​The Contagious and (Almost) Lost Art of Civility

Helping students succeed means building parent-teacher partnerships.

This partnership implies a relationship between a parent and a teacher. A relationship that requires trust in each other’s motivations and respect for each other, which leads to greater transparency and civility in parent-teacher communications.

When civility, transparency, and trust exist in this short-term partnership, its effect on a student can be more positive and more effective than when it’s absent because kids learn by our actions. This positive effect will arguably and phenomenally extend well beyond the student’s 10-month school year.

Especially where civility is concerned.

Christine Porath, Associate Professor at McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University has taken an in-depth look at the effects of civility in the workplace, which we can reasonably apply to the parent-teacher partnership. She and her fellow researchers found that civility is contagious – it actually inspires others to reciprocate.

Which raises the question – what does it mean to be civil?

Modern definitions include politeness, courteousness, and respectful behavior. The Latin origin relates to the “art” of governing. Now that’s a meaningful twist – thinking of civility as something that a person creates and expresses, each in his or her own way. So we take this one step further to think of civility as the “art of governing oneself. . . politely, courteously, and respectfully.”

With this definition, we can focus on expressing considerate and compassionate thoughts, actions, and words that help others feel recognized and valued – even when their perspectives are different from ours.

How can we nurture civility?

We could wish that civility would sprout organically from the common ground of wanting student success. That’s not always the case. And that’s ok. Because recognizing the gap is the first step toward closing it.

Here are 7 tips of our own that we recommend to parents and teachers and anyone else who wants to improve their communications with others:

  1. Be mindful of your own emotions and how they might affect someone else.
  2. Be in the moment by limiting distractions.
  3. Be curious and flexible in your thinking.
  4. Encourage others to contribute their ideas and opinions.
  5. Focus on the ideas, policies, and behavior – not the individual person – when sharing positive or constructive input and feedback.
  6. Accept and give praise.
  7. Maintain confidentiality.

These are, of course, universal recommendations. People, like snowflakes, are unique. The best way to boost civility is to assess where you are today and make specific improvements. Dr. Porath, as part of her work on civility, has developed an online quiz to help you do just that. The results come with thoughtful recommendations that can help you take the first step toward more effective communications.

Any and every act of civility matters. You’ll benefit, the people you interact will benefit, and maybe most importantly, the students who look up to you will benefit.