Middle school is an excellent time to stress the importance of being respectful as students learn how they relate to everything and everybody. Socially, middle school students are still figuring out how to interact with the world around them and need guidance on how to be respectful. Careful planning of activities and experiences can teach students much about respect.
Have you ever noticed how people change when they are around someone they think is important? Usually, their voices and actions change to show how they esteem that person. A fun activity is to have one student pretend to be a sports figure or movie star and another student pretend to be the school secretary. Let the other students interact with the two and compare the way they treat the important person to the way they would treat an average member of society. Are they more smiling, polite, accommodating or helpful with one over the other? Make a list of all the people they come in contact with on a daily basis that deserve to be treated with respect such as parents, siblings, classmates, a bus driver and others. Stress to the middle school students that everyone has a right to be treated with respect, and that treating people the way you would like to be treated really does work.
What we value the most we often respect the most. Ask any child how he would treat a brand new, state-of-the-art gaming system if he were to get one for making all A's. Most would treat it with care, only letting certain people touch it, and definitely would not throw it around. But the same children do not always really respect the things they already have or the things others have. One of the best ways for students to appreciate and value what they have is to visit people less fortunate. A trip to a homeless shelter to pass out canned foods can make most kids thankful for their bagged lunch from home. Having a police officer deliver a talk about the consequences of vandalism and theft also let students know that respecting property is a serious issue.
Many middle school students struggle with self-esteem issues because of the awkwardness of puberty. Poor self esteem can be compounded with the fact that many kids from disadvantage homes really do not see much good in their lives. They need help in learning to respect themselves. The best activity for learning self-respect is to help students set personal goals and reach them. A two-way journal between the student with low self-esteem and teacher or parent can help identify realistic goals and be a tool for giving positive feedback and encouragement. Just knowing someone believes in them can make a difference in how a middle school student learns about respect.
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