your students.

Remember that YOU are the Ruler of the Kingdom. The Keeper of the Climate.

Tell students up front your expectations for behavior in the community that is your—and their—classroom. Kindness, like cruelty, is contagious. Let your students know they’re all going to catch it.

Be a role model for the values that underscore good manners. Focus on the positive. Give students—and teach THEM to give—immediate feedback for good deeds. Let parents and other educators know what you’re doing. Enlist their support. There’s power in numbers, and the more you can all be on the same page, the more it will reinforce the message.

Students need to know that good manners are good for them. Sure, treating people with consideration and respect is the right and moral thing to do, but kids with good manners stand out from the crowd. Their good manners will be noticed, enriching their lives, relationships, and opportunities.

When manners violations do occur, notice them in non-shaming ways. Create nonverbal signals—a finger to your lips, a palm held up—to respond to minor rudeness without disrupting the class or humiliating the perpetrator. When a rude behavior distracts the entire class, use the incident to recognize the harm caused by unkind words and actions. Engage in a quick role play to demonstrate alternative, positive ways to deal with such situations.

There are many things you can do to integrate good manners into classroom life.

  • Let students send thank-you notes and get-well cards.
  • Have them publicly recognize their classmates’ outside-of-school achievements.
  • Post a Manners Question Box that will get answered once a week in class.
  • Find a good manners book—I think I can recommend one for you—and select readings to stimulate discussion and good behavior.
  • Use social media sites to offer compliments, recognize kindness, and maintain a manners calendar that tracks classroom climate with bulletins such as “This class has gone 27 days without an unkind act.”
  • Toss out quotations for discussion such as this one by Laurence Sterne:
    “Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.”
    Or this one from Aesop: [EE-sop]
    “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

How about a Secret Sleuth who recognizes positive behavior with a gift coupon, a treat, a night-off from homework. When I was a school principal I had a farm where we often took our students for overnight trips. One afternoon I was sitting with a few teachers and noticed trash in plain view on the lawn. I also noticed kid after kid walk by as if it didn’t exist. Exasperated, I said to my colleagues, “I can’t believe they walk right by. I swear, if a kid picks up that trash I’m going to give him five dollars.” And, amazingly, a couple minutes later a student did just that. We porch-sitters erupted in cheers. The poor kid didn’t know what was going on until I explained and handed him a five-dollar bill. Well, word got around, and for the rest of the week you’ve never seen such a litter-vigilant group of kids in your life.

Don’t worry about these activities taking time away from “academics.” Kids learn best and most efficiently when they feel safe, relaxed, and respected. Creating a nurturing classroom, a sanctuary of politeness and respect, will enhance your students’ capacity for, and joy in, learning.

Until next time, this is Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of
How Rude!® The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out

Wise Highs from Free Spirit PublishingAlex J. Packer received his Ph.D. in educational and developmental psychology from Boston College and his master’s degree in education from Harvard. He has been headmaster of an alternative school for 11- to 15-year-olds and director of education at the Capital Children’s Museum. He is president emeritus of FCD Educational Services, a Boston-based provider of drug education and substance abuse prevention services to schools worldwide. He is also the author of an eBook for teens Wise Highs: How to Thrill, Chill, and Get Away from It All Without Alcohol or Other Drugs.

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