In the World of Trauma-Informed Education:
“Trust Is Not a Trick”
By NAfME Member David Knott
Our students want to feel safe. As EduLEADERS, developing trust with our students must be our primary mission. When looking for quotes on the subject of trust, one will find most of them are cautionary quotes: “Trust, but verify,” or variations on this theme. The rock band The Who conquered the subject with their power-driven anthem “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
As we are in the midst of an unprecedented educational paradigm shift, revisiting how we connect with students will be paramount to reassure our students are confident about returning to school. They have a new heightened awareness to rising social concerns. With this awareness, our students have lost a bit more of their innocence. Seeing us in the same trusting way will be a challenging for some of our students. We must be ready for the challenge.
Would it be unreasonable to say the current health and social climate causes trauma? So many things induce trauma on the young lives of the students we mold. Each person walking into our classroom arrives with a story to share and possibly one they do not know how to manage. We must re-establish a culture of safety and trust. This must be AGENDA ITEM ONE. Yet what does trust look like in our classrooms, live or virtual, in 2020?
Let’s look up a definition for the word trust. A Google search provides the following definition:
firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something
Other words may come to mind as we should develop our own personalized definitions of trust. The ways we demonstrate and maintain trusting relationships will vary from educator to educator. In a recent “mastermind” group in which I participate, a member asked a provoking question: “How do we define and embody TRUST?” This inspired a great roundtable discussion on the question. One of our members stated the following gem of wisdom:
Trust Is Not a Trick
The familiar phrase “trick up your sleeve” brings forth images of untrusting people. It can easily be a poor way to create order in our classroom or a place of employment. Michael Scott from The Office provides example of this shady behavior. Michael at times uses false promises to establish rapport with his office team. Predictable failures in progress definitively display how a leader can lose the trust of the people in their care. Can we ensure we are not creating similar moments? The people under our circle of influence need trusting relationships to be their best selves.
I am the constant learner. The TRUST theme comes from a quote from author Seth Godin. (Make sure you get the last name right or follow this link.) The material to unravel from the quote below can last a lifetime of great personal alchemy. In the burning we can find better relationships and lifestyle! Our discussion manifested as a breakdown of his chapter in Tools of Titans. Page 238 provided the great quote:
Trust and attention—these are the scarce items in a post-scarcity world
As we prepare to return to our classrooms, let’s look into three ways to embody and foster trust for our students.
ESTABLISH A FEELING OF SAFETY AND CONSISTENCY
When our students return to us, they will look for a sense of normalcy. It will surely look different in our classrooms on day one. Setting up the expectations for what will happen under your watch must be established first. Establishing it in a frame of calm and controlled leadership. Acting in a consistent manor (i.e., doing what we say we will do) provides students a buffer to the unknown future. When our students feel safe, they will start reforming the trust bond and begin leaving the fight or flight area of the limbic brain. They will look for and require us to be consistent.
BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR ATTENTION
We must find ways to be open and generous. How can we give every student the equitable attention they need and deserve? We know the past year may have elevated levels of trauma, and our students need us to be their intervention. They need to move through the challenges of returning to school. As they move through the new expectations, students will want to share their thoughts. Students will want to deflect uncomfortable new realities. To create neuro-healing we must provide space for this to happen in a safe manner. Planning for tactical approaches to this social and emotional need of our students will reinforce their number one need of re-establishing trust.
BE WILLING TO BE VULNERABLE
Neil Strauss talks about the key tactics he uses to build trust in. On page 350 of Tools for Titans Neil relates to the interview setting and the time devoted to making the interviewee feel trust. The more we are open to our students’ need for trust, the better their transition back to the learning game. Showing our humanity and uncertainty will validate their feelings. This connection and bonding will further strengthen their trust in us. You and your students will create a bonding relationship. This does not mean “spilling the tea” to find out the latest gossip. Making comments about a student’s approach to college decisions to another student does not build trust. These actions are weak behaviors and juvenile. They are akin to acts of grooming and gaslighting. We as professionals must know the difference. Educational vulnerability and inappropriate behavior share a fine line. Be careful when we enter this territory.
We are soon returning to our roles of EduLEADER. We want to create an environment allowing us to turn up the TRUST METER for our students. Our future challenges and unknowns require a strong connection between us and our students. We can establish this through positive, generous, consistent actions and showing meaningful attention. These will elevate the level of trust in our students. Go further by adding our own personal story; become willing to show vulnerableness. This will increase the feeling safety for our students, providing a stronger framework for continued learning. Let’s get started making our connections even stronger!
*All resource quotes are from Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss.
About the author:
NAfME member David Knott is a conductor, percussionist, and music education specialist. He has been the Instrumental Music Educator and Conductor of the Catherine Hall Bands at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania, for the past 14 years. He oversees the Catherine Hall Wind Symphony, Concert Band, and Middle Division Jazz Band. Knott received his Bachelor’s of Music Education the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and his Master’s in Percussion Performance at Michigan State University.
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December 15, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)