Perspectives / How Does Trust Happen? - ASCD
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September 1, 2016

Perspectives / How Does Trust Happen?

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Social-emotional learning
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In a recent TED Radio Hour1 called "How Does Trust Happen in Music?" orchestra conductor Charles Hazlewood recalls that during his early days as a professional, his conducting sometimes resembled a "rabid windmill." The more forceful his body language, the less his orchestra members complied. The more disappointed he became, the more his direction became a blur. Trust erodes when you don't embody it yourself, he learned.

He later directed a racially diverse group of South African singers, some of whom had previously been bitter enemies. And he founded another ensemble made up of musicians with severe disabilities, many of whom had never had the opportunity to play instruments together. From these disparate groups, he learned that the creation of music relies on trust and builds more trust. Yes, the conductor needs to have a "cast-iron understanding of the outer architecture of the music," but he or she also has to trust the players to reveal the music's inner truth. He came to believe that conducting music is like holding a bird. Hold too tightly, you crush it; hold too loosely, it flies away.

The theme of this issue of Educational Leadership echoes these music lessons. A complex art if there ever was one, building relationships is the foundational skill. Without trust, no amount of content knowledge, pedagogical know-how, or formative assessment is likely to move students to want to learn from you. Here's what our authors have to say about the fine art of building trusting relationships.

No Scripts Here. What works for one class, one demographic population, one special kid, may or may not work for another. As Elizabeth Bondy and Elyse Hambacher note, "Care is in the eyes of the receiver."

"Our students' knowledge that they are cared for depends on what we do far more than on what we say," writes Eric Toshalis. He helps teachers explore the ways in which they connect with kids through a series of questions: Do you expect trust to come too quickly? Do your choices of compliments, questions, and reprimands contradict the values you hold? Do you take a student's attitude personally?

Know What Kids Need. Knowing kids' realities is essential, as is avoiding stereotypes. Susan Craig provides insights about children who have witnessed or experienced early trauma in their lives. Whether through illness, accident, or abuse, trauma affects one quarter of children in the United States before the age of four. Another group that faces challenges in school is students with ADHD. Lisa Medoff describes some of those challenges in a story about Baxter, a boy she at first found hard to like. She offers recommendations for persevering in a respectful manner infused with humor.

Acknowledge Gender and Cultural Differences. In a culturally diverse world, pretending to be culture blind reinforces the status quo. Michael C. Reichert believes it is time to ask, How can we reach those boys, often erroneously characterized as relationship-averse, who are turned off at school? And Robert Jackson follows with strength-based strategies for welcoming black and Latino males. He notes, "It is hard to find out what a student is dealing with if you don't take the time to ask." Michael Sadowski gives suggestions for getting to know LGBTQ students. Each author asks, Can we provide each student the safety and belonging that every person deserves?

Remember the Basics. This issue is chockful of insights that can apply to all students. For example, as Rick Wormeli and Tim Westerberg separately note, no person in school should be invisible; all like to know that you know their name. Rick Wormeli's teaching team used to compete every year to see who could learn the names of each of their 185 middle schoolers by the end of the first week of school. That, of course, didn't mean they really knew those kids. "We must embrace the other's world," he writes.

Check out this issue and take your pick of the ideas you might try. It won't necessarily be easy, but when you connect, it will be like making beautiful music.

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