In this fifth of the Lessons from Teaching series, CareerActually contributor Peter Luscombe highlights the underlying value of respect for yourself and of others in maximising your performance.  

Respect is such a huge concept comprised of many complementary values, and twists and turns of ethical considerations. Bringing respect down to a ground level understanding proves quite a challenge. To cut through the complexities, not get too tangled up, one underpinning principle stands out – respect for yourself.

This so proved the case when working with my students. We came together from differing backgrounds, differing cultures and even expectations, yet, we had to find common ground to get along. Without common ground, then we’d be so at odds that the classroom dynamics would at best stutter along with expected conflicts and unresolved issues. ‘Getting the job done’ would prove more difficult than necessary. Respect for yourself, leading to respect for others, and eliciting respect back, is a powerful way so that you stand ‘tall’ within yourself and amongst others.

If you want to be respected by others the great thing is to respect yourself.  Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you. 

Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Show respect for yourself – be accountable to yourself

Respect for yourself means having values you stand by and valuing yourself. Your values are the ground you stand upon. Your values are the big picture within which you set your aims and goals. Your values inform what you say and how you act. In the most positive light, your values are your vision of the best you and what’s important to you.

The encouragement to – do your best – is often voiced with best of intentions. However, a crucial part is left off and that is to do your best by yourself.

Lack of respect for yourself, or disrespect, is easy to identify in any number of ways when you stand on the outside looking on. The key though for an individual involves motion inwards instead of outwards – looking inside yourself. The best way I found to aid this was to ask a question[s], then let the other pause for reflection. Giving another space to think is a sign of respect. For example:

Does this piece of work show respect for yourself, and your effort and work?

When quietly faced with this question, a student who’d simply dashed off a piece of scrappy work usually owned up to under-performing. There was no shame or blame involved; that would have been counter-productive. Disappointment had a place, as well as acknowledging any difficulties faced doing the task or in performance. Owning up may have led to dialogue about how this came about, however, not necessarily. Most often owning up led to a plan of action – strategies.

Like students, people in the work force are measured against standards of performance. In the best scenario the evaluation identifies what you are doing in the positive, and where improvement, modification, and development can be made. With this hopefully comes internalization of the evaluation, so a personal plan of action develops and a sense of achievement. Developing a positive and achieve able plan of action immediately re-empowers and once again places you at the helm. People who show respect for themselves are ones who captain their own ship.


While this approach didn’t always work like magic, generally positives resulted. My students buzzed along the next stage of a task and saw for themselves they were going somewhere. There would be further bumps in the road, however, also ways and means to address this with positive outcomes. I respectfully gave them space and usually left them to it. Crowding others when they are working through their next steps of a task or development, too close a monitoring, I found counter-productive. It voiced a lack of confidence in them. Nothing, in my eyes, erodes self-respect more than knowing another lacks confidence in you.

Show respect for yourself – speak to others as you want to be spoken to

The language we use illustrates our values and where we stand. Our choice of words, the way we phrase matters, our tone, all say something about ourselves, how we see others and how we see our place in the world.

This was especially true in the classroom where a teacher set the tone. I understood how a teacher could lose patience and raise their voice. Like anyone I did too at times, however, I also did my best not to raise my voice. Doing so provided an example, ‘language’ and tone I simply didn’t want in my classroom. It also signalled to students that I wasn’t in control as usual. The baseline was: I don’t like to be yelled at so …

Using respectful language meant I exampled respect to my students, and others, as well as expecting to be spoken to respectfully. Most importantly, such expressed my self-respect. As my students realized this, then they were far more mindful of how they spoke to one another.

Being respectful of others because you respect yourself operates universally. Being respectful of yourself in the workplace I think is crucial because you spend so much time there; expend so much energy at your work station – within your work environs; and even carry work considerations home with you.

Tim Minchin encouraged us to ‘Be a teacher!’ Yes, provide an example because I believe that’s how life’s lessons are passed on. Having seen past students take this on-board, and achieve for themselves, I can confidently say that having self respect is a corner stone. All you need to do is to try?