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.
I’m heading to Spain this summer to visit my family (short trip to Portugal to attend the 6th International Congress on Emotional Intelligence and present my latest research with school principals). I look forward to seeing my kids playing on the beach where I grew up and nurturing their love for swimming, sand and ice cream! I also look forward to spending time away from my computer, reconnecting with family and friends, and getting (re)energized. Summer is such a special time of the year. It brings the necessary pause from the daily routines, the opportunity to rest and recharge, and the mental space to look into the future with optimism and hope. Read more
I did the last internship for my teaching credential in a rural town in Nicaragua, volunteering at a local NGO – Los Pipitos – that supported children with disabilities. During my time there, I worked alongside a promotora de salud (community health professional), Martha; the most patient human being I have ever met, I learned everything I know about empathy from her. Read more
When I was a kid, I became fascinated with the story of Momo by Michael Ende. Have you read it? Momo is a little girl of mysterious origin with an extraordinary ability to listen – really listen. I remember reading the book and wondering, how does she do it? Can I really listen that way too?
She listened in a way that made slow-witted people have flashes of inspiration. It wasn’t that she actually said anything or asked questions that put such ideas into their heads. She simply sat there and listened with the upmost attention and sympathy, fixing them with her big, dark eyes, and they suddenly became aware of ideas whose existence they had never suspected. Momo could listen in such a way that worried and indecisive people knew their own minds from one moment to the next, or shy people felt suddenly confident and at ease, or down-hearted people felt happy and hopeful. Read more
The relationships that children and youth establish with adults are critical for a healthy social and emotional development. When students and teachers establish positive, caring relationships, students are more likely to use their teachers as resource to solve problems, engage in learning activities, and better navigate the demands of school (Williford & Sanger Wolcott, 2015). Researchers have found that high-quality relationships between students and teachers are linked with students’ academic and social-emotional outcomes. Read more
“I’ll never be able to make these kids learn or behave appropriately. They just don’t listen! If I don’t get them to master the content, I am in trouble. Tests are around the corner… what If I loose my job? I’m not good at this… actually I am really bad at teaching. What if I just quit and forget about all of this? But then, I’ll never be able to find a job that I enjoy…”.
A few years back, my principal and I had an argument about some testing that needed to get done. From my classroom, a remodeled closet above the gym, I could hear her heels coming towards my class… I started sweating and my heart was pounding; she was not even there yet, and I was already getting angry again! My mind was quickly building a catalog of all the situations where there had been tension between us, which made me even angrier. The conversation did NOT start with “I hear what you are saying…” and there were some passive aggressive remarks made… by me. Fortunately, we were able to work through the issue and made a plan to solve the problem. When she left, I felt so relieved. Read more
I recently read an excerpt from Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg that has stayed with me for weeks. Born in an anti-fascist Italian-Jewish family in 1916, Ginzburg lived through a lot before she turned fifty. Her ideas about teaching children are still meaningful today, and they help us to reflect on what we want for our students. Read more
Summer is a time for educators to rest, rejuvenate, maybe travel and spend time with friends and family. But many teachers use their break to do what they love most: teaching. They change their kindergarteners or teenagers for adults to provide professional development workshops for other educators. Technology in the classroom, differentiation, mindfulness… you name it! Professional development for teachers should be experiential, collaborative, grounded on the practice and closely connected to students’ needs. It should also consider that teachers might show resistance to change. Easy, right? Well, not really. Read more