Building trust with students helps create a stronger emotional bond with you and your subject matter.
Tips for School & District Administrators

Building Trust is the Foundation of Getting Children to Learn

By Brian Gatens

Children can certainly be silently compliant as you go about your work in the classroom. That doesn’t mean they’re learning anything.

Students have to develop a sense of trust in you — and in what you’re asking them to do. When they know you want the best for them and that your subject matter is important (and if you don’t think it is, you may need to reconsider your subject area), they’ll begin to invest more time and energy into the classroom.

Your trust in them becomes reciprocal: It helps them become more than willing to follow along as you work with them. Here are some of the best ways to build trust in your classroom:

Stay consistent

Growing up, I knew a college basketball coach relatively well. When the team was winning, he was all smiles — playful and having a great time with the players. A few consecutive losses, however, made him annoyed, irritable and unapproachable.

What I learned from him and other coaches and teachers was that the most trusted people have the most consistent attitude and behavior. This doesn’t mean they have to be nice or friendly. One could be a bit grouchy or standoffish, but the key (and this is where trust plays a role) is to be the same person every day.

Children won’t trust people who keep them off-balance. Work hard to be conscientious in your attitude, and strive to be the same person each day.

Always be supportive and confident

Children tend to make errors, and your reaction to those errors will either bring them closer to your work or push them farther away. As hard as it may be (especially when a child makes a rather striking error), always show them support and confidence.

Offer them an opportunity to try again, but help them to make the necessary changes to succeed. Rather than downplay their error, reinforce that everyone makes mistakes and that you’re ready to help them do a better job next time.

Listen well

Don’t do all the talking. Children need to process aloud what they’re thinking and feeling. Students will trust you when they know your ear will always be available. This may require incredible patience on your end, but it will be appreciated.

For many children, talking things through is the only way to solve a vexing problem. And for that to happen, all you have to do is pay attention. If asked for direct advice, suggest — but don’t tell — a course of action. Relate the dilemma to a personal situation and how you were able to address it. Children trust those who are willing to share their personal experiences.

Flash a broad smile

An axiom of good teaching is that it’s okay to “be friendly, but don’t be a student’s friend.” That means it’s also okay to offer your students a broad smile from time to time. Your students need to know you like and respect them (even though they may try your patience from time to time), and the best way to develop that trust is due in large part to the body language you use.

A hearty laugh and a broad smile are wonderful ways to draw children closer to you, and therefore open them up to want you need to teach them.

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