In January 2016, Mira and I were fortunate to present at the Visible Learning Conference in London. It was a very different conference experience than we’d had before but that’s a whole other conversation. Today, I want to talk a little about Kristin Anderson (@kristiande), a researcher I heard while at that conference. Kristen talked about trust and the research strongly indicating that trust is an essential component of teaching and learning.
There is a Twitter thread going around where a professor in Ukraine shares stories of her students navigating the Covid-19 closure in combination with the family and life stressors that college students (and all of us) experience. It is a powerful, viral thread, shared with me and by people I respect and admire with the intent to communicate the need for empathy and grace in this moment. A concept most people know I champion.
Yet, all I see is a breach of trust. A significant and unforgivable breach of trust. I have been an educator for 20 years and in that time have shared many amazing and many devastating experiences with, by, and in support of my students. But I won’t tell you about them.
Students communicate with us in confidence. It’s an honor and a privilege to hold their truths with them. Their stories are not mine to tell, they’ve been shared with me because we have built trust, they believe me to be safe, and, for that and for them, I will be.
Since we started this experiment of trying to communicate our work more publicly, I have so often referred back to what I learned from Kristin that day. She says: A lot of people see trust as a soft skill. But the reality is that we all need to be on a journey to becoming a little bit more trustworthy every single day, no matter how much we perceive ourselves to be trustworthy. Trust is a multi-dimensional disposition or value that requires deliberate practice and deliberate planning in order to ensure that it is thriving. (From her interview with Jim Knight found here).
When we post pictures of kids doing work in our classrooms, of stories (particularly personal or embarrassing ones) about our students in public forums, of things shared in confidence (regardless of whether we feel they are important), we betray the trust of our students and we undermine the relationships we are building as well as diminishing the agency of our students.
In this era of teaching for the ‘gram, let’s never lose sight of our role. That day in London, I wrote Kristin’s words on a sticky note. “You are trusted to the degree that people believe in your ability, your consistency, your integrity, and your commitment to deliver. Do people believe in you?”
Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??). I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.