How to build trust in the classroom

19th January 2014  |  by Greg

Let students know that you know what you’re doing

Imagine you’re going on a journey. You’re in the back of the car and you need a wee. Would you prefer the driver to know where they’re going or that they just muddle along, driving down dead-ends and getting lost?

Easy choice really, even if you don’t need a wee. This is how students feel about their teachers. They want to know that their learning leader knows where they’re going and knows what they’re doing. (Teachers want the same from school leaders too, by the way.)

So, how do the best teachers communicate that they know what they’re doing? It’s simple really. They’ve thought about stuff in advance.

I’ve mentioned this before, but airline pilots don’t wait until an engine blows to find out how to land a plane with only one engine. They groove their response in advance. The worst time to make a decision is in the middle of a stressful moment. Airline pilots aren’t allowed to fly planes on their own until they know how to respond in an emergency, without flapping. (Sorry.)

However, as teachers we can often enter turbulent times in dealing with behaviour, without the proper forethought on what to do.

Don’t read the aeroplane manual in the air

When we hesitate with our words because we haven’t planned our actions, we let students know that we don’t know what we’re doing. They lose faith in us; we lose their trust.

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen R. Covey cites the two key elements of building trust: character and capability. Which one is easier to change? I think it’s capability. Planning our response is an essential part of exemplifying our capability and increased capability allows us to more easily be ourselves, to be relaxed and positive, even when the circumstances might not be conducive to doing so. Therefore, increased capability can improve our character.

So, imagine another scenario in the classroom. We’ve planned our responses. It’s not a big flow chart on a piece of A3 paper. We simply decide on some responses; we choose some options. Just a few. We give ourselves some choices before we go into the situation. I’m not talking about imaginative punishments here, I’m talking about some sensible, measured responses. (I explain the difference between punishments and consequences here.)

Prepare your response and then prepare what you’ll say

The best practitioners prepare their response and prepare what they’ll say. When something happens in the classroom, they’ll respond quickly and consistently. They don’t fluff their lines. The lines are important because they help communicate the fact that they know what they’re doing. Part of the oft talked about presence of the teacher comes more from the clarity of their plan than anything else. With a plan in place, body language is softer, interactions are more relaxed and natural because, like a trained pilot, you’re not worried about an engine blowing.

Get yourself a script

Really, I mean it. Get some phrases that are just grooved for you. They should be phrases that fall out of your mouth without thinking, but not in a bad way. Make it like a journey you’ve done a thousand times before and you’ll show that you know what you’re doing and everything else you say will have more impact. (A shared, limited, school-wide script is even better.) Create the trust you need to build better relationships.

Looking for a good place to start? Try the free 50 Minute Behaviour Course.

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