Trust - The Glue That Sustains Relationships
Much has been written about the significant relationship between learning outcomes and trust. Trust across all levels of the schooling system whether that is between the community and the school, the system and individual schools and most importantly between the teacher and the student(s).
Dean Fink, from Ontario in his article ‘Trust in Our Schools: The missing part of school improvement?', gives an excellent summary of research that shows that across the developed nations PISA results correlate strongly with the social levels of trust. Statistically, high levels of trust result in better learning outcomes. He points out that when policy makers introduce easily measured testing regimes and insidious compliance tasks the level of trust contracts. He goes on to suggest that the Australian "federal government's recent school improvement efforts are heavy on low trust strategies." This observation explains the emerging dissatisfaction experienced by teachers across the system and the exodus of young teachers from our profession.
This significant relationship, between trust and learning is more critical when dealing with those students with severe behaviours. Their developmental history almost ensures a natural distrust of the authority at school.
Erik Erikson, the German-born American developmental psychologist points out that psychosocial development including basic trust occurs in the first two years of development. A child raised in a predictable and affectionate home with caregivers who are reliable and competent will have the confidence to trust the rest of their environment. That is, they are optimistic about their future and teachers and schools are afforded trust.
Conversely, and generally the children with severe behaviours are raised in homes where the opposite conditions apply. That is their environment is chaotic, attachment is at best marginal and there is no foreseeable individual success; why would these children have any trust?
The thing is, trust is the belief something will happen following a given set of circumstances. At school, these insecure students will at best predict an unpleasant outcome but more likely will have no idea what will happen. It becomes critical that their teacher must develop the child’s confidence in the future before any meaningful learning can take place.
There are steps in developing trust in students. These are:
- Provide a predictable, caring environment where the boundaries between the teacher and the student are well defined. Providing a structured set of expectations allows the student to develop the sense that it is their behaviour that initiates adverse outcomes, not the belief they have an inherent incompetence. This separation of the student's sense of worth from the mistakes they make will slowly have them accept corrections from the teacher without destroying the relationship.
- Students with a history of abuse and neglect are locked into the present moment as they tried to survive the situation in which they find themselves. Eventually, they will be able to project into the future by trusting the advice given by the teacher despite the lack of any evidence these things will happen.
- They will come to believe that putting in an effort will pay-off despite there being no real understanding between their efforts and some future reward. So often we teach students subjects that, in all honesty they really would find it difficult to connect to some future but because they trust us they learn these lessons now without a guaranteed pay-off.
- This last point is huge for these challenging students. When they have developed real trust, they are risking their vulnerability, having faith that we will not exploit this exposure. Never underestimate the core levels of fear these kids live with. In early childhood, their abuse and neglect was linked with dying and this experience has imprinted overwhelming feelings of fear that normal children would never associate even with low-level rejection or mild threats. For these children to expose themselves is an enormous level of faith in the teacher. Eventually, this trust could be generalized and they could begin to trust the world.
Developing trust in these children is a gift from you. Any teacher who takes the time to develop this level of trust is making an incalculable contribution not only to that child but also to their classmates, their school, and society. The real bonus is their success will repay you in a way that is your real, unmeasured contribution to education!