11/25/12

Do your kids trust their teachers?

Trust.  Teachers are commonly introduced to Erickson's first stage of psychosocial development, Trust vs. Mistrust age 0-2, somewhere in their pre teaching coursework.  The theory is basically, if a child's needs from infancy to age 2 are met by the parent or caregiver the child will develop a sense of trust in the world and grow to feel confident in himself.  Conversely, if a child's basic needs for food, comfort, and rest go unmet the child will mistrust more, have less confidence in himself and others.  It is thought to be the beginning to establishing whether a child sees a cup as half full or half empty.  Well I would like to point out that from my parenting perspective, kids never grow out of this stage.  I believe anyone with experience with children will agree with me that a child at any age who has not had enough food, rest, or love spells trouble.   I especially want to consider the development of trust for children who are struggling with undeveloped social, emotional, or attention skills to name a few.  The invisible nature of those types disabilities creates a constant test of the trusting relationship between the child and those working or living with the child.

I think that schools and teachers are fairly aware of the general need for trust within the classroom.    Students need to be able to trust each other, to feel safe in taking risks, share responses, relate experiences,and essentially to learn.  But a precursor to students trusting each other is trust for the teacher.  Without trust in the teacher, I don't believe a truly trusting and safe classroom environment can exist.  To prove my point, picture the day of the substitute teacher. . .you know you have a story.  How many times has it happened in history that a perfectly well behaved class of children tranforms into Night of the living Dead.  I can remember thinking as a child, "Oh no.  Who will it be?  What will they be like?  What crazy thing are they going to make us do?"  Now as an adult working in several classrooms I have already seen a variety of substitutes in a variety of roles from teacher to support staff and 1:1 paras.  The most successful moments I have seen, have been when the sub keeps to the regular routines and "language" of the classroom.  Those who insist on doing it their own way often meet chaos, resistence, or worse, rebellion especially from those children whose hidden disabilities include black and white thinking and inflexibility.

To my mind, in a safe and trusting teacher student relationship, the teacher has made clear the expectations, and shown confidence in the students' abilities to achieve those expectations.  The teacher is fair, and realizes fair is not always equal, but does open up to everyone the same opportunities.  There is no place for favorites or scapegoats in a safe and trusting classroom environment.  But all this is so easy to talk about in general terms.

The test of trust starts when you have a really difficult child (maybe they are on spectrum, have emotional issues or ADHD?), or more, in your class or in your charge.  Let's face it, our classrooms are filled with a melting pot of abilities, needs and behaviors of the children we teach.  I hope to emphasize the importance of establishing and maintaining trust with the most challenging students.  Maintaing trust, that's the hard part I think because when a child proceeds to break the same rule repeatedly we teachers are like the frog in the pot of water.  (yes I have used this analogy before)  The frog (teacher) jumps into the pot of warm water (classroom at start of year) and doesn't notice the water is heating up (child with difficult and persistent behaviors) till the water boils (teacher breaks child's trust out of frustration and maybe even thinking that the trusting relationship isn't working).

Most of you know by now some of the difficulties I have seen with my own kids, my oldest in particular.  And I truly believe the key to his current success at school is that the teachers he is with have established trust and maintained his trust.  One test for teachers who work with kids with lagging social emotional or self regulation skills, or ones who have suffered abuse, both groups are in need of a teacher they can trust to keep a positive perspective on their challenging behaviors and to handle them respectfully and proactively for the long haul.  These kids don't turn around over night.  I have seen the difference like night and day when a teacher is able to maintain these crucial trust maintenance efforts for the long haul and when they give them up, thinking harsher discipline will achieve better results.  If you have one of these challenging students, especially if he or she had a hard year before coming to your class, the importance of establishing and maintaining that trust, consistent response, or proactive intervention for the long haul is even more crucial.

Next in line is figuring out how to keep this consistency when a child goes to specialists and recess and a sub comes in and . . .  It can be so hard to get everyone on the same page especially if the child appears to be fairly smart and is perceived as manipulative or choosing to misbehave.  These perceptions can greatly undermine the trust that he/she so needs in order to succeed in other areas of the school day as well.  My challenge is for all teachers and parents to look at their children through the lense of trust and notice how your view of the child changes.  Do you begin to see that misbehaviors occur when there is a sub? or when you react in an unexpected way?  Are you able to see when the child is not feeling safe, because something is off?



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