Meeting Mandela in the Classroom: Encouraging a culture of respect

18 July – Today is Mandela Day!  The day on which people around the world honour the life and work of Nelson Mandela. Mandela Day this year has a particular significance as 18 July 2018 marks the centenary of Mandela’s birth.

The traditional way of participating in Mandela Day is to spend 67 minutes of this day participating in community projects or ‘good works’. Now this is great, but, let’s face it, 67 minutes once a year is not really going to achieve Mandela’s aim of creating a better society for all. For those of us in the education business, we need to find a way to make this ‘better society’ an integral part of the education experience.

So how can we incorporate Mandela’s legacy into the education business? What can both educators and students bring to their daily school experiences to make Mandela a living presence in the classroom? (And no – we are not discussing the controversial topic of whether History should be made a compulsory subject! We will save that hot topic for a future blog!)

How should Mandela be part of the everyday school experience?

I believe we can find the answer to this question by reading Anthony Johnson’s comments on Mandela:

“But for me, what really set Mandela apart as a leader and a human being can be captured in one word – respect.

Not just for colleagues, supporters and wellwishers but for critics, rivals and even sworn enemies. And for the humble, marginalised and seemingly powerless “little people” so often ignored, taken for granted or abused by political leaders.

When Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990 after spending 27 prime-of-life years behind bars, many expected to find a man driven by vengeance and bitterness. But not for the first time, he surprised his tormentors and followers by committing to a quite different code for living.

As he put it, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”. [1]

Incorporating respect into the education experience

The Oxford Dictionary defines respect as ‘due regard for the feelings, wishes and rights of others’ and judging from our newspapers, this is an element lacking from our classrooms. We read far too may reports of educators who abuse their powers, of students who are bullied mercilessly by their peers, of student who are expected to study without educators or textbooks and of the constant destruction of school property. All of these reports indicate  a serious lack of respect in the educational environment.

How can a teacher show respect?

Effective teaching can only take place within the framework of a respectful teacher-student relationship. Let’s look at just three ways in which a teacher can show respect for his/her students


1.  Pronounce students’ names correctly

A recent study at Stanford showed that for students, ‘respect’ involves ‘a basic recognition of your humanity’. Intrinsically linked to this was the importance of the teacher pronouncing each student’s name correctly.

“Mispronouncing a student’s name essentially renders that student invisible,” Fariña said during a keynote address at the National Association for Bilingual Education annual conference in March.

“Even telling a student their name is difficult to pronounce is problematic as this implies there is something wrong with the student’s name.” [2]


2. Be aware of tone

In his Doctoral Dissertation, James Henderer of the University of Massachusetts conclusively proved that there was a clear link between teacher voice tone and student academic success.

Henderer wrote:

students of those teachers whose voice tone is judged warmer or more sympathetic, less angry and less anxious will show significantly more gain on a measure of intellectual development than will students of teachers whose voices are judged cooler or less sympathetic, angrier and more anxious.” [3]

We all know just how frustrating teaching can be at times and the temptation to ‘bark’ at a student can be overwhelming. However, teachers must bear in mind that they are modelling ‘respect’ for their students and as such must learn to control their own emotions.

Advice given on the website is as follows:

“Address your students like you address your peers. You wouldn’t snap, “Get your shoes on NOW, Eloise!” to your colleague in the staff room. (Well, maybe you would, but then…have you ever considered telecommuting?) Sure, you need to maintain order in the classroom and keep the group moving forward, but this can be done in a respectful way. Keep your tone low and even. Never raise your voice. Use the same tone when addressing a child as when you’re addressing someone you work with. Be gentle, not bossy. Ask yourself how someone whose respectful manner you admire would handle the situation.

Click on the link below to watch a video showing how how tone of voice contributes to creating a comfortable class for learners.



3.Teach creatively.

We all know that feeling of relief when we have finished preparing a set of lessons and maybe, just maybe, we can treat ourselves to a weekend of no school work! However, if we are really to show respect for our students, our preparation is never complete! Each class comes with its own set of dynamics, each class contains that one individual who might need an extra explanation, might want an extra exercise,  who might be really inspired if we just add in a slightly different aspect of the topic. Changing, tweaking and updating our own teaching material keeps it fresh for us as well as the learners and makes it more enjoyable to present. Do not be afraid to try different ways used by other teachers and be willing to share your own ideas with your colleagues.It is up to us, as masters of our subject, to deliver our material in innovative and creative ways and these ways must change according to our students’ needs, learning styles and personal circumstances.

Watch the following video showing one really creative teacher!



Now, maybe we can’t expect every lesson to be as creative as this, but it is important that a teacher remembers, that he/she is acting as the portal through which a student discovers a subject. It is therefore up to the teacher to show respect to the student by offering the best learning experience he/she is able to offer.

What about respect from the students?

So far we have talked about respect in terms of a teacher showing respect for his/her students but surely respect is a two way street. The students themselves have a role to play in creating a ‘better society’ by bringing respect into the education experience.

How should students incorporate respect into the education experience?

1. Respect peers (even those who seem ‘weird’!)

In practical terms this means very simply, students need to apply that good old ‘golden rule’ – ‘treat others in the way that you would like them to treat you’.

In his book Long Walk to Freedom’, Mandela wrote ‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” [4]

Each student in the classroom has the responsibility to respect and enhance the freedom of his/her fellow students. No-one has the right to detract from anyone else’s learning opportunities or experiences.

Watch this fun video to see how respect can be encouraged among peers

2. Respect the value of education

I know there are mornings when even the most enthusiastic student does not want to attend school! However, it is important for students to remember that in our present time, being able to obtain an education remains a privilege, not a right. For those of us fortunate to have exposed to education from a young age, we struggle to appreciate what a gift this is. Recently, I had the opportunity to assist an adult who has never attended school. This remarkable lady is now determined to learn to read and write despite being in her late fifties. One of the projects we were working on required her to cut out pictures from a magazine and paste these into her workbook under the appropriate headings. If she could not find a suitable picture, then she was required to draw the necessary picture. This project had reduced the woman to tears of frustration. She had never been shown how to cut out a picture, she had never used a glue stick and she had never drawn a picture! Such  simple skills that so many of us take for granted thanks to our early childhood education. Lacking these skills made an adult feel ashamed and stupid, emotions which she did not deserve to feel!

So students need to be conscious that education is a privilege. It opens the doors of choice and opportunity. Students need to take their education seriously. They need to  completed the required work, study for those tests and thereby show respect for the people who are making their education possible.

Mandela certainly recognised the value of education. One of his most well-known quotes is:

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. [5]

Watch the following video about the importance of education.


3. Resolve conflict proactively.

Teachers are humans! They will be grumpy some days, they might accuse a student of misbehaving when he/she wasn’t, you aren’t, they might mistakes with the marking of work and yes, conflicts will arise. Students must learn how to resolve these conflicts with respect and  self-control.

Read the following article for advice on this topic:


Cambrilearn and Respect

Much of what is written in this blog pertains to your everyday classroom interaction between student and teacher. But how should an online learning platform such as Cambrilearn incorporate Mandela’s ‘respect’ into its ethos?

Cambrilearn, we believe, achieves respect by:

  • Having tutors who are passionate about his/her subject
  • Having tutors who are willing to nurture a personal relationship with each one of his/her students so that learning can be adapted to that particular student’s set of circumstances
  • Holding regular online Q and A session where students can come on line and talk to the tutor face to face
  • Using a messaging service on which a student can communicate directly with the tutor whenever he/she needs help
  • Marking assignments within 48 hours and returning these to the student with extensive individualised feedback and encouragement.




















































































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