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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust Students

02/04/2019

Summary

Trust between an educator and their students is an essential part of creating an environment where learning can flourish. This article includes tips on how to help students trust you, and how you can show your students increased trust in them.

How to increase your students trust in you:

  • Explain your expectations clearly on your syllabus — including your policies about grades, attendance, and so forth.
  • Never make a change to your published syllabus or course schedule that affects students negatively.
  • Return students’ tests and other graded assignments within a reasonable amount of time. 
  • Keep your office hours listed on the syllabus (and on your door). 
  • Follow all institutional guidelines regarding student privacy (like FERPA), but go beyond that. Some students may see you as a confidant, counselor, and friend. Do your best to keep their confidences. If you can’t, as in cases of sexual assault or suicidal thoughts, be open about the fact that you have to share that information, why, and with whom.
  • Do your best to avoid the appearance of favoritism in class. Self-awareness is key: Recognize your all-too-human tendency to favor certain students and strive to overcome those natural biases.
  • Always try to stay on an even keel in the classroom, regardless of what may be going on in your personal or professional life outside of it.
  • Never use the classroom to air personal grievances with the administration, colleagues, editors, the system, or your partner.
  • Generally, keep your political opinions to yourself. 
  • Never institute a policy that punishes the entire class for the actions of a few.
  • Never be disrespectful or demeaning toward students — either individually or as a group, in or outside of class. 
  • Remember your course is not the only one students are taking. Recognize and allow for the fact that they often have competing priorities.
  • Avoid assigning an expensive textbook and then barely using it.

How to show trust for students:

  • When you liberalize your attendance policies and make deadlines more fluid, you show that you trust them to make good decisions.
  • When you eschew restrictive classroom rules, emphasizing respect for others over lists of dos and don’ts, you show that you trust them to behave like adults.
  • When you focus more on teaching than on policing plagiarism, you show that you trust their integrity.
  • When you give them more options on assignments, putting them in control of their own learning, you show that you trust their judgment and intelligence.

Pair your trust with accountability. Allowing students to make choices about how they comport themselves in class — and face the natural consequences — is the essence of trust.

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