The Golden Rule...Revisited- Mark Johnson

We all know the Golden Rule as we were taught as a child: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” It is also known as the Rule of Reciprocity. This sentiment can be found in almost every religious book and has been practiced in cultures around the world for thousands of years. If you only lived by this one rule your entire life, there is a pretty good chance when you laid your head to rest, you would be satisfied with the way things had turned out. So if this rule increases our chances for a better life, how can we apply it to school?

Naturally, we want our students to live by this rule. So many disagreements and arguments would be handled so differently if this is what we used to filter our decisions. In fact, disagreements and arguing and (dare I say) bullying would almost be nonexistent if we modeled and taught this rule to our students each and every day. Time in our classrooms could be dedicated more towards academic endeavors, and collaboration activities, and problem solving and working together and downright harmony.

But I want to take it a step further. I want to focus on the word “modeled” that I mentioned in the prior paragraph. If something like The Golden Rule is going to have an impact on our students, the best way to ensure success is if teachers model the Golden Rule themselves. So let’s tweak it a bit and see how it sounds: “Teachers, treat your students the way you want to be treated by your principal.” I understand that I changed this rule pretty significantly, but I also believe that this rule, if followed by teachers, would help them gain a helpful perspective of their students and how they treat and react with them on a daily basis. Let’s take a look at a simple example to emphasize my point.

Some teachers have a rule in their classrooms about not talking while the teacher is talking. This makes sense as the teacher wants to ensure that all students can hear their voice when giving instructions or relaying information, and not having students talk helps make sure that happens. It also shows respect for the teacher, plain and simple. If a student does happen to talk in the classroom, the teacher may (or may not) give the student a warning. Sometimes this warning is given out loud in front of the entire class, with the student’s name being spoken and the directive given for all to hear. More often than not, after a warning has been given and not followed, some sort of consequence is given to the student. For this example, the student may be asked to walk up in front of room and “clip down” on a chart (finding their name on a clothespin and moving it down to a negative range of misbehavior). The teacher doesn’t think anything of this exchange, and continues on with their instruction as the student mopes back to their seat. It might look something like this:

“When you have completed your first set of questions, you may find a new partner and…..Thomas, I have asked you to stop talking once already. You shouldn’t need any more reminders. You are walking on thin ice, young man. Go to the chart and clip down…..Now class, as I was saying before I was interrupted, when you have completed…..”

I'm not saying this is a bad way to deal with this situation. This particular behavior management method has been used successfully by many teachers. What I am advocating for, however, is that a teacher should consider the behavior management techniques used in the classroom and ask themselves, “Would I be ok if my principal used this same tactic with me?”

It might look something like this. Let's say there is a staff meeting and the principal is up in the front of the room talking about the current MAPS data for the winter. “As you can see, most of the students’ scores have gone up since our fall testing. What we need to do next is….Mrs. Johnson, you know the rule in our staff meetings is to stay quiet when someone else is talking. You are showing disrespect to me right now by talking to your neighbor. Please go the the chart and clip down. And I need to see you in my office before school starts tomorrow….Ok, sorry teachers. As I was saying…”

I understand, this may sound ridiculous to you. You may even be saying to yourself, “That is a terrible example…That would never happen...We are adults...We don't need to be treated this way...If the teacher was talking, I'm sure it was important...The teacher was probably talking about the data...The principal seems like a jerk.”

My point is, if a teacher would be appalled by the principal using this public method of correction, might it also be true that your students are appalled with it as well? Don't they deserve to be treated the way you would also like to be treated?

If you don't like my example, consider this one. A teacher who may have a consequence for a student who's  turns in late work, no ifs, ands or buts about it, might also be the same teacher who asks for a grace period when they forget to turn in their acquisition orders by the due date specified by the principal. Or the teacher who simply will not tolerate a student being late to their class might be the same teacher who laughs it off when arriving late for the Tuesday night staff meeting.

So please consider this, my dear friends and educators. If you want to be treated with kindness and respect and dignity by your boss, especially in areas of discipline and consequences, wouldn't it be fair to treat your students the same way? The Golden Rule applies to us all, principals and teachers and students alike.