Building trust

I helped E find his ring! It may seem like a little thing to you but to E it wasn’t. The ring his grandmother gave him had flown off his finger onto the SW Colorado forest floor late in a “capture the flag” style game during our week long archeology field trip. Two classmates and I looked for about 20 minutes at dusk with no luck. I promised E that we would try again the next morning. It would be our last chance before returning to school. During this trip, it seemed that each student had their own ‘need’. For D, it was a slow reveal of his true self to others who think like him. For M, it was to be accepted by the crowd. For A, to show she was all grown up. For E, it was just to find that ring.

Most all the bags were packed and sitting by the bus parked in front of the lodge early the next morning when E reminded me about the promise I made the night before. He and I made our way up the path into the underbrush and looked for the marker we had chosen the night before and we began our search. Amazingly, I found the ring within about a minute of arriving. How we missed it, I will never know. E was relieved and happy. I could also feel his trust in me as his teacher had risen 100% that morning. He could tell that I truly cared about him.

This year, out of all the lessons coming out of the classroom, building trust with the class was the one for me. (Each year seems to have its lesson for the teacher.) Trust is wrapped up in the little things we do from day to day in our classroom. It’s fetching that special type of card stock paper for a project, remembering to bring in an ingredient for a recipe, smiling, chatting, following through with promises, and a zillion other things.

During a conversation the first week in May, a co-worker mentioned that sometimes it takes him nearly half the school year to build trust with his new class of students. It became clear that this was the issue in my class. This group of children was taking longer than most to develop that certainty that I was going to lead them, teach them and expose them to learning situations without embarrassing them, without stretching them too far beyond their needs or belittling them when something goes wrong. A big chore for any professional!

After some fits and starts, I can say it took well into February when the students began to trust me. Situations, attitudes, perceptions, stresses along with school culture and teacher experience all played a role in our slow development. The last part of the school year was the most productive for my students in many ways other than just in their class projects and assignments. We had quality discussions, inside jokes, playful fun. All these things the students will remember more than any lesson on grammar or ancient history that I taught.