Why should we teach manners and etiquette in the classroom? Because kids need good social skills in order to succeed. If kids aren't learning these basic skills at home, we need to be teaching them at school. Otherwise, through subtle social signals, the kids without manners will lose out and never know why.
And here's a scary thought: students are learning manners from us whether we are teaching them or not. As Robert Fulghum (All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten) said: Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.
Manners and etiquette include so many aspects of human behavior that you'll need to determine which ones you want to focus on. Here are two simple behaviors you might start with.
1. BEING POLITE
Making an effort to be polite -- smiling, saying "please" and "thank you," holding the door for someone -- goes a long way toward making and keeping friends and diffusing hostilities.
You might begin by asking students to give some examples of polite behavior. Have them demonstrate ways they have been polite and role-play situations in which they should make an effort to be polite.
Encourage them to practice in real life too. Be sure to notice when they do.
Discuss the outcomes of their practicing polite behavior. Ask students to describe any changes they feel in the classroom (or school, if everyone is working on manners and etiquette). Do they feel more comfortable, happier, safer? How do they feel when they are being polite? When someone is polite to them?
2. ACTING APPROPRIATELY FOR THE SITUATION
Behaving appropriately can help you succeed in reaching your goals -- whether you want to get better grades; get a job and get promoted; or get invited to social events.
Again, brainstorm with students to get them talking about appropriate behavior for various settings. Discuss appropriate behavior for conversations, including listening when someone is speaking to you, speaking when spoken to, not talking about private things in public, looking at the person you are speaking with (I know the cultural implications, but not explaining to students what some people expect of them is doing them a disservice).
Have students role-play conversations with their peers and adults, focusing on making small talk about appropriate, positive topics, giving a compliment, and receiving a compliment graciously.
Ask students to suggest ways to remember to smile, stand up straight, or get rid of the chewing gum when they want to be taken seriously.
We owe it to our kids to teach them manners and etiquette. If we truly want to give all students an opportunity to succeed, we must stress the importance of acceptable, desirable behavior that will help them get and keep jobs, friends, and family. Someone needs to tell them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen Zauber taught elementary school in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and Denver, Colorado. She has worked for the National Education Association for 12 years.