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In Teachers We Trust: Can Kids Count on You?

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

(Updated: 12/2013)

A while back, I wrote a post about how a great school leader has the trust of those they lead. Here's a question for teachers: Do we have the trust of those we teach?

The bottom line and absolute truth is that humans -- whether adults or children -- don't learn if we don't trust. At our school sites, we want the administrators to trust we are doing our best in the classrooms and they want us to trust they are doing their best. (As we know, this isn't always the case.)

Children easily vibe when adults lack trust with each other, and they aren't blind to the hypocrisy of those same adults telling them to trust their teachers and fellow students.

That said, trust is not a given. It has to be earned. And in an interdependent relationship as the one a teacher has with his students, without trust, there is often only a stagnant environment. According to educational consultant and author of Trust Matters, Megan Tschannen-Moran, in a hierarchal relationship, those in power -- teachers, in the case of the classroom -- are responsible for building trust.

Keep it Real

We've all seen the videos at after-school meetings of the model teacher -- the ones that leave us thinking: "Maybe I should be more like that super bubbly teacher with the sweet voice?"

But if you're going to end up sounding like Glenda the Good Witch, don't do it. Sure, mix it up, and add a few new slogans to your repertoire of words of encouragement. But be you. The kids will feel more comfortable, and so will you. Kids can smell phony. (Remember Holden Caulfield?)

Don't Take it Personally

Children are not our peers so how can they hurt or offend us the way someone are own age can? I'm always surprised when a teacher colleague is "crushed" by something a student did, didn't do, or said. We would save ourselves so much heartache by not personalizing the acts and words of children.

Be Honest

If you make a mistake and the kids know it, admit it. When we are honest and model a little humility for students, the trust grows exponentially. An occasional "I'd like to apologize to the class" goes a long, long way. If you are open to admitting to a mistake, the students will also be much more open to doing so.

Be Reliable

If I space out and don't call a friend back for a day or two, it's not that big of a deal. If I don't collect a project on the due date, or if I forget to reserve that bus for the fieldtrip I promised, it can shatter hard-earned trust with students in a single blow.

When I was teaching at an urban school in a poor area, the students were accustomed to being let down by "the system." And truth was, in their eyes, I represented the system. If I didn't follow through on that museum trip I mentioned we'd take, their faces told me everything. The message was this: "See, you are just like the rest of them. What did we expect?"

Be Fair

If you allow the student with a B in your class an extra day to turn in her essay, and don't when the student with a D (who incessantly talks and drives you slightly nuts) asks for more time, then you are not being fair. Fair means all students getting the same rules, and exceptions to those rules. Believe me, if you move the line for one student, and not another, kids talk, and they find out. Unfair teachers are the most despised -- and the least trusted.

Don't Confuse the Two

I don't know if you fell prey to it those first couple of years teaching, but I sure did. I thought if they liked me, they'd respect me and of course, trust me. Surprisingly, trust and liking someone don't really have much to do with each other. According to Tschannen-Moran, "It is possible to like someone you do not trust and trust someone you do not especially like."

Remain Competent

Whenever you are able, go to professional developments to learn new strategies and technology to assist you in teaching all students -- gifted, struggling, and English learners.

Also, stay sharp with the content you teach. That may mean reading the Twilight series if you are a middle school English teacher, or practicing simulated experiments on the computer at home if you teach science.

How do you grow teacher-student relationships in your classroom? What are some tips you'd like to share for building trust with students? We can't wait to hear your ideas!

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

Comments (23)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Sharon B's picture

I read an idea in a parenting book the other day that I thought was really on point: we should talk to kids with the same level of respect that we'd use for our spouse, our religious leader, or our grandfather. When you think about it, there is really no reason to speak to kids more disrespectfully than any of these other important people! Can you imagine if the pastor from your church came over for dinner and spilled his milk? You would never say "I KNEW that was going to happen! I wish you could be responsible for just ONE second! Clean it up NOW!" Plus, this is a GREAT way to model how you expect students to talk to YOU, and each other! I am a school counselor, and am always amazed at how quickly kids, even the youngest ones, can sniff out genuine and authentic respect.

Marilou Couch's picture

After 30 plus years in the classroom I know that respect must be earned. My students must first realize that I respect them as students and individuals who have importance in my classroom. So many of our students daily deal with hardships that may sometimes make school appear to be inconsequential in the daily scheme of their lives. All students are gold, we just have to mine a bit deeper with some. I teach for very selfish reasons.... they help me remain young in my thoughts and attitudes, and teaching allows me to feel that I am playing a role in their development as responsible adults. I rejoice over their accomplishments and achievements and try to communicate how much pride I feel. Jessie Stuart said,"To teach is to touch a life." Daily I attempt to incorporate that attitude into my classroom.

Debby's picture

Your comments about Facebook caught my attention - about a month ago our administration "cautioned" us about being on Facebook and we "should not respond to students or former students at all" - as I was not on Facebook at the time, I heeded the advice. But this week a friend invited me to join Facebook and I did - with the administrator's comments nagging at the back of my mind. I did set preferences. Like you, I'm amazed at how many of my students and former students have friended me. Like you, it spoke to me of the level of trust I have with my students. I am cautious about how I reply but so often our students simply want to know that we value them and care about their lives both in and out of school.

