Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Four ways I Increase Trust in my School

 Trust No One Arm Tattoo | by Lynn Friedman
I scoured the internet for a photo denoting trust. I found the expected images of people in suits falling backward and many versions that call to Trust No One. I know that calling to trust no one is popular, it lives up to our myth of the lone cowboy. I disagree.

I argue that schools must operate on trust. When trust is deemed broken, we get an adversarial system. Public school accessible to all cannot function without trust. Trust does not mean that no mistakes happen. It does not mean there are no legitimate concerns. Instead, it means that everyone agrees to work toward the best interest of children as the agreed upon principle. Yes, we may differ on how we think we should get there. But, once we fail to see our common goal it is almost impossible to move forward.

I see educational systems that lack this very fundamental ingredient. Teachers do not trust their students they always think that they are cheating somehow. The administration is not trusting teachers, so it creates a convoluted system of rules and regulations. We see it in technology integration. Teachers finding it hard to trust students with devices (we need a way to see what students are doing). Districts are not trusting teachers and students (you cannot have access to YouTube, teachers cannot download apps).

I can complain about the ways trust is not around me. Th truth is that I have to start with myself. Trust is hard to implement with my students and easy to demand from colleagues and supervisors. It is a function of power, I have power over my students, so it is easy to avoid trust. I have no power over colleagues and supervisors, so I ask for trust. But for trust to be real it has to go in all directions regardless of power. I see it as a process, not a destination. I have four ways I work on trust:

1. Create a community. Trust has to start with a community. When I get to know others (parents, students, colleagues), I establish the foundation for trust. It is hard for me to trust someone I do not know. It gets much easier when I know them when I know we share some goals and values. Of course, community and trust are linked in a reciprocal relationship. When a community grows so does, trust and when trust grows so does community. One way I create community in my classroom is by sharing things about myself and in turn learn about my students. I bring food when I feel we are ready for it, breaking bread does wonders to create a community, to humanize.

2. Build trust in my classroom first. I think that building community and trust must start with our immediate community- our classroom. It is the best next step because our classroom is the place we get to shape as we wish. It also is a great place to start because it is the easiest place to disregard trust. Trust is hard, and we need to challenge ourselves to trust before we ask parents, colleagues, and administrators to trust us. Creating trust in the classroom reminds me, sometimes daily, how hard it is to think positively and give the benefit of the doubt. One way I practice trust is to avoid looking through the viewership statistics my LMS collect about student behavior online. I choose to trust that my students use the materials. I know they do not all do it- but I have learned that nothing good comes from using the data for accountability. It creates a big brother community where students feel I am spying on them. I believe it would create a climate of fear and compliance. I do not mean that I am gullible and refuse to look at the facts. Instead, I find that open and honest discussion that uphold community values (e.g. learning, honesty) lead to better outcomes and to students who will strive to build their classrooms as communities of trust.

3. Foster trust. I work to prove that I can be trusted. I start with treating my students treated the way I would like to be treated. When I work with colleagues, I do my best to meet my obligations.The difficulty in enacting trust in my classroom adds to my understanding of they ways others find it hard to trust me. I know what colleagues and administrators feel like because it is the same way I feel toward my students. For me, in the university setting it rose when I was asked technical questions about the dissertation process. My response was: "we trust the committee to guide students. As a result, we do not want to create regulation and rules that replace trust".

4. Use the language of trust. I believe that we have to be explicit about it because we seem to have lost so much trust. Trust is a powerful word- in any context- use it and other words that convey your meaning. "I trust that..." I find that my students respond very positively to it, and so do my colleagues. I use is as an everyday language, not in a way that emphasizes it. Often when I emphasize it, e.g. I trust that you all did the reading today, it may have the opposite impact and be percieved as sarcasm. Talking about trust has a way to remind ourselves and others what are the costs of giving up trust.

I believe that our schools can only succeed when we trust each other: students, families, colleagues, administrators, and community members.
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