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A Fine Hello and Hi Dee Ho


Busy ESPs Can Still Promote Etiquette and Model Behavior


Dave Arnold

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." King Solomon said that about 3000 years ago. It still rings true.

Children need training in the ways of the world. Especially when it comes to manners. All of us had to learn about firm handshakes, eye contact, opening doors for our elders, and how to say "please-thank you-excuse me-I apologize."

Parents, teachers, ESPs, coaches and other adults took the time to teach us, so now it's our turn to return the favor. And it shouldn't be a chore. It should be a pleasure to serve the next generation. As adults in charge of public schools, it's also good customer service.  

Etiquette and Protocol

While most of the teachers I know are stellar role models for children, they have a full academic agenda to get through. They cannot be expected to also dwell on how to host a tea party or behave in the Queen's court.  Bus drivers, cooks, secretaries, aides, and other ESPs are also busy tending to their duties.

Yet, school staff are in a unique position to help students refine their social behavior. Through our daily contact with students, we can show through example why it's best to live by the Golden Rule -- treat others as you would like to be treated.

NEA.org Promotes Good Behavior

NEA supports the Golden Rule so much that they have dedicated a Web site to promoting thoughtful, respectful behavior. The Web area is called, "Do the Right Thing."

At the site, you’ll learn how educators are helping students get along with others. You'll also find resources to help instill civil behavior in the learning environment, such as, success stories, tips, strategies, and grants.

According to the Web site, there are three aspects of teaching social skills that researchers say are essential: modeling, direct instruction, and practice.

When it comes to modeling civil behavior -- my dad would call it being a gentleman or lady -- it sure helps to have a favorite saying or quote in the back of your mind for guidance.

Teach by Example

At work, I constantly remind myself of the words of Albert Schweitzer: "Example isn't the main teacher in life, it is the only teacher." Being the only male staff member in my building, I have come to realize that I am a male role model for some students. While the age difference between students and me is significant - I'm old enough to be their grandfather -- I use manners to cross the generational divide.

A bus driver who greets passengers with a kind "good morning" each day is being a goodwill ambassador and role model. It might not appear to be a big factor in helping promote  politeness, but it establishes an example and pattern for students. Believe me, they notice the niceties or lack thereof.

Manners are Contagious

I like to speak to each child and adult I see during the day, when time allows. A few years ago, after watching Tim Allen's TV show, "Home Improvement," I started greeting students with a hearty "hi-dee-ho." That often got them grinning. Any time you can get a person to smile you have given that person a moment of happiness.

After a few weeks of greeting children with "hi-dee-ho," students were soon greeting me that way. Some former students that are now young adults still greet me that way when we happen to meet on the street or in a store. Good habits and manners are contagious.

I know of certain secretaries, aides, and cooks who customarily say "please" and "thank you" to students. From there, the good cheer may spread to other students, then parents. Who can say it doesn't?

ESPs cannot alone instill in children the values of civility and respect for others, but they can help. My friend, Harlen Beckel, wrote in a poem: "A child's education cannot be accomplished by just one person. It is accomplished only with unity. It takes parents, a family, a teacher, support staff, a church. It takes an entire community."

Related Links

Do the Right Thing — Articles, tips, and conversation about educators promoting thoughtful, respectful behavior with their students.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at dparnold@csuol.com.)

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.


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