“I knocked, no one answered”

6 Steps to Building a Trusting Relationship With Your Students

I know they are home, why aren’t they answering?

Many years ago we were walking our young sons down the neighborhood street on Halloween. Some of the houses were dark, they knew those were the one’s no one was going to answer the door and give them candy. They knew not to waste time going to those houses. The houses with the porch light on however were the ones they could go up to, knock and say “Trick or Treat”.

But there was always that house with the porch light but no one came to the door when they knocked. How disappointing. No matter how loudly the boys knocked, no one was coming. They knew the people were home, why didn’t they come answer the door? They did not take it personally, assumed the people were busy went on to the next house as fast as they could.

I think I hear something!

On occasion we have that one student in our classrooms that “has the porch light on” but when we knock, no one appears to be home. As we keep knocking, we feel our frustration build. We say to ourselves, “Why aren’t they listening to me? I am asking them a question. They need to respond. They are so disrespectful.” Our thoughts spin from — they are lazy, have an attention problem, or are just being obstinate.

However, more often than not, these “deep thinkers” heard us but are hyper focused and absorbed deep in thought about your question. — or they are still working on the question we asked five minutes ago.

They may not have the skill to stop what they are doing inside their head to come to the front door and answer, even if to say “Can you wait a minute?”

Many successful people describe their school experience as challenging. They remember getting in trouble frequently for not listening to the teacher.

Kevin Rose is a very successful Internet entrepreneur who co-founded a number of very successful companies. In recent years, Kevin became a venture capital partner at Google Ventures, helping other startups in the journey to success. Kevin started his first business at the age of twelve, but describes his school experience as very difficult. He remembers always being lost in thought, trying to solve problems in his head and ponder multiple ideas at a time. In the classroom, his deep thinking was misunderstood. As an adult, his deep thinking is the key to his success.

So how can we re-frame our perspectives of those kids who appear to be in a different world and don’t respond to us? How can we stop ourselves from making quick assumptions that only make building positive relationships more difficult?

Six steps to building Trust
  1. Support all behaviors as we would support Anxiety?

Dr Ross Green, creator of the Collaborative Problem Solving Model states, even if the behavior is not rooted in anxiety, approaching with the perspective that the individual is dealing with anxiety will help frame the problem in a more positive light.

When we have a student acting out with a behavior, we can ask ourselves — “If this were me, why might I be acting like this?” It helps to put ourselves in their shoes. Dr Green, pulling from volumes of research, states that people always behave with positive intentions — if they can. People prefer to demonstrate compliant behavior.

2. Expect Kindness. Dr Green suggests that kids labeled with behavior issues have lagging skills and unsolved problems. They have an increasing load of expectations put upon them and and an ever increasing lack of skills to meet them.

We need to teach our students what we expect and create an environment where they can practice the skills. For the kid that might be a deep thinker, we need to teach them to respond even if to say “please wait I am thinking”, or “can you repeat the question” or maybe it is just to hold a card up if they cannot access their verbal skills.

3. Use the 80/20 rule: Some kids tend to become overloaded with information too quickly and shut down. It works well to give 80% of tasks or steps that are easy first. This builds confidence. When they can manage those tasks, then start to add more difficult steps or questions.

4. Remember kids teach us how to help them: It is important to really listen to what our students are trying to tell us. Taking the time to find out where they are coming from builds a strong bond of trust and their willingness to take the next step in a teacher/student relationship.

5. Predictability is key: Kids become comfortable with routines. If something is going to change, it is important to let them know what will happen. It is good practice to have steps or directions written down. That student that may not process as quickly can have the steps to go back to for a reference.

6 The only behavior we can control is our own. We always have a choice on how to respond. If that student is not responding to our request no matter how many times we have asked them we have a choice what we do next..

“Relatively speaking we need MC2 pieces of candy”

I choose to picture the student unable to come to the front door because they are too busy having a conversation with Einstein about how much candy to hand out for Halloween. This makes me smile and I change my perspective.

Granted these steps are not easy. As a teacher we already have many responsibilities and so much information to get into those young minds. However, in order to get the best out of all our students we need to establish a relationship of trust.

Trust begins with believing that they all our students have amazing potential and are trying to do their best. They might just need some help in learning how to answer the door and other skills that can help them function within the world around them.

How do you build trust in your classroom?

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