Fiduciary: an adjective ‘involving trust, especially with regards to the relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary’.
In our model of a complete learning environment (see below) all the components are important but the one that holds everything together is relationships. As research shows
this view is held by all serious educators:
- Teachers who support a student’s autonomy tend to facilitate greater motivation, curiosity and desire for challenge.
- Teachers higher in ‘warmth’ tend to develop greater confidence in students
- Students who believe their teacher is a caring one tend to learn more
- Positive relationships enhance social, cognitive and language development
- Students feelings’ of acceptance by teachers are associated with emotional, cognitive and behavioural engagement in class
In fact, the greatest amount of variance in student achievement is accounted for by the quality of the teacher and student relationship.
Although we may all agree on the importance I would find it hard to recall any time in my professional training where reference to relationships went any deeper than to concede it’s importance. There is an assumption we all know what constitutes a good relationship.
If pressed, I expect we would all describe a relationship in terms of an association, a connection, bond or interaction between your ‘self’ and others. Further, healthy mature relationships accept a level of equity, there is a balance of related power. There is respect for each-others’ independence but a willingness for each to compromise within certain boundaries.
The significance of any relationship depends on how close the participants are to each other. The second illustration presents the expanding levels of importance to the person represented as the ‘self’. This is the critical phase in the development of healthy relationships. Your ‘self’ is established in early childhood, it is the beliefs we have about our person that is based on the remembered experiences. It goes without saying those children who are raised in dysfunctional, abusive or neglectful families will have a damaged sense of ‘self’ which will influence their ability to establish healthy relationships in the future. To have a healthy sense of ‘self’ that you can take to any relationship you must have an honest sense about your beliefs and emotions.
The next level, which is with an intimate other is the place this early childhood damage is inflicted. Tragically it is the intimate relationship that is the most powerful, which in a healthy bond is rewarding but for the destructive one the power is damaging and that injury becomes hard-wired into the child’s personality. To have a healthy relationship you must treat the other with honesty and reveal your emotions, for damaged kids this is extremely challenging and, if in that toxic environment outright dangerous.
The next level is between the ‘self’ and peers or acquaintances. This developmental stage takes place when the child begins to expand their interactions with others, this may be at pre-school or with families. This is a level away from the need to completely share your inner secrets, this is where the value of boundaries begins to offer protection. Friends and acquaintances should not have that intimacy but it a place where you share opinions, ideas and decisions you might make. This level of interaction is difficult for damaged kids, they have no idea of how much to reveal or in fact to reveal anything becoming extremely secretive.
The final level of relationships is with strangers, those people who we may know at a superficial level or we meet at a function. The discussions are often referred to as ‘small talk’ and that just about sums the level of personal disclosure you should offer. You can probably remember some interactions when a stranger tells you their life story with all the intimate details. That is a sign that they have not developed the boundaries that are so important to relationships.
So, what’s with fiduciary relationships? The relationships I have described above are what I would call transactional relationships, that is they are a shared interaction for the benefit of both participants and is only possible between two members who have developed those healthy skills.
Fiduciary relationships are generally referred to as those in financial or legal arrangements where one of the individuals places their trust in the other who has a position of power, such as legal expertise to look after them. That person, with that authority must act with the sole purpose of benefitting the other. Teachers have that same responsibility towards their students.
In the hectic conditions experienced in difficult classrooms it is easy to forget this responsibility. Teachers who have retreated into their ‘self’ become inauthentic, they:
- Ignore those things for which they are responsible, avoiding further stress
- Put themselves above the student
- Fail to deliver consequences for behaviour, positive and negative
- Take the student’s behaviour personally
As I pointed out earlier, the quality of a relationship one can have with others depends on the relationship you have with your ‘self’. Too often we are victims of our own flawed beliefs, we interpret the students behaviour through previous experiences and this can cloud our judgement. If we acknowledge the potential for us to interpret the situation based on our suspicions we can adjust our understanding by making our decisions based on the real world not our internal world!
This is the essence of a fiduciary relationship, you make decisions based on your expert understanding of the ‘real world’ situation and act in a way that advances the growth of your student. There has been a whole industry built on the ‘study’ of what constitutes quality. However, I contend that there are four fundamental requirements never truly acknowledged in these descriptions. These are the characteristics of the teacher’s authentic understanding of their ‘self’ which allows them to develop functional relationships with their students. These are being:
- Self- Aware – being conscious of the impact they will have on the student involved
- Compassionate – Have a genuine concern for the student, putting them first with humility and generosity
- Concerned – being sincerely interested in each student’s life, their concerns, their interests and their beliefs. Become fascinated by their life
- Reliable – they have the ability to instil confidence in the others about their own abilities. This makes the student feel safe and secure in their presence
These characteristics are never discussed by academics or bureaucrats when describing quality teachers but without them the thousands of words, the T&D projects, the assessments are worthless!
Relationships underpin all our endeavours including in the classroom however, that between a teacher and student is not transactional, there is no equity, the student is not responsible for the teacher’s wellbeing but the teacher has a definite responsibility for the student’s wellbeing, it’s a fiduciary relationship and we have the obligation to gain the expertise to fulfil our contract.