Children all over the country have returned to school and are well into starting off the school year on a good note. As someone who was a teacher coach in Social and Emotional Learning for decades, I have experienced the first days of school in classrooms all over the world, but have spent most of my coaching time in this country. Those first days are a time where teachers and students set ground-rules or class agreements for how they are going to treat each other throughout the school year. These rules and agreements are meant to be lived up to each day and are also a tool for redirecting a student’s behavior if they act in ways outside of them. Most teachers also include themselves in the rules since they are an integral part of the classroom community.

While the words may vary from classroom to classroom, the sentiments are similar wherever you go. It usually starts out with a welcome to the class and then a question posed by the teacher. How do we want to treat each other in this class both inside the classroom and outside of it? Or some teachers may simply state the rules that they have for the classroom. Either way, the same ones usually hit the board.

Number one is usually respect. Inevitably, one of the children will raise their hands and say no name-calling. We all know that long before his UN speech, President Trump has engaged in endless name-calling on Twitter, at rallies, in speeches and press conferences so no one should be surprised at his use of the words “losers” and “rocket man” in his address. Yes, imagine on any given day in class if Raheim says “and to that loser Carmen who nobody likes,” what the repercussions will be for Raheim. Even if Carmen has been engaging in bad behavior, no good teacher will allow Raheim’s name-calling to go unaddressed. That same teacher has very likely been addressing Carmen’s behavior which has yet to turn around (which can also be said about Kim Jong-un), but never would they allow other students to break the classroom agreements
and escalate things.

Usually someone will add that threats should not be allowed if we are going to respect each other and create safety in the class. Imagine if Johnny stood up and said, “I am willing to obey all of the rules, but if anybody messes with me this year I will totally destroy them.” What teacher will let that slide or choose to include it in the rules? Not one.

Usually treating each other with kindness will be suggested along with being a peacemaker. Inevitably, the teacher will ask, “What should we do if two of our classroom friends are having a conflict? Should we try to be peacemakers or let them know that we are ready to go to war?” This would be the time when Carmen strikes back and says, “The fourth grade girls have been chipping in for weapons and we will soon be stronger than we have ever been, but we want peace,” which is essentially the message President Trump delivered with his statement about the US military.

Honesty and accountability is big when it comes to the rules in classrooms. There is not one classroom that I have visited where teachers did not express the need for students to own their actions and be honest about how they are doing in class and even outside of it. The President started off talking about all of the great things that he sees happening in America under his presidency before launching into a dressing down of other nations about the terrible things that they are responsible for in their neck of the woods. What he lacked in honesty and accountability for is all of the things that are happening here that do not paint that rosy picture. Domestic terrorism being perpetrated by hate groups that are on the rise, endless protests against many of the alienating policies of this administration, an epidemic opioid problem that is only getting worse, a country that has the highest incarceration rate in the world which is certain to either sustain itself or rise given Trump’s efforts to push back on criminal justice reform.

Imagine Thomas raising one hand as he sits at a desk in total disarray while poking Carlos with a pencil with the other hand and finally shouting out all of the things that Eddie, Lucy, Rafael and Jasmine are doing wrong after listing all of the things that he is excelling at in his mind. The teacher would literally have to hold themselves back from going in on Thomas about the need for him to be honest about and accountable for his own actions before he starts in on others.

Of course, I have saved the best for last. There is no way that teachers will allow calling another student curse words in their classroom and I have heard many a teacher lecture a student about disrespecting someone else’s mother. I have seen students sent to detention for that offense and yet President Trump saw fit to do both of those things in one fell swoop when talking about professional athletes this past weekend.

Yes, there were parts of his UN speech where talk of peace and concern for others was included. So, it didn’t all go against the rules. The President might say that he was just being direct and he did talk about working together and getting along in the UN speech and about respecting the flag in regards to the NFL. In response to that, I know that any good teacher would say, “Donald, if you follow the rules when you want to and then break them when you want to that does not count as following the rules.”

If teachers, principals, superintendents and parents find excuses for the President’s behavior then we might as well start ripping up those classroom rules right now.

Respect, Honesty, Accountability and the Ability to be a Peacemaker are all crucial components of strong leadership and these are all established by the foundation of classroom rules. Our young people are our future leaders and they are watching and taking notes. Many of them are also in classrooms that are mini United Nations. They are learning how to navigate and negotiate in these settings and they are learning that words and rules/agreements count.

When the most powerful leader in our country shows our children that basic classroom rules don’t count, leaders must step up and show them that is not true.

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