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Posts from the ‘Teacher Development’ Category

Bridging the Trust Gap

A global pandemic, a presidential election, racial injustices, virtual learning and social distancing, all contribute to a challenging fall. In this tense and polarizing environment, you may find it particularly difficult to establish positive relationships with your students. 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.

In my forthcoming book, Teaching with the HEART in Mind, I explore trustworthiness as one of the key elements in the development of positive and caring relationships in the classroom, so students can feel loved and supported and are given the opportunity to  reach their full potential. Take a look at this snippet and sign up to get an update on the book’s launch!


Creating a classroom where teachers trust students and students trust teachers 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 it?

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 emotions are signaling, “this is not okay,” which might cause 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? The answer to each of 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. The same is true the other way around; if a student doesn’t trust you, you will probably have a hard time trusting them.

Differences in social and cultural backgrounds and circumstances make it harder to trust others. For instance, BIPOC students and their families may have a hard time trusting their White teachers, given the existing institutionalized racism in U.S. schools. At the same time, White teachers may not be inclined to trust their BIPOC students due to their own bias and learned beliefs. This trust gap may hinder academic success for minorities—middle school students who lose trust in their teachers are less likely to attend college even if they generally had good grades, according to psychology research at The University of Texas at Austin. Without seeing these patterns, teachers will not be able to do the work to counter them and build authentic trust. We must recognize this challenge, and put in the work to break this cycle.

Differences in social and cultural backgrounds make it harder to trust others. This trust gap may hinder academic success for minorities.

4 Strategies to Earn Your Students’ Trust

  • Be honest. The way you show up for class affects your students’ emotions and their dispositions to learn. If you are upset or stressed, your students will be too; 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 doing something with or for your students, follow through.
  • Be coherent. Model the behavior you hope your students will display in class. Check your goals, classroom routines, and assignments; are they aligned? If you want students to show initiative, create opportunities for them 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 and classroom structures) as well as reliable (you’ll do what you say you’ll do).
  • See the humanity in all your students. You can foster genuine connections when you show students that you care. The emphasis here is not the caring (which I know you do), but the showing. Have you recently had a non-school-related chat with students who display challenging behaviors? Those informal conversations can go a long way in furthering your efforts to give and earn your students’ trust. Celebrate students’ accomplishments (big and small), and persevere in getting to know them. Show that you care for them without conditions; every student knows you care 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 supportive learning environments. Trust is both given and earned: we need to trust our students, so they can trust us. Be honest and coherent, examine your bias, build bridges to know your students and see their humanity. Try these strategies, and drop me a note to tell me how they worked!

Equity Centered SEL

Based on popular demand, I will be sharing one resource that can help you center your SEL work in equity in each post. While the 3 bridges to an equity centered SEL can be a starting point to understand the necessary shifts, the work is complex and we will need to pull as many resources as possible to make this work happen.

This Social, Emotional and Academic Development Through an Equity Lens report from Ed Trust is a great resource that shares BIPOC focus group data and provides practical recommendations for research and practice.

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Hard on Barriers

My friend and colleague Michael Eatman, coach and founder of Culture7, said on a panel exploring the emotions of racial inequity, “you have to be soft on people, and hard on barriers.” As we are all trying to engage with the current events and find ways to be helpful, this is an important message—we have to focus on fighting racism and inequity, while supporting people to wake up. 

These unprecedented times call for the SEL field to consider how the social and emotional skills that we hold dear can serve as a vehicle to listen, question our own biases and learned beliefs, and transform this reality with a clear sense of purpose. You can use SEL to fight racism, remove barriers for learning, and develop your own social and emotional capacity. At this time, it is also necessary to use SEL principles and practices to dismantle systemic inequities and stand up for justice.  Read more

3 Things to Grow a Resilient Heart

Last week I spoke with HITN Learning about how moms can nurture their resilience to deal with these challenging times (if you missed the conversation, check out the video.) During the event, I asked these moms “how are you feeling?” and was not surprised to read their answers—overwhelmed, anxious, scared… and the most popular: stressed.   Read more

Purpose Builds Resilience

A few years back, I agreed to help organize an “SEL Day” at a local school. The organizing team did not seem to have a clear objective for the event, but I agreed anyway thinking that I could be of help. As the team started making decisions about the event, I became increasingly frustrated—I thought there were better ways to present information, engage the participants or select speakers. Since I did not want to question the group’s decisions, I became disengaged and lost interest. Then, as we were getting closer to the day of the event, I realized that I had forgotten the very reason why I had agreed to support this initiative: I wanted to support this group in pursuing something that was important to them, and that aligned with my own values. Read more

Making Space for Every Story

There are many stories that find no light in mainstream media; many books, movies, and pieces of art that will never be seen or appreciated, even less paid for. As a society, we choose the stories that are worth sharing and celebrating, and ignore the rest. In many cases, these unheard stories come from people who have been discriminated against because of their race, gender, social class, home language, ability, or sexual orientation amongst others. This prompts us to question—who is telling the story and who is in charge of the narrative. Read more

SEL Starts with the Adults

The importance of supporting young children’s social and emotional growth in early learning settings, such as child care centers and preschools, is well established. It is part of their “core business”, something they do day in and day out. There is, however, an important aspect of SEL that is not considered part of this work—the need to support early childhood educators’ social and emotional capacity. Read more

Doing the Work that Matters

Working with educators is probably the favorite part of my job. They are committed, passionate and courageous. They want to get better at teaching, because they care about their students’ wellbeing and success. They are a force for good. Read more

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