One of the earliest memories most people have is learning how to “treat people how you would want to be treated”. This is commonly known as the Golden Rule.
Unfortunately as with all rules, it appears the Golden Rule was made to be broken. Students coming to your university have been exposed to a culture of television viewing and news coverage that includes at least monthly stories about road rage, sky rage, and sideline rage (athletic events for all ages). In addition to news viewing, students today are exposed to other “quality entertainment”, such as reality television and the Jerry Springer Show. Shock TV sends a very powerful, and at times, negative message on how adults communicate with each other on a variety of level and styles.
As educators it is important for us to model a common sense, proper, and appropriate approach to civil discourse. So how can we go about role modeling civility and good behavior standards when working with our students? Different approaches may prove helpful in many situations:
• Be respectful, positive, and flexible
• Have students schedule appointments when they need to see you. While it may be easy to take a more “drop by” or “casual” approach to meeting with students, scheduling appointments sends students a clearer message about the seriousness of the meeting and their behavior. By scheduling a meeting for a specified time you may defuse a situation, and you will have the discussion in a more “professional” setting.
• Offer solutions, not blame. This helps you to engage the student in a constructive fashion versus putting them on the defensive, where they will neither listen nor learn.
• Find something to agree on. Search out a common ground. It is way to easy for individuals to focus in on differences, verses attempting to find similarities or things to agree about. Acknowledge that the meeting is difficult for both of you.
• If the meeting get tense stay calm, and speak quietly and slowly. Acknowledge the person’s feelings by letting them know you understand that he or she is angry. Attempt to explore and resolve the reasons for the anger. If emotions become to heightened in a meeting, the meeting could be rescheduled for another day and time to finish the discussion.
Notions of civility draw on cultural and religious traditions. Although cultural customs vary, there are far more similarities then differences. It is nearly impossible to force others to civility, but we can take responsibility for ourselves. This usually involves the willingness and ability to restrain impulsive speech and actions. As opposed to providing a roadmap of good behavior, many individuals could take a detour and model communications styles as portrayed by the media. It is important to keep at the forefront the student development perspective of helping students grow and develop.
Submitted by Dale Ernst, Assistant Dean of Students, Rockhurst University