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Building Trust is Critical to the Learning Community

Here are examples of what it looks like for a student and teacher to trust one another

1. Teacher asks for student feedback on a regular basis

Soliciting verbal feedback several times during each class period. What does this show? That the teacher really cares about what the students think; that the teacher values their input; that what they say will make a difference.

"Did everyone understand what I just said? If you did not understand, don't be afraid to tell me. No one is perfect; not even teachers"

If students do not understand, then I frequently will explain it again, but then ask another student to help me.

"George, can you help me explain it to Christine?"

2. Teacher never allows students to lose face

Never ridiculing students no matter what the answers are. What does this show? It shows respect for students has human beings; it shows that the teacher cares about them.

"That's definitely a creative answer to that question. How did you come up with that answer?

"Can someone add to George's answer?"

Greeting students when they come into the classroom as though they were friends. What does this show? It shows that the teacher really cares about them as students; it shows respect for them and their interests.

"So how was your weekend?"

"Did anyone see XY movie this weekend?"

"What did you think of the TV show on ABC last night?"

Students who have been sick or absent are addressed as though they were friends

"Christine, how are you feeling? I see you were out for the last few days?"

"I am sorry to hear about your leg injury."

Students who are tardy are not punished or humiliated. They are simply asked to be on time. What does this show? This shows respect for the student to make an intelligent choice as to why they are late. If an adult walked into a classroom late, no one would ever comment on it. In the same way, I do not comment on late students. After class or even on the phone in the evening, I will call the student and talk to them about their tardiness, if it is a problem. A typical comment looks like this:

"Was there something special happening at brunch today that made you late?"

"I hate to start without all of you here so could you make an effort to be on time."

I make it clear that they are missing out and they are hurting themselves and the group by missing out. After awhile, most students will make a serious effort to be on time. The fact that I trust them to come on time and that I do not penalize them by getting the administration involved is one of the first steps in building trust. Often when students come late, but they will not lie, but say things like "My friend was really upset and I wanted to help her." It is the beginning of a relationship based on mutual respect. While it isn't pleasant having students come late, it is worth the tradeoff and as time goes on, very few students are late.

3. Teacher shares stories about her past life and her present life

I frequently tell stories about what I was like when I was a teenager, and I was no angel. Most people were not angels, but most people refuse to divulge that information. I tell them about my failures as well as my successes. They love to listen to the stories and they feel honored and respected that I want to talk with them.

4. Teacher laughs with her students on a regular basis, never at her students

Teenagers and their antics are really funny and I have a wildly developed sense of humor. I laugh with them all the time and I also tell crazy funny stories from time to time. Everyone appreciates a sense of humor and it is especially important in high school teaching where the stress levels are incredibly high. Students are being pressured by their parents, their peers, the school, the church, the community, and themselves. They can either cry or laugh and I try to help them laugh.

5. The students learn about the laws of the press in Beginning Journalism and then in Advanced Journalism, I trust them to follow these laws. I do not censor their work unless it is libelous, incites students to riot or obscene, but I expect them to censor themselves in these three areas.

This is really the heart of the program. I trust students to come up with good story ideas, to write good stories, to edit their own stories and to censor themselves. While I do not overtly censor everything, I do read over their shoulders and read all the material covertly. If I find something problematic, I will wait for them to bring it to my attention. If nothing happens and they fail to do so, which has rarely happened, then I will step in and take action. I see my role as that of an advisor or coach which means that they only have to accept my advice when they are breaking the law; otherwise, it is simply advice.

6. The way teachers address students can be demeaning. Students learn what they live. There is a well known poem that I have always found helpful and inspirational:

If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn
If a child lives with hostility, he learn to fight

If a child lives with ridicule, he learn to be shy.
If a child lives with shame, he learns to be guilty.

If a child lives with tolerance, he learn to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.

If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.

If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval, he leans to like himself.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,
He learns to find love in the world.

I try to treat students with encouragement and approval regularly so that they will be confidence and like themselves. That is the key to being successful in life.

© 2002 - Esther Wojcicki - Email: thewoj@hotmail.com