Everyone knows it, the most important thing you can gain in the classroom is trust. Get your students to trust you and then anything is possible, barriers will no longer be up, they won’t be scared to experiment and risk making mistakes, in a nutshell, you will have created an environment that is conducive to learning- But is it easier said than done? How can we get our students to trust us? Here are 10 things to bear in mind when you’re trying to foster that all-important classroom community.
1.Let them in on your thought process – This sounds like an obvious one doesn’t it, but break down the barriers between you and your students and you will find they trust you. I don’t mean be their friend or let them dominate your lessons but just make sure that they know why you are doing the activities you have chosen. Letting students in makes them feel valued and this has an obvious knock-on effect on their motivation and participation. Whether you choose to explain why your activity is important or if the aims are signposted on your board, this insight can help students understand that you know what you’re doing and that ultimately they are at the heart of every decision you make.
- 2. Admit when you’re wrong and when you don’t know something – we are all humans, we are fallible, imperfect messes at the best of times. So why does our teaching persona have to be anything different? We expect our students to be brave enough to experiment and make mistakes, so it’s only fair that we put our hands up and say when we make mistakes or when we are unsure of something. After all, our students have chosen to pay money for the human approach, let’s try therefore to be a little more real.
3. Be fair and consistent – We can all try and kid ourselves that we treat all our students equally 100% of the time but if we really reflect on our own classroom practice, it doesn’t take long to realise that it is simply not true. The important thing to remember is that whatever our impressions are of our students, they must never know that and we must try to treat everyone in the same way, sticking to the guidelines we have set out and not varying too much from what they expect from us. If we stay the same then our students will respect our limits and values, if we chop and change the rules, there is no way that they can stay consistent. On that note, keep your promises – if you’ve said you’ll get back to them, make sure you do! If you’ve promised to return homework within a week, make sure you stick to it. Nobody likes double standards.
- 4. Learn their names ASAP – Yes, it’s hard to remember hundreds of different names and faces but how can you ask your students to connect with you if you can’t even remember what they are called? Draw classroom plans and write their names on them, make associations, test yourself during the lessons, do whatever it takes to make sure that you can call them by (the right) name as soon as you possibly can. This will mean a lot more to them than you can realise.
5. Take time to find out something about each student and stay informed throughout the year Every single one of your students is an individual with an intricate history, complex relationships, hopes, dreams, worries, and achievements. The fabric of their lives will make up the fabric of your lessons, as they bring their own experiences to class. Reach out to your students and show them that they matter by showing an interest in them as individuals and maintain that interest throughout the academic year. Everyone wants to feel appreciated (us teachers included) so ask how that football match went, if they tell you they’re tired because they’re studying for an important test, make sure that you ask how that test went. It’s the small things that build up and prove to the students that they are more to you than simply bums on seats.
6. Build up a dialogue with your students: communication is a two-way thing and as language teachers, we need to make sure that we’re listening as much as we’re talking. What do students want? How if possible can they shape the content of your courses? I don’t mean give up on homework but if there is an area they love how can you manipulate lessons to incorporate that. Ask questions rather than laboriously over-explaining answers, this student-centred approach shows them humility and teaches them that it’s their contributions and learning path that is the driving force for your lessons.
7. React to your students’ needs – be an advocate of responsive teaching. know when to knock that activity on the head when you see that it’s not working. Everyone will appreciate it
8. Really listen to your students. I’ve seen it happen, the teacher is focusing so much on the accuracy of what the student is saying that they totally miss what the student is saying, something which for the speaker has far more importance or relevance than using the correct preposition. We all want to be heard and we all have a story to tell so make sure that as a teacher you are listening to the content, not just the language!
9. Make them the centre of your lesson. Lesson plans are just that, plans, and we all know that plans fall through or get altered last minute. So loosen up your collar and make your lesson objectives your students’ successful communication, in whichever way that might take shape. Even if it’s not how you anticipated it and even if you have to abandon your goals, if your students are learning and feel that their curiousity is being satisfied, you are guaranteed to make much greater leaps than if you are simply ticking boxes and sticking to someone else’s idea about what learning is.
10. Vary your lessons. This might sound like a strange one when talking about trust but bear with me. As teachers we are creating an experience for our students, we’re taking them by the hand and guiding them on what can be at times quite a daunting journey. Engaging lessons are going to make that journey one that they want to stick at. Banging out the same old activities or the same old format shows a lack of interest in their experience. Think back to your favourite lessons from school, what made them so enjoyable was probably the self-discovery that you experienced or the way that the teacher made the subject come alive. Keep this in the forefront of your mind when you plan your lessons and you will have a class of happy students who believe in you and will, therefore, want to try hard to make a difference.
With trust we lose our inhibitions, work towards a shared goal and generally share a much nicer experience. What are your own experiences? How do you reach out to your students?