Etiquette expert Linda Williams talked with Education World about what constitutes etiquette, what educators can do to help students learn proper etiquette and good manners, and how practicing good manners can help children be successful in life. Included: The top five etiquette skills children need to know.
Linda Williams is founder of "Etiquette for Life Workshops," created to educate youth and adults in the rules of manners and etiquette. For the past eight years, she has been presenting workshops on etiquette and manners to adults and children from various educational institutions and non-profit organizations, as well as serving as etiquette consultant to school districts in the Long Island, New York, area.
Mrs. Williams, who was featured in the January 25, 2004 Long Island Newsday article "The Rude 'Tude," which focused on the need for schools to become more involved in teaching manners and good behavior, holds a bachelor's degree in sociology and has worked as a corporate professional in the insurance industry for more than 25 years. She was also trained and certified by the Protocol School of Washington.
Education World spoke with Williams about what etiquette is, what educators can do to help students learn proper etiquette and good manners, and how practicing good manners can help children be successful in life.
Education World: Most people think of "etiquette" as knowing where to seat the boss at a dinner party or the proper way to respond to an RSVP. What is your definition of etiquette?
Linda Williams: There is a misconception that etiquette is about formal behavior. I believe that the foundation of etiquette is kindness to others; treating others as you would like to be treated. Although many of the rules of etiquette evolved into formal behavior, etiquette and civility began during medieval times to help individuals live with one another peacefully and in a civil manner. Knowing where to seat the boss at a dinner party and proper response to an RSVP are important skills. Knowing how to act appropriately in public, introduce oneself properly to others, and say "Please" and "Thank You" are skills every young person should master to be successful.
EW: Why should etiquette be taught at school? Isn't it a parent's job to teach children proper etiquette and good manners?
Williams: As adults, we have allowed children to become lax in using manners and etiquette and respect for others. Because we as a society have failed to teach and reinforce those skills with children I believe that it will take a collective effort of all the adults in a child's life to make sure he or she practices the rules. I have spoken with many teachers who are frustrated with the rudeness and lack of respect in the classroom. Because many students are not being taught the rules of etiquette at home, the responsibility is being placed on the schools. Teachers will be better able to reinforce the rules of appropriate behavior when they know students have been instructed in them.
EW: Will knowing proper etiquette and good manners help children do better in school -- or will it just make them nicer to be around?
Williams: I believe that knowledge of the rules of etiquette will do both. Knowledge and action of appropriate behavior will help children be better people and teach them how to avoid conflicts, which reduces fighting. Etiquette also teaches respect, which should improve behavior in the classroom and increase students' academic success.
EW: What are the top five etiquette skills children need to know?
Williams: Appropriate and inappropriate behavior in public, respect for self and others, proper introduction skills, how to handle conflicts, basic table manners.
EW: How might a parent or teacher teach those skills?
Williams: Simple role-play exercises on respect and handling conflict usually prove to be most enlightening for students. Also, offering special privileges or small gifts for the best-behaved student each month reinforces those skills.
EW: Can you recommend any additional resources -- print or online -- that will help teachers and parents learn more about teaching etiquette to children?
Williams: They might check out Choosing Civility, by Dr. P.M. Forni, and How Rude! The Teenagers' Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out, by Alex Packer.
EW: What advice can you give teachers who want to teach their students etiquette and manners, but don't know where to begin?
Williams: I believe the best way to teach students is by example. The schools I have worked with have provided students with a total etiquette program. They have hired me, as a professional etiquette consultant, to train administrators, teachers, and other staff members in the rules of manners of etiquette. After the adults have been trained, I provide an overview of what students will be taught, so teachers will be able to reinforce what students have learned. I do not believe teachers should take on the responsibility of teaching etiquette to students. I do, however, believe that we should make sure that teachers not only know the rules of manners and etiquette, but also follow them each day in the classroom. Teachers should also make sure students follow the rules that they have been taught.
Parents and teachers should think back to the time when they were growing up. More than likely, their parents did not allow them to act inappropriately. When they did, they were reprimanded for it. We must help today's children understand that they are not in this world alone and that everyone matters. Our children's future and success will be enhanced by the use of appropriate behavior.
This e-interview with Linda Williams is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
For links to additional Education World articles on teaching manners in school, see Teaching Manners.