After several months into the school year, you might find that you have established positive relationships with most of your students… but maybe not all of them. Although, as educators, we care deeply about our students, there are certain relationships that may be more challenging and require a bit more work. In my experience, there is one ingredient that allows for honest communication, a sense of respect towards each other, maybe even a shared purpose. Do you know what it is? It’s trust. Trust is at the heart of any successful relationship.
Creating a classroom where teachers trust students (and the other way around!) has many benefits: students are more likely to improve their academic performance, more willing to follow class rules and more likely to engage with the content and ask questions. In addition, there are several studies that show how when teachers trust their students, their pedagogy changes. For example, teachers share more control of the classroom with students or are more likely to engage in constructivist practices or differentiate instruction. Teachers’ trust in students also plays a crucial role in students’ social integration and sense of belonging in school. But… what is trust? And how can we give and earn trust?
Trust is something that you feel; it is an emotion, a basic human signal that helps us survive and thrive. When we don’t trust a person, our emotion is signaling “this is not okay”, which might take us to disengage, ignore the person or fight back. Try to remember a boss or a colleague that you didn’t trust. Were you able to fully express yourself? Did you feel safe in the relationship? Did this person trust you back? The answer to these questions is probably no. Trust is reciprocal and also contagious. If you don’t trust your students, you’ll rarely gain trust FROM them, and the other way around. If a student doesn’t trust you, you will probably have a hard time trusting him or her. But don’t worry, there are things that you can do to break this cycle!
Strategies to Earn Your Students Trust
- Be Honest. The way you show up in class affects your students’ emotions and their disposition to learn. If you are upset or stressed, your students will be too. Remember when we talked about Teaching is an Emotional Practice? Emotions are contagious. Being honest also means avoiding gaps between what you say and what your students perceive. Check for understanding, and when you commit to do something with/for your students, do it!
- Be Coherent. Model the behavior you hope your students display in class. Check your goals, classroom routines and assignments: are they aligned? If you want students to show initiative, make it possible for students to make choices about how they learn. If you encourage students to provide feedback, do something with it! Being coherent means that you are consistent (in your expectations, classroom structures, etc.) and reliable, you’ll do what you say you’ll do.
- Treat ALL students as people. You can foster genuine connections when you show students that you care. The emphasis here is not in caring (which I know you do!), but in showing Have you recently had a non-school related chat with students that display challenging behaviors? Those informal conversations can go a long way in your efforts to give and earn your students’ trust. Celebrate students’ accomplishments (big and small) and persevere in getting to know them. Show care without conditions: everybody gets it just by being in your classroom.
- Trust Yourself. Trust starts with you! In order to trust your students, you need to trust yourself first. Even when you make mistakes or things don’t go as you had planned, show yourself some compassion. Have faith in yourself.
Trust is at the heart of any successful relationships and a key ingredient for positive learning environments. Trust is both given and earned: we need to trust our students, so they can trust us. Be honest and coherent, and treat all your students as people. Have faith that whatever small step you take to improve trust in your classroom, your students will greatly benefit from it.