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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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
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Comments (23)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

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Jane S. Hancock's picture

Be open with your students and make that openness a two-way street. Know all their names as quickly as you can and prove that you know them by using their names--in the hallway as well as in the classroom. Share parts of your own life so they feel comfortable sharing parts of theirs.

I found that each time I shared something about my own life, different students, depending upon what I shared, became more at ease with me--and with that ease comes trust.

How do students know they can trust you? I remember once hearing one student say to another, "Mrs. Hancock doesn't lie." How did he know that? How would they know that about you? From your words and your actions. Yes, build trust and build it from Day One.

Paige's picture

Our children spend a great deal of time with their teachers. I think this article outlines clear and concise instructions on how to gain trust and how to have more control over the classroom. online-casino

Terri Browning's picture
Terri Browning
HS Language Arts from Oxford, Kansas

I wish more of us could view ourselves from the eyes of our students. We complain sometimes when a student doesn't complete an overnight homework assignment because they had a basketball game the night before with a 90 minute drive to get there and another to return home. Another had to work all evening. Some teachers don't see those as "good" excuses. Yet when they don't return graded assignments the next day as promised, it's because "I have a life outside of school! I had to...." fill in the blank. We must remember that students have lives too and we HAVE to model what we expect. As you said, that trust once lost is very difficult to regain!

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!

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