By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.
Respect includes qualities like acceptance, courtesy, manners, being considerate of the feelings of others, peacekeeping, and appreciating differences. This core value is encapsulated by the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Did you know that over a dozen cultures, religions, and organizations hold this ideal? Ask your students to research the Golden Rule to see how many versions they can find, and try the following activities to encourage respectful interactions in your character building program.
Use these prompts for discussion starters or role plays.
- Josiah often makes unkind remarks about what one of his classmates is wearing, even though he knows it’s not respectful to judge someone based on their clothing. If you were one of Josiah’s friends, what could you say or do to help him show respect?
- Addison’s group is working on building a structure out of noodles and marshmallows in maker class. Just as the group is about to finish, Addison accidentally bumps their structure and a part of it falls down. Jake gets mad and starts shouting at Addison. What could the other students in Addison’s group do to help Jake show tolerance for mistakes and respect toward Addison?
- Zariah’s parents have told her that she can’t go to her friend’s house without their permission. Her friend Emma calls Zariah before Zariah’s parents get home and asks her to play. When Zariah declines, Emma argues that no one will find out since Zariah will be back before her parents return. What can Zariah say and do to make sure that she shows respect toward her parents and their rules?
- Some fourth-grade boys are playing soccer during recess. Julio keeps pushing his teammates out of the way, stealing the ball, dribbling solo down the field, and taking shots at the goal. What might you suggest to help Julio show more respect toward the other students on the field?
A RESPECT Acrostic
Ask students to write an acrostic poem using the word RESPECT. (Here is a worksheet you can use as a model or handout.) What does the R stand for? What could the E represent? How about the S? Get students thinking about how they show respect toward self, teachers, family members, pets, neighbors, and friends. Encourage students to use their acrostic to set goals for self-improvement as they practice walking the talk.
Differences by the Book
So many strong titles have an underlying theme of respect for differences. One of my favorites, the classic story of Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, is a tale about a baby fruit bat that is separated from her mother and finds her way into a nest of birds. Little Stellaluna learns many lessons about respecting the customs and rituals of birds as she adapts to her new family. From the frustration of having to give up eating fruit for eating bugs to the embarrassment of learning to land gracefully on a branch, the book’s heroine learns to respect the birds’ behavior, rituals, traditions, and culture. It concludes with a simple yet profound thought when Stellaluna’s adoptive bird brother asks a question that captures the essence of respect: “How can we be so different and feel so much alike?”
Use the following or similar questions for discussion after sharing the story aloud:
- Why did Stellaluna have to promise to respect and abide by the rules?
- How do you think it felt when Stellaluna realized that she was hanging upside down? Does it ever seem like her whole world has turned upside down?
- Why do you think it’s important to respect the traditions, culture, and ways of others even if they’re different from yours?
- Despite many differences, Stellaluna comes to really care about her bird family. What can we learn from her about acceptance and respect?
- What do you think it means to “agree to disagree”? How can you do that respectfully?
- Do you have friends who are different from you in some way? How are they different?
- Have your differences from your friends ever caused problems? If so, how did you resolve them?
A New Viewpoint
Share this clip from an animated version of Stellaluna to reinforce the importance of adapting to and accepting differences. Then encourage students to write a reflective point-of-view essay, switching places with Stellaluna using this prompt: From the loss of her mother to her abrupt introduction into the world of her feathered friends, Stellaluna has a lot of adjusting to do. Imagine that you are Stellaluna. What has this change been like? Write about your experience crossing cultures, describing your reactions to and feelings about the journey.
Words of Wisdom
A poster hanging in my son’s classroom says, “Respect: Knowing it is showing it. Giving it is living it.” This poster made me wonder what students might write if they were to produce their own poster. Scribe their thoughts about respect after asking, “What does respect look like?” or “How does respect sound?” or “What does respect feel like?”
Have students write their personal words of wisdom about what respect means to them on 4″ x 4″ squares of colored paper. Then have them glue craft sticks to all four sides of the square to make a frame. Add one or two thin magnetic strips on the back so students can display their reflection frames on a refrigerator or a filing cabinet.
Want to integrate technology into your lesson? Encourage students to take a digital picture to use as a backdrop and superimpose their quote about respect on the photograph using PowerPoint or picmonkey.com.
Just like weeds have the power to choke out the flowers in our gardens, disrespect has the power to keep us from growing a strong culture of respect among our school family. Extend this metaphor to your “flowers” by asking students (and/or faculty) to brainstorm a list of the behaviors they consider to be “weeds.” Expect answers like teasing, name-calling, excluding, bullying, stereotyping, closed-mindedness, harassment, violence, threats, and discrimination. How will you keep the “weeds” out of your garden? Draw up a class contract in which everyone promises to engage in the respectful character choices and behaviors that will act as fertilizer to help your “flowers” grow healthy and strong. To symbolize this promise, have each student sign the contract or add a thumb print, and ask everyone to hold one another accountable for not allowing the “weeds” to take root in your school.
Currently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.
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