Creating an Equitable Classroom through Establishing Respect

The relationship between teacher and student is important in that their interaction is essential for successful teacher practice and student learning to take place. Our teaching experiences both in school and in informal settings let us understand the delicate balance of first establishing high expectations for students through informing them of acceptable classroom practices and second creating an environment that welcomes students to express their ideas about these practices. The underlying theme that resonates through this way of teaching is respect. Respect between teacher and student is necessary for success in the classroom.


Equity in the classroom can be defined as giving students what they need. When teachers truly listen to students and respect in the classroom is mutual between teacher and student, a productive classroom can be formed. Teachers feel good about the lessons they teach and students are engaged in learning.

For example, one semester Janell felt that her students were uninterested in the science topics she planned to teach. She then asked them which science topics they would like to learn about. The moment that she asked them which topics they wanted to learn about their interest level skyrocketed! From there, Janell began to incorporate these topics into the standards-based lessons that she had planned. This sole action furthered student interest and allowed Janell, as a teacher, to grow and value students’ input about the curriculum. Additionally, she introduced student reflection sheets on which students could respond to a day’s activity and give feedback and suggestions.

Initially, Janell thought that she was giving her students what they needed in terms of curriculum, but not until she asked them what they wanted did their motivation to learn and her motivation to teach increase. In essence, in order to give students what they need, we, as teachers, must be willing to do the following:

  • Understand the needs of our students.
  • Value student feedback on assignments and classroom activities.
  • Support student ideas to help design or create lessons and assessments.

We have included a sample reflection sheet that you can use with your students. You can modify it based on the specific activity (lesson, field trip, assessment). For early elementary grades you can simply ask your students these questions in place of free-write in response to the questions on the reflection sheet. You can use students’ responses to enhance future lessons, assess student learning and better your own teaching practice.

Student Reflection Template
This sample reflection sheet can be used to gather student feedback about any lesson. Teachers can modify it to be used with a variety of ages and settings.

Students are motivated to learn and teachers are motivated to teach when an equitable classroom is established through respect between teacher and student. When we listen to our students and create an environment that values their feedback, our students feel respected and encouraged to learn. Respect in the classroom promotes the creation of an equitable learning environment because in this space all voices matter.


Teaching Effectiveness Program: Issues of Respect
This site answers questions about everything from how to build positive relationships with students to managing your classroom.

Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility: Teachable Moment
This site lists numerous activities appropriate for elementary students.

This article was written by Janell N. Catlin and Felicia Moore Mensah For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright March 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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