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Posts from the ‘Teacher development’ Category

Where did trust go? Strategies to earn your students’ trust

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.

Preparing for Difficult Conversations

There is no education without ethics. This is the way my former Philosophy professor, Joan-Carles Mèlich, started each class. As I was getting trained to become a teacher, this was a powerful reminder of the responsibility I had as an educator with my students. I had to carefully consider how my relationship with children and youth could serve as a tool for positive change or, on the contrary, as a way to maintain the status quo. As educators, we have choices in the ways we discuss expressions of racial and religious hatred, like the recent events in Charlottesville (US), or analyze the response to NFL players kneeling during the US anthem. There is no education without ethics.

Educators should anticipate students to want to discuss these events or others affecting their lives. Although it might be uncomfortable at times, it is worth having these meaningful conversations with students. My hope is that, as schools embrace SEL implementation, educators will create the conditions for students to understand each other, celebrate their differences and make positive choices for themselves and their communities.  

There are many free resources available that may be helpful in having these difficult conversations in the classroom. This is a complete list shared by CASEL, which includes links to resources developed after the August 2017 conflict in Charlottesville, free lessons to discuss DACA from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility and how to discuss #takeaknee from Teaching Tolerance. But before you start planning how to address these topics with your students, it might be helpful to reflect on how you can prepare yourself to have these conversations in the classroom.

Let’s use the Six Seconds model to help us clarify our feelings, thoughts and actions. First, think about a recent event (it could be one of these or others affecting your student population) that you would like to discuss with your students. Then, take a piece of paper and answer the following questions:

1. What do I feel? Write down 2 or 3 feelings that emerge when you think about this particular event. Think about the different actors in the story. Do they generate the same feelings? Add to your list if new feelings emerge. Now go a step further – think about your own bias. Can you identify how your background and past experiences affect your feelings about this particular event? Does the event trigger any reactions?

2. What options do I have? Write down the different actions that you could take based on answers to number 1. What actions are your emotions encouraging you to take? You might want to ignore that these events are happening, because the feelings are so uncomfortable (fly response). Or you might not know what to do or even how to start unpacking the event for your students. Now, look at the different options and ask yourself if they are appropriate (for yourself, for others). What are the pros and cons of the different alternatives? Are these options treating others with fairness and respect, even when you don’t agree with them? If you could look at this event with an optimistic lens, how would you present it to your students? Write it down.

3. What do I really want? This is a simple question that is often very difficult to answer! Think about your purpose. What is it that you are really trying to teach your students? What do you hope your students learn from this event and its consequences? If you were true to your purpose, what would you do? Write it down. Now summarize in one sentence what your immediate next step is.

After going through this exercise, do you have more clarity about what to do? I hope you do. Now, go ahead! Look at the list of resources and plan how you will address these topics with your students. Refer back to your feelings, your choices and your purpose to inform your decisions. At the core, Social Emotional Learning is finding in ourselves those elements we are hoping our students learn and carry with them as we’re building a more equitable and just society.

Ready For Summer?

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

3 Key Lessons on Empathy

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

Are You Listening?

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

Focus on Yourself to Nurture Positive Relationships

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

Why Do You Believe Your Inner Critic?

“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…”.
Read more

Got Anger?

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

The Courage to Teach More than “Little Virtues”

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

3 Ways to Improve Your Trainings

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

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