Posted in Education, Teaching

Creating Trust in the Classroom

Sometimes I find it hard to trust my son.  He’s 15 years old and so I want to trust him, but I have caught him telling numerous lies in the past.  Instead of posing questions to him when I know he is lying, I have learned to just call him out on it.  “You need to feed the dog, please,” instead of “Did you feed the dog yet?”  If I know he hasn’t fed the dog, turning it into a question allows him to lie.  If I call him on it and tell him to go feed the dog, he is less apt to lie about it.  Teenagers can be a strange breed.  They seem to like to lie about silly, inconsequential things.  Heck, I remember doing it when I was his age.  “Did you brush your teeth?”  My response would always be affirmative even though I rarely did.  Does it matter?  Not then and there, and so then why do it?  Why lie?  I suppose that’s a loaded question and could be answered in many different ways.  The heart of the matter is, how can we trust others when we know that everyone lies at some point in their life?  How do we create a culture of trust in our world?

The same question can be posed in the classroom as well.  How can we as teachers create a trusting community of students in the classroom?  Some students lie more than others and have difficulty owning the truth.  So then what?  The students in the class know who to trust or not, and they will call their peers out on lies.  How do we help all of our students see the value in being honest and telling the truth all the time?  How can we create a culture of trust in the classroom?  Our school has a set of Core Values and Honesty is one of them.  We reference this value quite routinely, but it doesn’t seem to help.  We talk to students individually and role play alternative solutions to their problems or the circumstances, and this usually doesn’t have much of a lasting impact either.  So now what?

In Humanities class today, the students spent the first seven minutes of class reviewing their geography knowledge by playing the GeoBee app that they have on their iPads.  The goal is to beat their own daily high score as they learn more and more about the world around them.  They seem to really enjoy this bell ringer activity, which we implemented several months ago.  At the end of the activity, we ask the students to raise their hands if they have a certain score.  Today, one student seemed to have beaten our current high score.  However, when he shared his high score with the class, several students seemed to disagree with his statement.  They said, “The game doesn’t allow a score that high.”  “40,000 is the highest score you can get.”  While no one said outright that he was lying, their comments implied it.  Now, this particular student has a history of being dishonest.  He lies about his homework, homelife, age, and many other aspects of his life.  He has trouble telling the truth.  So, I can easily see why the students called him out on his high score.  As I walked around and observed the students playing the game today, I did notice that he had missed a few of the questions.  Was it possible that he did lie?  Of course it is, but does it matter?  Did the students need to call him out on it?  To address this issue in the classroom today, I reminded the students of our Core Values of Compassion and Honesty and told them that I trust the student and you all should to.  The conversation ended there, but the issue is an ongoing one.

How can teachers create a culture of trust in the classroom when students lie?  Do we call them out on it?  Would that help?  How do we help the other students learn to forgive and be compassionate?  Do we call them on their disrespectful behavior?  Should we role play how to help the students understand how to appropriately respond to someone who is lying?  Might this help?  Do we need to spend more time at the start of the year discussing what it means to be a member of an honest community?  Would that make a difference?  If we spent time talking about honesty and trust and how to foster it in the classroom, perhaps that might help.  Maybe some role plays or activities regarding trust might also support a culture of honesty.  These are good ideas.  I just hope I remember to try them next year.

Regardless of the solution, the bigger question still lingers: How do we create a culture of trust when everybody lies at some point about something?  Is it possible?  Sure, we should shoot for that, but if we try so hard to maintain honesty in the classroom, would we have time to cover any curriculum?  “Why didn’t you do your homework last night?” we might ask our students and their response might be, “I didn’t understand it” or “I lost it,” when they actually didn’t do it at all because they used their free time to play video games.  How can we help our students see that telling the truth is always the best option?

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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