Saturday, January 23, 2010

Building Trust in the Classroom: An essential competency

Are you an educator that accepts you must earn the trust of your students? By contrast, do you expect students will enter your classroom inherently willing, ready, and able to trust they will be met by your good intentions and hard work? Research by Bryk and Schneider (2002) find schools with high trust levels are three times more likely to report gains in reading and math scores. Students that trust in their teachers are more willing to share interests, needs, and personal circumstances. Teachers can thereby use this information to make meaningful connections between students' lives and their learning. Our students who face the greatest challenges to effective education will benefit the most from building upon these connections. The result of this effort can be the difference between their successfully staying in school compared to failure and dropping out.
As educators, we must recognize our students will start each school year with a range of feelings about their teachers. Most of these feelings will have little to do with their personal experience with you. Rather, they will be greatly influenced by their past experience with other educators and adults. The reality is whenever students don't trust us, we must spend considerable time and effort dealing with the symptoms of their distrust, including defiant or disrespectful behavior, instead of the underlying issue. We should be alert to subtle cues that a student is struggling to trust. Otherwise, a lack of trust that remains unnoticed, unaddressed, or ignored will continue to undermine the educational process. Whenever educators exhibit an understanding that not all students enter school feeling trust for educators, they view trust as another competency that must be nurtured and developed in our students. Relational trust is a foundation for learning, teaching, and leading, which allows individuals to connect to the school community. Without this essential trust, an educator's efforts will produce only temporary results. Bill Gates (2005) notes teachers can create a trusting environment by focusing on the three Rs: relationships, relevance, and rigor.
When educators model caring, respectful relationships over time their students are thereby allowed to build trust with them. Educators begin fostering relationships with their students by helping students find personal meaning and relevance in the course material. Educators can further build effective student relationships by maintaining high expectations, even when students are struggling, thus showing your belief that they have what it takes to be successful.

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