Culture of Trust

Yesterday, I read a post by Sylvia Martinez, “Students are not the enemy.” It’s a great post, and the comments are very thought provoking. Essentially, Sylvia notes that students (and very often, teachers) are viewed as threats to the safety of a school and its network. There are hundreds of vendors out there who would love to sell you some software/hardware to protect you from the “enemy within.”

Umm… hello? Now kids are “the enemy???” Sylvia calls foul, and so do I.

The longer I’m in education, the more I start to worry about what we’re doing to our kids…. and what we’re doing to our teachers. We’re living in an era of assuming the worst from everyone. In my experience, people give you what you expect them to give you. Kids are no different.

If you haven’t read Engage Me or Enrage Me by Marc Prensky, you should. The article discusses an atmosphere of mutual disrespect between adults and kids. We don’t value what they value and vice versa. That’s how it’s been forever, right? Generation gaps and all that… but I think we’re missing something bigger here.

What if we trusted our students to do the right thing? What if we gave them the rules without any threats, and then empowered them to make choices?

What if we trusted our teachers to be professionals? To make good decisions about what would help a student learn better? To come to work on time and leave when they need to leave. To grow professionally in a manner that is best suited to their own individual learning styles, content areas, and needs.

Will some people disappoint us? Yes. Of course. We’re realistic. I contend, however, that most won’t.

As a learner, I feel empowered in a culture where I am trusted. There is no one standing over my shoulder to ensure I do the work I’m expected to do, because they know I’ll do the work. In fact, it’s insulting to me that anyone would assume I would do less than my best. I’m motivated most when I have choices, guidance, clear expectations, and am trusted to do what I’m asked.

On the other side of that type of culture- put me in a cage, give me a set of restrictive rules,  tell me not to do the wrong thing and then stand there to ensure I don’t– I’m probably going to screw up. It’s insulting, degrading, and not a great learning environment.

Which of those two cultures most resembles school?

I choose to trust my students. Today, we started a blogging exercise. The kids are 5th graders who have not blogged before, so we began with small steps. On my class blog, I wrote a post. They were asked to read the post, and then answer some questions in their comments. The comments should include their opinions. I’m finding 5th graders are not often asked for their opinions, so this is sometimes tough for them!

My  directions before they began were:

  1. Read the blog post.
  2. Think about the questions.
  3. Answer the questions in your comments.
  4. When you are finished, read the other comments. If you want to respond to someone else’s comment, please do so.
  5. Be responsible and respectful in your comments.

That was it. At first, they looked at me and asked, “Then what?” I said that was all, and that they could start working. If they needed my help, they could flip up the Help card on their computers- otherwise, they were on their own.

One student asked me if he was going to get into trouble if he checked his email during this exercise. I said no, because I knew he was going to work hard on his answers and leave a great response in the comment.

You know what? I received some really great responses from that exercise. The kids were honest, and every single one of them finished the activity without me standing over them to ensure it was done.

That’s a TINY example of trusting kids to do the right thing. I intend to walk into the classroom every day and assume the best will happen.

I’m going to build a culture of trust with my students. What about you?