Currently reading: “Building Trust in the Classroom: A Conceptual Model for Teachers, Scholars, and Academic Developers in Higher Education.” by Felten et al. (2023)

Last summer, I sat in the botanical garden with Rachel Forsyth and had a super interesting conversation about the importance of trust between teachers and students, and what I do to help build it with my own students — as an interview as part of one of her research projects. And now there is a publication (Felten et al., 2023) that explores the topic further and suggests a conceptual model for building trust in the classroom!

When I think about trust, I think about the Hendriks, Kienhues and Bromme (2015) and the model they use to explore trust in scientists, where trust depends on perceived expertise (so basically knowing what they are doing), integrity (acting honestly and in accordance with the standards in their discipline), and benevolence (with good intentions). When I talk about working for trusting relationships with students, I typically mention examples of what each of those three might look like in practice, and the importance of becoming visible as a person so that students can even see facets of the teacher that might be interpreted as trustworthy. But I am not aware of any published guidelines for teachers for how to build trust, so this is where Rachel & team (including Peter Felten, whose book on Relationship-rich Education I love!) come in to fill that gap.

Felten et al. (2023) actually use the same model that I talk about above (except that they cite the original source…) and an extension that additionally includes predictability of teacher behavior (so yep, be consistent in what you do!), and a second model, that describes how teams in the beginning collect cognitive-, affective-, and moral- judgements of others’ actions, until, if those are deemed trustworthy, the team at some point moves to unconditional trust where these permanent observations and evaluations of others’ actions become unnecessary and the team has settled in stable, mutual trust (hopefully; if all goes well…).

From interviews with teachers with more than 5 years of teaching experience, Felten et al. (2023) then develop a conceptual model of “teacher-initiated trust moves” that has four — not necessarily distinct — components: Cognition (showing knowledge, skills, competences), affect (showing interpersonal care and concern), identity (showing sensitivity to their own and/or others’ identities), and values (showing that they are acting on principle). I find it super interesting to reflect on what behaviors teachers could display in each of the four areas (although they stress that the the balance between components will (and probably should) vary between teachers depending on who they are, because of course teachers need to also stay authentic…).

So here is my own brain dump. Teachers could demonstrate their…

  • knowledge, skills, and competences by being prepared and organized as is mentioned in the article (and later maybe by modelling that not-knowing isn’t a problem as long as the skills to acquire knowledge are there and used? me thinks), or by sharing tips and tricks on how to become knowledgeable, skilled, and competent (isn’t that the point of teaching anyway?)
  • interpersonal care and concern by showing students that they belong and matter (a lot of ideas in those two linked blog posts!), including facets as easy as normalizing difficulties by talking about them, learning fun facts about students (nerd topics!) or having conversations with students about whatever topic they choose, mentioning their own pronouns and providing opportunities for students to give theirs, using name tents and learning how to pronounce students’ names correctly.
  • sensitivity to their own and/or others’ identities by disclosing facets of their own identity and maybe how that has shaped them as a professional in their field, being an ally (a feminist, an anti-racist, …), asking if students want trigger warnings for certain topics.
  • that they are acting on principle, by for example being predictable in their behavior, acknowledging when they made mistakes, being visible as a person with opinions on politics and maybe involved in activism, or, as described in the article, modelling correct behavior in interaction with vulnerable subjects.

What I started wondering when writing this brain dump is how teachers make the decision on what “trust moves” they deliberately employ. Maybe depending on what they perceive as their own weak points, or what they think their students might see as that, or what they believe a specific group of students most needs from them? Or maybe all? For example, when I started teaching, I focussed a lot on the cognition aspect — talking about my own work as a researcher, my own experiences at big international conferences or research cruises, my publications, my time as a student that was soooo long in the past — because I was afraid I would be perceived as “too young” and thus not possibly qualified. I have not used that move in a very long time now. On the other hand, when I’m teaching international teachers (both back in Germany but also now in Sweden), I often stress the shared identity of someone who had to learn a completely new system, new culture, new language; to show that I can relate to their struggles and want to support them in getting familiar in the new-to-them system. I also always do a lot of “affect moves” (hence all the linked blog posts above); because I think that is really important in all courses, not just in mine.

One last point that I found really interesting in the Felten et al. (2023) literature review part (so many articles that I now need to explore further!): there is one definition that uses observable student behavior to explain what trust is: it is the students’ willingness to take risks based on their judgment that the teacher is committed to student success”. And maybe “commitment to student success” does actually include the four aspects of the model anyway; that in order for their students to succeed, the teacher has made the effort to be competent in the discipline, care about their students and be sensitive to identities, and be reflected about their own values and act in accordance with them?

This whole topic is so interesting, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Felten, P., Forsyth, R., & Sutherland, K. A. (2023). Building Trust in the Classroom: A Conceptual Model for Teachers, Scholars, and Academic Developers in Higher Education. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 11.

3 thoughts on “Currently reading: “Building Trust in the Classroom: A Conceptual Model for Teachers, Scholars, and Academic Developers in Higher Education.” by Felten et al. (2023)

  1. Pingback: Currently investigating: “If I don’t trust my teachers, how can I learn then?” (with Peter Persson and Rachel Forsyth) - Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching

  2. Pingback: Revisiting the Hendriks et al. (2016) trust model - Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching

  3. Pingback: Students trust teachers who ask, listen, and respond (says my work with Peter Persson and Rachel Forsyth) - Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching

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