Being an elementary teacher for twenty years was my delight…my joy…a true gift. It came easily and never did I have to go to work – I wanted to go – every single day. My job was not work but rather a calling – one in which I got to model true servanthood and create a classroom culture where we valued people, things, and fell in love with the learning processes. One in which students wanted to come to school as much as I did. One in which it was easy to get student engagement and respect. One in which the students would do almost anything for me because of our close relationship.
What would make me want to leave this dream job and move into a middle school classroom? An easier schedule, right? Maybe fewer hours? Oh, it must be the calm, non-hormonal thinking of the typical middle school student, right? Heeheehee! Nope…it was simple OBEDIENCE to what I knew God told me to do. Being a follower of Jesus and a student of the Bible for twenty-six years, I’ve come to understand that when God leads me to do something, He requires my obedience. He lovingly gives me a choice, but there’s nothing sweeter than living in the rewards of obedience – even if I don’t understand what I’m stepping into when I give Him my yes. And let me tell you, I had no idea what I was stepping into by moving to middle school. Due to God’s faithfulness, I survived my first year, but knew SOMETHING or SOMEONE needed to change going into my next year.
That summer, I walked into a Christian professional development session eager to find a golden nugget or two that would transform my classroom culture for the next school year. God knew my heart and how I desperately wanted my middle school classroom culture to operate as smoothly as my elementary years. I cried out to Him during the middle of the session to give me what I was missing…and HE DID!!! All I wanted was a few nuggets, but God gave me a blueprint to set the foundation of culture in my classroom. Here’s what God impressed upon my heart.
Teach your middles that I am always present and to have REVERENCE for me in the classroom, hallways, bathrooms, in the unseen places. When they reverence me, they will RESPECT themselves, others, and things around them. From that, they will grow in RESPONSIBILITY inwardly and outwardly.
As I pondered this, I came to the realization that none of this would happen unless I demonstrated reverence, respect, and responsibility right in front of them. I must set an example and be the living Jesus in front of them. I used the summer to meditate and root this in my heart.
As the school year began, I taught my students our Three R’s of Classroom Culture: Reverence, Respect, and Responsibility, in that order. I shared with them how God spoke these things to my heart and how He gave our class a blueprint to build a strong culture together. Much classroom discussion went into setting the foundation and understanding of these three cultural values, but I will briefly share them with scripture context.
Reverence – It is imperative that students understand that God is always with us, which means He is HERE, now, PRESENT among us. He is Holy and deserves to be in a Holy environment. The Merriam-Webster’s definition of “reverence” is “honor or respect that is felt for or shown to (someone or something).” The Bible says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, New King James Version). As I instructed my students in this concept, I continually brought them back to the fact that our school is a holy place because God is HERE – not because the place itself is holy, but God IS. We can encounter God in our classes, extra-curricular activities, and in interactions with people if we REVERENCE Him. Reverence must be present first for the other two cultural values to work. The “why” behind this teaching is to make sure the students understand that the reverence of God brings wisdom to those who walk in it, and if we want to have earthly wisdom, it only comes through reverence for God and the things of God.
RESPECT comes from feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way. I teach my class that we appreciate God’s gifts that He gives to each of us, and we steward them well. We treat other people the way we want to be treated. I help my middles see that as we respect God’s Presence, we also respect all that He gives us…our teachers, peers, school property, and the learning environment. Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25.40). When my students understand these words of Jesus, my goal is that they’ll think twice about their actions, considering that how they treat others reflects their reverence and respect for God.
RESPONSIBILITY is a duty or task that one is required or expected to do. I instruct my students that we get to be members of a Christ-centered learning community and what one does or doesn’t do affects the whole. If it’s required to be done, do it with excellent effort as you are doing it unto God, since He is ALWAYS present. I praise them daily for making choices that honor God and serve others. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3.23-24). Most issues that occur in the classroom can be brought back to one or more of the Three R’s and whether a student chose to operate in those cultural values or not. Guidance on why they didn’t make the right choice is key and must be done in love to have the greatest impact.
As I instruct my students in the Three Cultural R’s, I teach a hand signal that looks like the “Okay” signal which is the thumb and pointer finger forming a circle and the three remaining fingers pointing up. When I teach REVERENCE, I make a circle with the thumb and the tallest finger and tap those two fingers together anytime we’re talking about reverence. They begin to see and do this as well. Next, when teaching about RESPECT, I make a circle with the thumb and the ring finger and tap those two together anytime we’re talking about or identifying acts that refer to respect. Lastly, when teaching about RESPONSIBILITY, I take the thumb and pinky finger and tap them together when referring to responsibility. I train them in this simple “sign language” because it’s an extremely helpful silent communication tool that can be used almost anytime whether in a loud or quiet environment. When I give the students the “okay” sign, that means they’re doing fabulous at displaying all the cultural R’s. If they are lacking in RESPECT in how they are treating the lunch lady for example, I will simply put my thumb and ring finger together close to my smiling face as a reminder to respect others.
In teaching these cultural values, I also get to model repentance when I miss the mark and step out of Christ-like character. I admit my wrong, ask for forgiveness, and ask them what cultural value I was lacking. The class is quick to identify and show me with the sign language which one I missed, and most often, they’re just as quick to give me the okay sign and encourage me to get right back into my Christ-like nature. These Three R’s have helped me set a standard for classroom culture and behavior expectations that allow me to still see my job as a calling where I get to promote a learning environment that fosters Reverence for God, Respect for self and others, and Responsibility for one’s actions.
The Bible: New King James Version. Edited by Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett, Oxford UP, 2008.
“Reverence Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reverence.
“Respect Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/respect.
“Responsibility Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/responsibility.