Promoting Respect and an Environment of Civility in the Classroom

Submitted by Maureen Kroning, RN EdD

Tags: behavior education emotional intelligence learning Nurse Education nursing faculty nursing students respect respectful behavior teaching

Promoting Respect and an Environment of Civility in the Classroom

Share Article:

by Maureen Kroning EdD RN, Donna Knoebel, Patricia Zodda, Amy Burgess, Erik Ellingsen, Kathleen Hopkins


Educators today can attest to the lack of student respect shown in their classes. A lack of respect is a form of incivility. Frankenfield (2019), states that incivility “is any rude or disrespectful behavior toward another with or without the intent to harm” According to Linsen, (2021) “Since returning to in-person learning, respect has taken a nosedive. In fact, most of us have witnessed an increase of incivility in all walks of life. The Question is, what to do about it?” At a community college in upstate NY, the School of Nursing, Health & Wellness also noted a lack of respect displayed among students. The lack of respect was an issue the school felt strongly needed to be addressed. This prompted the creation of a Respect Committee with representatives from the Nursing Program, the Occupational Therapy Assistant Program and the Exercise and Human Performance Program to address the issue of student disrespect. At committee meetings, incidences of disrespectful student behavior were shared and discussed among faculty. To address the issue, the committee sent out a brief confidential survey to faculty and staff to investigate the prevalence of student disrespect, the facultys’ comfort with addressing student disrespect and established strategies for faculty to help guide them to promote a respectful environment for both teaching and learning.

The Survey

The Respect Committee obtained Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval to send out a two question confidential survey to all faculty in the School of Nursing, Health & Wellness. The aim of the survey was to investigate the prevalence of student disrespect and the facultys’ comfort with addressing student disrespect. The survey provided data to determine the need to develop strategies to promote a respectful environment for teaching and learning. The survey was confidential and completion of the survey implied consent. The first question asked, “Do you feel disrespectful student behavior is a problem?” and the answer choices included Yes, No and Maybe. There were twenty-seven responses; 70.4% said they felt disrespectful behavior in students was a problem. The second question asked: “How comfortable do you feel dealing with disrespectful student behavior?” This question required a linear scale response from 1 to 5 with 1 being not at all comfortable and 5 being very comfortable. A total of 40.7% of respondents answered with a score of 3, 29.6% answered with a score of 4 and 18.5% answered with a score of 5. Three respondents answered they were not feeling comfortable at all with student disrespectful behavior. As a result of the survey the committee defined specific short and long-term goals as well as strategies to promote respect.

Committee Goals

The Committee developed both a short and long-term goal to address the issue of students’ disrespectful behaviors in the School of Nursing, Health & Wellness. The committees’        short-term goal was to develop strategies that faculty would implement during the academic school year to address the issue with lack of student respect. The long-term goal was that after an academic year, faculty would report noticing a decrease in student disrespectful behaviors and would express feeling more confident in implementing strategies in their classes.


According to Merriam-Webster (2022), disrespect is defined as “a low regard or esteem for someone or something; discourteous; impolite or rude”.  According to Linsen (2021), “Everyday it seems we hear stories from teachers of remarkable brazenness and rude behaviors”. Disrespectful behavior is a form of uncivil behavior. Morrissette (2001) opines, this jeopardizes the well-being of faculty, students as well as the entire educational process. One reason for this might be that many students lack an understanding of respectful behaviors because they have very little experience with witnessing respectful behavior (Education World). If students feel undervalued, lack understanding as to what constitutes respectful behavior and do not witness respectful behavior they will likely fall into acts of disrespectful behavior.

Teaching Respect

Respect, as defined by Merriam-Webster, (2022) is ‘to consider worthy of high regard; to recognize the worth of a person.  There are factors to consider as educators when we talk about the need for respect and civility in our classrooms. An important question to ask is, how do we as educators know that our students understand the importance of these terms when they enter the classroom?  “Simply calling for ‘respect and civility’ leaves expectations vague, and may not prove to be enough for students and instructors to fall back on later in the semester.  Defining respect and civility at the beginning of the semester in terms of specific classroom behaviors can help ensure a shared understanding of expectations and provide a point of reference for managing conflict when it does arise” (Ambrose et al. 2010; Bain 2004; Michael V. Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning. 2022). Kroning (2019) notes, there are many topics that should be included in education with a focus on therapeutic communication, diversity and inclusiveness, conflict resolution, stress management, assessing and addressing burnout, self-care and wellness strategies. In addition, issues such as de-escalation techniques, self-defense, and situational awareness with mock drills are good strategies to promote a respectful and civil culture (Kroning, 2019). 

The initial introduction our students have regarding the expectations of their teachers should be in the course syllabus. Educators need to ensure that the syllabus strictly conveys the expectations for all students and leaves no room for behaviors that do not facilitate respect. The syllabus, or contract should be welcoming and consider the role of both students and faculty in a shared learning environment where students can feel like a partner in their educational journeys. For instance, we often see students addressing faculty by their first name when quite often the faculty member prefers to be addressed by their title such as Professor or Doctor. It is up to the faculty member to set the expectations on how students should address them. Setting clear boundaries, being consistent in expectations, calmly reinforcing positive behaviors, listening to others, making eye contact during communication, and speaking in a calm voice is important to setting classroom ‘norms’ for all to demonstrate and is effective in setting the tone for a respectful learning environment.

