As dedicated, passionate professionals, we all want to improve our relationships with the students we teach in class each day. Most of us entered our profession hoping to build trusting, positive relationships with our students to help them to meet their potential and realize their dreams. But building trustful, personal relationships isn’t easy in today’s crowded classroom with curriculum to teach, standards to meet, and tests to prepare for. Often, it seems there is barely enough time to reflect before another day begins and the cycle of planning, teaching, grading, and assessment begins again.
What can you as a busy teacher do to improve and develop relationships of greater trust with your students despite the demands of a full teaching schedule and a desk full of grading? Below are 7 trust-building practices that you can apply in class right now to build trust with your students and deepen your relationship with your class that won’t encroach on your instruction time and take only moments each day to do.
Try Your Best
Your students need to trust that you can teach them what they need to learn. Every lesson you teach is another chance to prove to your students that you can lead them where they need to go to reach their goals. Show them you are a competent professional through your passion, preparation, and effort. If you need to, professional development can help you to stay relevant in your teaching methods and techniques and keep abreast of new trends in education. Don’t be afraid to tell your students you are a learner, too. They will appreciate your honesty!
Be careful not to make promises to your students you can’t keep. It may be an honest mistake that prevents you from keeping your word, but your students may see it as hypocrisy. Establish a classroom routine and set of rules and stick to them, and make sure classroom rules and behavior expectations apply equally to all students in your class, every day of the year.
Don’t lie to your students. Kids have an uncanny knack for sniffing out dishonesty. Share your feelings and concerns over their behavior, or new lesson or assessment ideas that you want to try. Knowing that you worry sometimes will show them that you care about them and your professional practice. To be vulnerable with others requires true strength and bravery.
Give Students Voice
Trust needs to be given for it to be returned. Whenever possible, give students a chance to exert control over their learning and classroom. For many students, the trust you place in them will be a much appreciated breath of fresh air and freedom. They will respect your belief in them and appreciate the chances you give them. Don’t worry! They won’t disappoint you!
Respect and Protect Them
Of course we owe our fellow educators professional respect and the benefit of the doubt when they raise concerns about our students, but whenever possible, advocate for and defend your students. Go to bat for them and prove to them that you are on their side. They will appreciate that an adult role model is willing to put themselves on the line to defend them.
A learning community is united in its pursuit of learning. Don’t be afraid to let your students know if you don’t have the answer. Challenge them to research and teach a mini-lesson on a topic that interests the class. Get to know the your students' parents and get their advice and input. Share the lead.
Whenever possible, share the same space as your students. Between classes or during lunch breaks, open your classroom door or take time to walk the halls around your classroom. Take an interest in the hobbies and extra-curricular pursuits of your students. Ask about the video game they’re playing or the music they are listening to. Listen actively to what they say and remember. If you see the same student a few days later, recall your conversation with them. They will feel valued and respected if you do.
With all the challenges that today’s teachers face, it is easy to lose track of what is really important in building our professional relationships with our students. Simple actions like the ideas above are all it takes to start down the path to building more trusting and authentic relationships with the students in your class today.
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 18 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.