Building Teacher-Student Trust

Trust between teacher/instructor and the class is an interesting issue to ponder. Younger students are easy. As yet, most have no reason not to trust a teacher to help them learn. Older kids, on the other hand, come to class lacking trust in their instructor. Many have had negative experiences with teachers, and basically challenge the teacher to prove to them that he/she is worthy of trust. The same students also tend to make it difficult for a teacher to act in such a way as to earn trust.

So where does the trust start? It has to start with the educator.

But what is it that the whole issue of trust is about? How can the educator know where to start?

That’s easy. The educator needs to start by respecting every student in his/her class, regardless of the stories that precede the student into the room.

Here’s the hard part. The educator should assume that there is something good about the student from Hell, and find that good no matter how small that bit of positive energy is, or how hard it is to find. No matter how many times that student disrespects the teacher, the educator must ignore the negativity and keep looking for the positive. In addition, the teacher must do so for every student in the class while maintaining a positive outlook, generating ownership of the class by the students, and trying to come up with new and interesting activities or anecdotes to share with students so they stay (or get) involved in their own learning.

The bottom line is that, if the educator does not open up and offer trust, many students in the class will remain closed up and learn little–if they learn anything at all. Often, this is the sort of experience that causes teachers to burn out or lose hope. For those educators who continue to look for the positive in older students, however, the rewards are great–often translating into decades in the classroom with a reputation for excellent lessons instead of just two or three years and a reputation for not caring enough.

Interestingly, the teacher does not have to be a fascinating talker or presenter. The teacher can have terrible elocution skills and still become a favorite, and from whom students learn. It’s the caring and the continual strife for improvement that holds the students’ interest. It’s the fact that the teacher cares about what the students want to learn, or is willing to try means by which the students say they learn better. It’s the teacher’s work toward ensuring each students’ educational growth that earns him/her respect. Once there is respect, the foundation for trust has been laid.


Give the Class to the Students!!

What??? Give the class to the students?? What does that mean?

Giving the class to the students gives them a sense of ownership in the class and its contents. To give the students the class, a teacher does not just sit back and let the students do as they please. Instead, the teacher talks about what the official expected outcomes are for the class, what he/she would like to cover, and what the students would like to include. As long as some of the students’ input is included in the class curriculum, they will be more apt to put forth more effort for all the academic units. Also, this type of discussion lets students know the types of constraints the teacher has.

If a teacher is reluctant to include students’ input into the curriculum, he or she might consider asking students to rate his/her teaching and the content at the end of each class. The informal survey might also include a place for students to offer suggestions for improvement or for types of activities. For the first minute or two of the next class, the teacher might read some of the suggestions, including outrageous ones. For example, make a joke out of the response that suggests that the class be taught at the local fast food restaurant, discussing the quality of the food. However, suggestions the teacher might work with should be read aloud (even discussed), and the implementation of the idea(s) should be as soon as reasonably possible–preferably that day or the next.

Try this, and you will be amazed at how quickly even the doubting students begin to participate more actively in class discussions and activities. The teacher may also notice that complaints about the activities decline. (Students are reluctant to criticize activities suggested by others for fear that their own ideas may be laughed at.)

Giving students this much ownership in the class does not in any way interfere with the curriculum. English teachers may suddenly find that the students are as tired of the “teaching to the English skills” part of the curriculum as they are, and that the students would much prefer to learn from doing rather than through dry exercises involving parsing sentences.

Any time the students feel that a class or classroom belongs to them at least as much as to the teacher, they become more interested in learning. Or maybe they just open up enough to be willing to learn just a little…

Clearly, allowing the students to own the class involves a lot of trust–first on the part of the teacher, and then on the parts of the students. Tomorrow, I’ll talk a little about building trust between teacher and class.


I would love both pro and con input. Student ownership of their education is an important concept that needs to be discussed. Please post your comments!


Why Do Students Follow Their Own Rules?

In yesterday’s post (Who Writes the Class Rules), I talked about having students write the rules for their class. However, I did not talk about why this is important. Why would students follow their own rules when they break school rules? How different are student-written rules from faculty/administration-written rules?

Students follow their own rules because they came up with them. These rules may not differ qualitatively from the longer lists that adults would write, but they are owned by the students. The students understand what the rules are and what they mean because the rules came from within themselves.

Ownership for students–for any of us, actually–should include not only the rules, but also the class. When students own the class, they are more apt to participate and learn. Tomorrow, I will talk about how to “give” a class to the students.

Please share any comments, ideas, and experiences below. Thanks for sharing my thoughts!

By the way, there are two comments from readers on yesterday’s blog–both relate to classes, but one also addresses the idea of participatory “ownership” in business.