 Faculty’s introspective assessment regarding their own teaching approach, communication styles, personal attitudes and biases may minimize the potential for uncivilized behavior that students may exhibit.  As educators it is important to avoid using ambiguous statements such as, ‘Let’s be sure our interactions are appropriate,’ which does not clearly state how each person should behave. Using statements such as, “When someone is speaking, everyone needs to do nothing else but focus on that person”. Once the expected classroom behaviors are defined, students, as well as faculty can be held accountable to follow them. The Respect Committee developed strategies for faculty to implement when creating a respectful teaching and learning environment for all.

Implemented Strategies to Promote Respect and an Environment of Civility in the Classroom

The Respect Committee worked developing strategies to guide, educate and help faculty in the school to promote a class environment of respect and civility. The strategies were designed to promote respect in all interactions between students, faculty, and staff. The committee recognized that students may have different expectations than faculty. It was therefore essential to educate not only students about what constitutes respect but also to educate faculty. Educators need to create a safe, trusting class environment, be a role model, set clear and concise expectations in their classes, praise respectful behavior and teach and promote emotional intelligence. The table below describes the strategies and the faculty interventions that were implemented as well as the rationale.

Faculty Interventions Strategy
Collect Data
  • Survey sent to faculty assessing the problem of disrespect among students and the comfort level of faculty to address disrespectful student behavior
  • At the end of the academic year the data collected analyzed for prevalence of disrespectful behavior 
Educate Faculty
  • Teachers need to role model Respect
  • Create a classroom that students feel safe with both  peers and their teachers
  • Review all examples of respect that are reviewed with their students
  • Demonstrate your passion for the subject matter in the classroom
  • Promote respect, understanding and civil and inclusive language
  • Peak student interest and always provide an explanation
  • Engage your students in the classroom
  • Let students see that you are still a learner as well
  • Be humble when you do not know the answer
  • Learn from your students
Developed School Acronym for Respect
  • R: respectful (mutual)
  • C: communication (open)
  • C: collaboration (professional)
Communicate Class Expectations
  • Establish class expectations on Day One and remind students periodically and when needed
  • Clear and concise communication
  • Teach email etiquette
  • Faculty communicate to students the time frame they will respond to emails/phone calls/and their office hours.  
Faculty Role Model Respect
  • Express genuine concern for the student and student learning
  • Be the leader in the room yet remain approachable
  • Learn names
  • Make sure the students know your name
  • Establish a connection with each student
  • Make the students feel like they are capable of mastering the subject
  • The class should have a team-like atmosphere as if we’re all in this together
  • Demonstrate respect at all times
Teach Students Examples of Showing Respect
  • Don’t yell or talk over your classmates or teacher
  • Listen to others even if you disagree with them
  • Don’t try to control others
  • Talk openly to your teacher about your needs and wants in a respectful manner
  • Admit when you make a mistake
Praise respectful behavior
  • Recognize students for kindness, empathy and respect for others
  • Focus on positive behaviors
  • Encourage acts of kindness
Teach & Promote Emotional Intelligence
  • Teach & help students to:
  • Understand emotions and the elements of EI: Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation, Empathy, Social skills.
  • Incorporate positive ways to relieve stress
  • empathize with others and overcome challenges and defuse conflict


The Respect Committees’ short-term goal was met as noted with faculty being provided with strategies to create a civil environment for teaching and learning. After one academic year, faculty did report improvement in student behaviors related to disrespect and faculty expressed feeling more confident in implementing strategies to address any episodes of lack of respect. Faculty and the Respect Committee recognize that creating and sustaining a respectful civil environment for teaching and learning will be ongoing. It is essential to sustain a teaching and learning environment that promotes and provides the resources for ensuring a respectful and civil environment. The class culture starts with the teacher who must role model and reward positive behaviors and intervene early with instilling a zero-tolerance for disrespectful uncivil student behaviors.


  1. Education World. How to Accentuate Respect and Eliminate Disrespect in Students. Retrieved:
  2. Frankenfield, R. (2019). Recognize and Respond to Incivility in Nursing. ONS Voice. Retrieved at:
  3. Kroning, M. (2019). Be Civil Committing to Zero tolerance for Workplace Incivility. Nursing Management. 52-54. 
  4. Linsen (2021). How to Handle the Student Disrespect Sweeping the Country. Retrieved at:
  5. Merriam-Webster.(n.d.) In Merriam-Webster .com dictionary. Retrieved February 25, 2022 from
  6. Michael V. Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning. Defining Respect in the Classroom. The Ohio State University. Retrieved February 25, 2022.
  7. Morrissette, P.J.. (2001). Reducing incivility in the university/college classroom. International Electronic Journal for Leadership in Learning. Retrieved at: