Bill Zubek
Director, Quality,
Learning & Development
STEP, LLC

For some kids, teachers may be one of the few constants that they can depend on. Their teacher is there for them every day and serves as a steady, guiding light in their lives. In my previous role as an assistant principal, when kids were in an elevated state, I would ask them to identify an adult in the school that they trusted, so I could provide them with an opportunity to share their thoughts in a safe space.

In today’s learning environment, as youth navigate so much change and uncertainty, the relationship between teachers and students is even more important, and I believe it all starts with trust.

It may feel challenging to build meaningful relationships when you must nurture them over a screen or during limited in-person time. Even for educators who are teaching in the classroom full time, the stress of COVID-19 and maintaining new social distancing protocols can feel like a hinderance to developing connection.

Still, taking time to establish trust is essential to student success. We know relationship building is one of the core competencies of social and emotional learning, which can lead to better academic performance and long-term success. We also know that learning won’t happen until kids feel secure, valued and cared for. In a time when many students may be feeling unsafe, building trust is critical.

While it might feel overwhelming at first due to the many instructional changes you are handling, there are some easy-to-implement steps you can include in the work you’re already doing to strengthen relationships in a virtual or in-person classroom.

Build Trust Through the Emergenetics® Attributes

To create meaningful connections with students, try to meet them where they are at by matching rapport. Use the Emergenetics Attributes to speak to the preferences of your students, so you can begin to establish trust. Even if you don’t know each child’s individual preferences, you can still engage all learners by weaving the Attributes into your instruction.

Pie with preferences for Analytical and Conceptual thinkingAbstract Thinking (Analytical and Conceptual preferences)

Youth with an Abstract Thinking preference often like to share their big ideas and expertise. Look for opportunities to provide kids a chance to share what they’ve learned and serve as the expert in your classroom.

One way I implemented this tip as a teacher was through Spotlight Fridays. Each week, a student would present on a topic they chose to research. It helped me build trust with my class because it showed them that I respected the subjects they were interested in learning about and the way they chose to present the information.

Pie with preferences for Structural and Social thinkingConcrete Thinking (Structural and Social preferences)

To build trust with students who prefer this style of thinking, share lots of details and offer opportunities to connect with their classmates. Make sure to check in with them to understand how they are doing as well as take time to clarify instructions and outcomes.

To build trust with Concrete thinkers, I scheduled a time to connect as a group every morning with a check-in question and a check-out every afternoon with their reflection on the day. Those small actions helped my students feel seen and heard.

Pie with preferences for Analytical and Structural thinkingConvergent Thinking (Analytical and Structural preferences)

Students with a Convergent preference like to know why they are working on a project and be given time to get to work. You can build greater trust with Convergent learners by providing a practical reason for every activity and honoring their time so they can work efficiently.

As a teacher, I made sure to explain the purpose of our classwork, which helped my students make clear connections to the value and practicality of what we were doing.

Pie with preferences in Social and Conceptual thinkingDivergent Thinking (Social and Conceptual preferences)

Divergent thinkers enjoy ideating with and through others. To connect with students with a preference in Divergent Thinking, find ways to allow them to collaborate on new and unique projects. It may look a little different in a virtual classroom, and with breakout rooms, you can still help kids to connect and learn together.

One collective activity we did in my class was share daily affirmation cards – with some fun and ridiculous metaphors. Students with a Divergent preference especially loved them because it provided a fun way to awaken their imagination and allow them to make connections with classmates.

Two talking bubbles iconExpressiveness is defined as the outward display of thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Youth in the first-third tend to process information internally, those in the third-third tend to sort out thoughts externally and it depends on the situation for those in the second-third.

To build trust with students in the first-third, find opportunities to involve them in classroom discussion without necessarily calling on them. As a teacher, I asked students to write responses on post-it notes to share input. In a virtual classroom, you could try using chat features or digital whiteboards.

For those in the third-third, make sure to give them time to speak to others because they build trust when they can process out loud and have a sounding board. Make time in your sessions for kids to tell you what they’re thinking and feeling.

Car iconAssertiveness refers to the pace and style with which you advance thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

Students in the first-third tend to be more peacekeeping, those in the third-third tend to be direct and it depends on the situation for those in the second-third.

To support youth in the first-third, be sure to invite their opinion and give them opportunities to come to you at their own pace.

Those in the third-third will appreciate it if you are more deliberate and may respond better if you communicate with them in a direct manner.

Arrow on sign pointing in different directions iconFlexibility helps us understand how much recovery time is needed after change is imposed.

Youth in the first-third who prefer to stay the course often need more time to adjust to change than those in the third-third who often see decisions as rough drafts anyway!

To build trust across the Flexibility spectrum, give as much notice as you can about change. It’s not always doable, and by giving advanced warning where you can, you can help first-third students respond and plan their next steps forward. Those in the third-third will also appreciate the notice even if they may need a shorter adjustment period.

No matter what your students’ preferences may be, you can help them to feel appreciated, safe and connected by matching rapport, utilizing the tips above in your classroom and taking these three universal steps:

  • Listen to their perspectives
  • Validate their feelings
  • Celebrate and honor their brilliances

While there is no shortage of work as you navigate new learning environments, one of the best ways you can support your students is by taking time to build relationships. When your students feel valued and cared for, that’s when your class can really engage in learning and enjoy a successful school year.

Want to learn more about how you can use the Emergenetics Attributes to build trust in your schools? Click here for information about our programs or fill out the form below to connect with one of our team members today.