Building Trust in the Classroom

Two things that I’ve come across this week have made me think about the issue of trust in the classroom. The first was Michael Hyatt’s podcast on building (or rebuilding) trust which can be found here. He breaks down the process of building trust into 4 basic components:

  1. Keep your word.
  2. Tell the truth.
  3. Be transparent.
  4. Give without any strings attached.

This seems like common sense advice, but harder to implement than we might think. The second thing that made me think about the issue of trust was an article in the Onion. Wait. You mean the satirical newspaper? Yep. That one. It was a spoof on student evaluations. In the article a professor is devastated by a negative evaluation by a slacker student (found here). I often find reviews like this one amusing more than anything, but I do read negative reviews carefully. As a professor I don’t want to put too much stock into student opinions, my job is not to “entertain” students or make them feel good, my job is to teach. Some things cannot be controlled, for example the difficulty of the subject matter, or the laziness of the students. On the other hand, a negative review can be the result of a strained relationship between a teacher and their students. Here are a few ideas for maintaining a good student-teacher relationship in the classroom:

  1. Clearly define your expectations. Put together a syllabus that clearly outlines your classroom policies and learning objectives. Don’t be vague. The syllabus does not need to be a complete outline of the entire course, but is should be an anchor for the students and the professor to refer to as they travel through the course. It lays down the ground rules and the consequences for breaking them. If a student tries to turn in a late assignment or misses too many classes, you can simply point to the syllabus when they come crying about a grade.
  2. Don’t make a habit of making exceptions. This will only create headaches (trust me, I’ve learned this from experience. Once you give in on one policy, the entire house of cards will come tumbling down. That said, be compassionate. Sometimes there are things that are outside of a student’s control and it does not serve the greater purpose of education to simply stick to the rules for the rules’ sake.
  3. Treat your students with dignity and respect. Too often professors treat their adult students like children. Yes, we need to hold our students accountable for their behavior in the classroom, but we do not need to babysit them. Don’t accommodate bad behavior (being late to class, missing assignments). Let students feel the consequences, but don’t create an adversarial relationship.
  4. Be organized and keep your word. I’m guilty of telling students that an assignment would be graded over the weekend and then failing to do the grading. When I let myself get overwhelmed I let my self-imposed deadlines slip. In other words, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Design your courses in such a way that there is a rhythm and an order that is easy to follow. Don’t take on too much.

I am by no means perfect at implementing these approaches. I am still learning how to be a good teacher, but these are just a few of the lessons that I have learned along the way. I hope that someone else might find them helpful!



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