We all know first impressions can be one of the biggest ways to build culture, fill the trust account, and develop structures that blossom. On the other side of the coin, people can sense whether or not we are genuine and often look to see what our values are. You can build and strengthen your impression and structure with others. As educators, it is a critical time for our students. We want to not only provide insight on who we are personally, but we want to find ways to understand and connect to all of our students. On top of all that, our moves are being watched carefully as parents and families entrust us with the care of their most precious entity.
Sharing Ourselves and Developing Culture
In order for others to truly see who we are, we have to provide windows of opportunities for them to see our likes and dislikes. This begins building the bridge of connection between us. These bonds provide a framework for relationships that build buy-in and truly allow us to do what we all long to do. Our desire is to create lasting relationships that provide opportunities to coach students into lifelong learners with strong intrinsic skills. Personally, this has never been better illustrated for me than in my first few years of teaching. I remember taking over a class one year, and I had a particularly difficult group of students. Their work ethic was low, engagement was a struggle, and cursing and horseplay were the classroom theme. I was not going to live like that. I did not come into teaching to be in a classroom where students weren’t learning, and we were all frustrated every day. It was up to me to get to work. I began to set in place cultural structures that changed my classroom. This produced strong learners that were internally motivated. Some things I put in place were:
- Take the time every day to have one or more one-on-one conversations with the students about things other than school. (Pro Tip: Utilize these interests in instruction)
- Provide an opportunity for the students to share their writing and creation every day.
- Provide a morning meeting or some sort of structure for the students to connect their life to the classroom work.
- Use many personal examples throughout the day. (Remember to take every opportunity to share your life.)
- Show pictures of your family, dogs, and other personal things.
- Encourage your students to bring in pictures of family or pets to share.
- Survey your students, and find ways to incorporate their opinions where appropriate.
What did all of this do? My students began to thrive! Not only did their overall reading and writing increase, but they worked hard in class. These focused students were writing multiple pages at a time and asking for writing contests. One year later, one of my students came back and found me. He went out of his way to describe how well he was doing in school and even reminded me of specific skills I had taught him. Showing our human side and seeing our students wholly, connects us with our students. This allows us to truly develop a powerful relationship together. The relationships we build are strengthened by the trust we create.
Structuring Your Classroom for Trust
Our trust in life is dependent on the structures around us and the confidence we have in others to provide consistent predictable patterns of behavior. You can be confident that if you put your money in a bank, it will most likely be there when you go back to access it. This is because we have trust that the banking organization consistently sets structures in place to ensure that our money is safe from people that intend harm. This is brought to us by consistent experiences where we have either directly or indirectly seen money in our account after we have put it there. We are sending the same message of trust to our students when we set limits and keep them. When we put empathetic consequences in place for them (when they are rude, negative, exhibit poor attitudes or don’t work to their full potential), they trust we will do the same for others. When all students are being held to a high standard consistently and lovingly, this provides everyone with a safe environment. All of this creates a culture that leaves room for mistakes and questions while encouraging deep thinking. We have to consistently follow through on what we say we are going to do. Always remember, students will rise or fall to the expectations we set for them. When we provide limits for our students, they will trust us and we can begin to trust them. Imagine a room where you are able to trust your students to be self-motivated and grow with your thoughtful coaching. Here are a few ways to begin and deepen your trust culture:
- Arrange your classroom so you can easily get to each one of your students.
- Provide your students with genuine praise about the processes they are using. (Pro Tip: If students are averse to praise, just “notice” things without judgement)
- Share classroom rules that were generated with the students. (Pro Tip: This should contain both teacher and student expectations)
- Give the students classroom jobs and responsibilities.
- Delay consequences if necessary but ALWAYS follow through.
- Be consistent in your tone and manner.
- Always work from the belief that all interactions around behavior are meant to teach students to change that behavior.
- Teach and reteach expectations.
- Show true love and empathy for your students in all interactions.
Setting the tone for our classroom is a finely tuned mixture of strong procedures, consistency, sharing a personal connection, and building trust. When we consciously strive towards each of these pieces, our students will become part of a life changing culture in our rooms. We are the thermostat in our room. It is up to us to move the temperature in a way that is productive for all. When students truly understand how much we care and are invested in them, their response is exponential! It is time for us to look ahead and be intentional about setting things in place. This demonstrates proper care and attention to these pieces. They are the kindling in the fire igniting a passion for learning in us all.