Teacher sitting on a desk talking to a group of students

It’s no secret that when students have positive, authentic relationships with educators, it contributes to their wellbeing and academic success as well as the culture of the school. Yet, year after year, we see new articles and blogs (like this one) highlighting just how important it is to invest time in building trust.

While it would seem we are acutely aware of the value of connection, teachers and administrators may benefit from exploring different ways to strengthen relationships with students. To discover another lens to promote confidence, let’s examine the science behind trust, some of the barriers that educators may need to overcome and the boosters that can support affirming interactions.

The Social Neuroscience of Trust

At the heart of strong connections lies oxytocin. Numerous studies have been conducted on this hormone, finding that it plays an important role in increasing trust between people. It may also improve wellbeing by stimulating dopamine releases as well as increase empathy and decrease anxiety.

These findings are meaningful in education. Enhancing wellness and reducing stress promotes an educational experience where students can make mistakes and learn. Additionally, administrators and teachers are more equipped to meet their students’ emotional and academic needs when strong ties are established.

Clearly, oxytocin can support positive connections and outcomes. However, there are obstacles that may get in the way. We touched one such challenge in my last post regarding stress. When students feel anxious, their brains are likely emitting cortisol, which can decrease oxytocin production.

Additionally, educators may be confronting past experiences that they are not aware of, particularly in the context of positional power. If students are coming from a classroom where their teacher took an authoritative approach that limited student voice and choice to manage the classroom, the student may believe that all educators operate in the same way.

A factor in the development of these beliefs is theory of mind, which is the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions and knowledge — to ourselves and others. Developmentally, it’s during the middle school years that we note that youth are reading and analyzing this social landscape. From this lens, they may have had an experience and now attribute the same circumstances to the same outcome.

Let’s consider an example where a student’s last teacher always had a stoic expression on their face before they gave a bad grade or negative consequence. Now, that learner may interpret any serious look as a sign that something unpleasant is about to happen. Just imagine how that belief could affect the relationship between the student and a teacher who is first-third Expressive!

While past experiences cannot be changed, educators can overcome these barriers by supporting youth through the unique ways they prefer to think and behave.

7 Tactics to Amplify Trust

The Emergenetics® Attributes offer a powerful avenue to create meaningful connections. While every student will have different preferences, the seven Attributes are universal. By making efforts to enhance relations with each preference, administrators and teachers can begin the process of boosting relationships. Below are a few ideas to help you get started.

NewAnalyticalHonor Expertise

Youth with a preference for Analytical Thinking often feel appreciated when their educators explain “Why?” the schoolwork they’re engaged in matters and when they have an opportunity to be the expert. To create stronger ties, show your appreciation for their experience and knowledge – after all, every student brings value to the classroom.

Pen On PaperBe Consistent

One of the best ways to gain the confidence of the Structural Attribute is to follow through on any commitments. When learners see that their educators stick to their word, it will enhance their willingness to believe in them. Moreover, when teachers can answer questions related to the question “What?” by providing all the details, Structural thinkers will feel better supported.

People talking bubbles iconValidate Feelings

The Social Attribute wants to make sure people are cared for as they are driven by the key question of “Who?” Overlooking or dismissing people’s worries or concerns will diminish trust with this Attribute. For students who have this preference, it’s essential that teachers show compassion and give space for the class to express emotions.

Light bulb with brain inside iconEmbrace Curiosity

Youth who have a Conceptual preference thrive by having opportunities to explore new ideas. To cultivate relationships with learners who like to think Conceptually, be mindful to provide a safe place for ideation, demonstrate curiosity in their concepts and provide avenues to explore their burning question – “What if?”

Two talking bubbles iconListen Actively

No matter a student’s preference for Expressiveness, listening is essential. For first-third Expressiveness, pausing gives a person time to work through thoughts without feeling rushed. The third-third of Expressiveness benefits from having space to talk though what they are thinking. Listening may also help you to uncover any past experiences students may have had that are impacting their trust levels.

Car iconShare Openly and Kindly

Assertiveness describes the style and pace with which a person shares their thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Those in the third-third are more likely to have confidence in a person who directly states their opinions, and those in the first-third appreciate calmly discussing inputs. To support the continuum, practice expressing your thoughts clearly and with empathy.

Arrow on sign pointing in different directions iconProvide Recovery Time

To respect all Flexibility preferences, provide ample recovery time when changes are made after a plan has been established. While the third-third may only take a moment to shift gears, the first-third may need more time to process the change before moving in a new direction.

Bonus Tip: Use the Language of Grace

My last recommendation is something that appeals to every Attribute, and that’s employing positive vocabulary. We call this concept the “Language of Grace” and a great deal of research has reinforced the role of affirming language on motivation, performance and even trustworthiness. Thoughtfully adjusting vocabulary to remove negativity and emphasize positivity can help adults develop better relationships with youth and promote their success.

There is no shortcut to creating trust, which is likely why educators find so many resources on the topic. With the suggestions above and insights into potential obstacles, I hope these additional considerations will empower teachers and administrators to round out any trust building toolkit.

For more ideas to support connection in your educational community, download our guide or fill out the form below to speak with one of our team members today!

Print This Post Print This Post