Trust. It’s one of those underlying elements that can make or break an environment, with learning environments being no exception. Entering a classroom where trust is not prevalent can be quite a different experience than entering one where it is. Building a classroom on a foundation of trust isn’t something that’s accomplished on a first day checklist. Like any relationship, it takes a concerted effort from all involved, and those efforts must be transparent early on to allow for an ingrained presence in the days that follow.
In a trustworthy learning environment, students and teachers will have a calmer and more collaborative demeanor. They will be more inclined to engage in discussions and activities and allow their true selves to be the present presence in the classroom. Students will be more likely to take risks and leave their comfort zones to expand their learning potentials. While these outcomes won’t necessarily happen overnight, they will appear more rapidly when 4 must-haves are demonstrated and valued by all of the environment’s stakeholders.
Honesty — An honest framework between all members of a learning community is needed. When someone is on the receiving end of false praise or encouragement, it is damaging to the relationship. It’s important that both students and teachers are willing to offer and accept constructive feedback. This can apply to assignments, behaviors, communication methods, etc. No one is going to learn or grow as a learner or teacher if they are always being told what they want to hear, rather than the truth. If an instructional method isn’t working, students should feel comfortable addressing it with a teacher. If an assignment is lacking in form or substance, a teacher and/or classmate (peer editor) should feel at ease in offering feedback. Honesty truly is the best policy when it comes building trust in the classroom!
Consistency — The comfort that comes from consistency is a great builder of trust. While consistency in every aspect of a learning environment would result in extreme boredom and lack of growth, there are many aspects of the classroom climate that must remain consistent. For growth as learners and a classroom community to be achieved, foundational trust must be built through consistency in the following areas:
When students find consistency in these areas, they feel equality within the classroom environment. A consistent and clear foundation plays a large role in building trust amongst all educational community members.
- Assignment & behavioral expectations
- Grading procedures
- Disciplinary measures
Connectivity — How can I trust you if I don’t know you? Nurturing relationships between all members of a classroom community is imperative for establishing trust. When students (and teachers) view one another as people who are forced to occupy a shared space, it’s going to be hard to develop any type of collaborative atmosphere, much less a trusting learning environment. Helping students and teachers make connections with one another should be a top priority in building trust. This won’t be achieved by memorizing a list of facts, but rather by taking the time to interact in a positive environment. Team building activities are a great way to get the ball rolling, but regular opportunities to interact and take a genuine interest in one another are imperative.
Acceptance— In keeping with the aforementioned positive environment, trust cannot exist where acceptance is nonexistent. One needs to merely turn to the news or social media to see this exemplified, and the classroom is no different. An expectation of mutual respect, tolerance, and acceptance must be shared and shown at all times. Diversity is one of the greatest aspects within today’s educational communities, and not embracing it would be a disservice to all stakeholders. When an acceptance of differing backgrounds, cultures, viewpoints, learning styles, etc. is the only option that is modeled and consistently condoned, trust can be built. If students do not feel safe and accepted in expressing themselves, trust and a positive learning environment will be obsolete.
Through honesty, consistency, connectivity, and acceptance, classroom communities can begin to develop a foundational trust. Maintaining this structural base is a continual process within the classroom and any other facet of life. When all educational stakeholders see the value in establishing trust, the positive ramifications on the learning environment are endless.
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