I finally joined Facebook last summer and was amazed by the number of my students who have "friended" me! I think I'm close to 200! I check every night and try to comment on their posts that they think they're getting a cold, they had a terrible practice, they won their game, they got a high school on Bejeweled Blitz! I at least give them a quick

"Like" or "sorry!" as appropriate. I never comment on anything that seems to be personal! The next morning I might mention something I saw and they notice me noticing. One of my star students was very quiet and mopey one morning. If I'd not seen the night before that her brother had been in and out of the hospital several times the day before with severe asthma attacks, I would never have guessed the reason for state. We are not the friends of our students, but we need to be friendly![/quote]

teacherintheroom's picture

[quote]After 30 plus years in the classroom I know that respect must be earned.... [/quote]

I disagree. In the army, they teach recruits "you may not like the man but you must respect the rank". I believe that is a good model to follow. Respect should be given to all people regardless of whether or not it is deserved. What must be earned is trust hich then develops into a relationship. While I do not have your years of experience, this is what I have learned in my teaching experience.

I make sure my students treat me and each other with respect. Trust and a relationship develop out of the observance of this mutual respect, even when it is not necessarily deserved. When kids understand that even when they are horribly behaved, you will still treat them with respect, you gain their trust and develop a relationship with them. This provides a standard of behavior as an example for them to follow.

teacherintheroom's picture

In my first year of teaching, I was given the advice "rules without a relationship lead to rebellion". This is absolutely the truth. This article gives a very clear step by step plan to ensure developing trust from your students. This in turn will help develop a relationship with most students. Everybody benefits.

Emily Bayley-LeQuire's picture
Emily Bayley-LeQuire
Montessori preschool teacher 24 years, BA Early Ed, Master Student in Ed,

I am in complete agreement with the advice given in the Parenting magazine. I tell my parents ( I run a small preschool( would you say to a friend at lunch who wasn't quite finished or was looking for something in her purse, "if you don't hurry I am leaving without you!" or start counting 1 2 3 because you think she is taking too long gathering herself to leave? Yet parents talk to their kids that way if their child is taking too long to finish or is interested in looking at something, It is very disrespectful, there is no wonder why children as they grow up have a hard time respecting their parents. I believe that the "Golden Rule" applies to Children, ALSO!!! Pass it on!!!

lnelson's picture

Im a Pre-service teacher and this is my first time blogging. this article was great information that i can really use in my classroom. Trust is a huge favor and I have seen it where the teachers are the only ones they can trust because at home there is lack of it. being real and open to your student is a great way to gain their trust, just dont break it. along with the respect. and that goes along with them to make them understand that they have to earn trust and respect and it can be easily taking away by the action they choose to do. goes hand and hand with the teacher. i do plan to take with me some of the info in this to use to help me better understand my students and for them to better understand me. great bloogs everyone

Nicole Kirkpatrick's picture
Nicole Kirkpatrick
Kindergarten teacher from Illinois

As someone who is very new to "blogging" on an education website (or at all!), I was really interested to read your post about the idea of earning and keeping our student's trust. As I read your post, I felt a strong sense of agreement with everything that you wrote. I am a Kindergarten teacher and while it is not difficult to build trusting relationships with my students (5 and 6 year old children tend to trust to a fault!), I have learned that breaking that trust can be detrimental to the classroom atmosphere. I have, on more than one occasion, promised that we would listen to a particular CD during "centers" time or that we would make time to watch a cool clip on the Internet before we left school for the day...and then completely ran out of time and/or forgot. However, the students seldom forget and posts such as yours remind me that I need to reflect and improve upon on my "follow-through" on these seemingly menial promises because to my students, they are the building blocks of our foundation of trust. Once that trust is firmly established, we can move forward in our quest for learning. Thank you for the insight!

Danielle Forcier's picture
Danielle Forcier
Student/ Spec Education Tx

I have never really thought about how Trust as a whole, students trusting you, teachers trust in administrators and fellow teachers, affecting learning. However, this point is extremely true and important yet overlooked. I liked the fact that Adler pointed out that reliability is important in order to trust someone and that sadly students have been let down by so many. Being a teacher, we might be the only ones who those students can count on and the more we don't keep our words, the more the students might begin to give up on themselves. If we don't care then why should they. I want my students to be able to trust in me, trust in my dependability, and trust in my reliability of the resources I use with in the classroom and the fact that I want them to grow with knowledge. Awesome Blog, Thank you for making me think about learning from another aspect.

Dr. Mike Todd's picture
Dr. Mike Todd
Chief Learning Officer

Get access to a students trend data on state testing, progress monitoring assesment, or even grade distributions. Place the students name and data on an index card and sit down individually with that student. The student will see his/her name ONLY and their personal data. Discuss what the data says to you about their performance especially if there is discrepancy between school grades and testing results. The student may look at you weird the first time, but comes to realize they mean something to you other than just another student.

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