Skip to main content

Cultivating Trust in the Classroom

Cultivating trust is one of the keys to effective collaboration. This is especially true in the classroom. The relationship between instructor and student can have a huge effect on how much the student learns. But how do we cultivate trust?

Here are just a few ways:

1) Creating "psychological safety." In a study by Google of what helps teams collaborate well, Google found that psychological safety, as measured by taking turns in discussions and team members demonstrating high degrees of social sensitivity. In the classroom context, this means students need to feel free to ask questions and speak up without fear of rejection by those sharing their classroom space. Instructors can foster this by making it clear that there are no "stupid" questions, by cultivating a supportive classroom atmosphere, and by encouraging students who ask questions or make comments with positive reinforcement.

2) Listening actively. When students feel that instructors and classmates are listening carefully, it creates mutual respect. When students feel heard, they are more likely to believe that their contributions have value--and when people feel valued, they are more likely to want to contribute more frequently. Too often, we are listening to respond, not to hear what's actually being said. Consider contributions before responding to students' comments and questions too quickly. Your students will know that you're actually contemplating what they've said. Pausing doesn't make you seem unprepared; it makes you seem deliberative.

3) Being authentic. Instructors can show students their authenticity by being honest with them. In the classroom, we like to see ourselves as the knowledgeable figure in the classroom. (In fact, I got through my first semesters of teaching by repeating one mantra to ease my insecurity: "Remember: you know more than they do.") But, it's important not to break trust by giving an answer when you don't necessarily know it's the right one. Students respect their instructors more when they respond honestly with "I don't know. But I'll find out and get back to you." Not only do students appreciate their instructors' authenticity in these moments, but they feel even more valued when the instructor does take the time to look into an issue and reports back to them.

4) "Taking students seriously." One of my all-time favorite articles is Kent Syverud's "Taking Students Seriously: A Guide for New Law Teachers,"  43 J. Legal Education 247 (1993). He notes that students are particularly astute at knowing whether their instructors like and respect them. Or more importantly, they know when their instructors don't. When students know you enjoy and value your time with them, it builds a certain rapport and trust, which Syverud explains allows students to forgive a lot in the classroom. If there's trust, students are also likely to value what you're teaching more--which may be especially important given the traditional place of legal research skills in the law school curriculum.

How do you cultivate trust in your classroom?

Popular posts from this blog

Letter to A First-Time (Legal Research) Instructor

Dear Friend, Seven years ago this week, I was prepping madly to teach my first legal research class.  Three months earlier, I'd been a law student myself.  To say that I was nervous is an understatement; mildly terrified was probably a more apt description.  The truth is I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but I knew that I wanted to teach legal research differently than I had been taught legal research, where at best it was viewed as a skill less important than everything else being taught at law school and at worst an afterthought, a skill that students should be able to do with very little training.  There are many points I wish I knew then that I know now and that's what I want to share with you toda y.  First and foremost, students will forgive many imperfections in the classroom if they know you care about their learning.  At the start of every semester, I re-read Kent Syverud's " Taking Students Seriously: A Guide for New Law Teachers

Why Experts Can Struggle to Teach Novices

This week in our Slack group on teaching , there was an interesting discussion about expertise and the amount of time needed to prep for instruction. I mentioned something that I recalled reading: that experts can be less effective in teaching novices because often the expert skips cognitive steps that the novice learner needs to understand.  I thought I'd dig into this a little more today on the blog. The fact is novices and experts learn very differently.  The major reason for this is that experts not only know a lot about their chosen discipline, but they understand how that discipline is organized. As such, what has a clear structure to the expert is a jumbled set of unorganized information to the novice.  The information presented to novices "are more or less random data points."[1]  In contrast, when the expert learns something new in her area of expertise, she just plugs it into the knowledge structure that already exists in her long-term memory. Because the new

Helping With Student Focus & Motivation in the Remote Classroom, Part 3: Limiting New Technologies to Reduce Extrinsic Cognitive Load

A librarian colleague used to say to me, "Technology is great until it's not." This couldn't be more true in the classroom.  As many of us prepare for a fall entirely or partially online, there's a rush to familiarize ourselves with lots of new educational technology to teach our classes. There's this sense that if you're not using the best and newest ed tech in your class, you're doing something wrong. Fortunately, the science doesn't back this up.  Using too many different types of technology can be a contributing factor to cognitive overload in students . Cognitive load is a term cognitive psychologists use to describe the mental challenge that the limitations of working memory puts on a student's learning.[1] Basically, working memory is extremely limited in both time and duration. Humans can only hold on to between four and nine "chunks" of information at any given time,[2] and can only hold on to new information in their worki

Motivation in the Legal Research Classroom

Motivating students in the legal research classroom can be a challenge. As we know, there are many false narratives surrounding students' conceptions of legal research's importance, interest level, and ease, all of which can result in a decrease in students' motivation to engage in this subject matter. There are two types of motivation--intrinsic and extrinsic.  Extrinsic motivation occurs when students are motivated by an outside reward or punishment;[1] in instruction, this is often the grades students will get on research assignments or the participation points they might receive for actively engaging with in-class exercises.  Intrinsic motivation , on the other hand, occurs when students are interested in the topic for its own sake.[2] Due to legal research's false narratives, students entering our classrooms tend to be drive primarily by extrinsic motivation.  The problem is, as Julie Dirksen aptly notes in her excellent book Design for How People Learn , &qu

Reflection in the Legal Research Classroom

Reflection is a critical component of experiential learning.  We see in ABA Standard 303 that experiential courses must include multiple opportunities for self-evaluation.  Self-evaluation is critically important to legal research.  Students must reflect on and assess their research methodology each time they research to continue becoming more efficient legal researchers and to determine what research strategies work best in which situations. [1] Reflection relates to several ideas found in cognitive theory that have been shown to result in stronger learning and retention: Retrieval : recalling recently-learned information;  Elaboration : finding a nexis between what you know and what you are learning; and  Generation : putting concepts into your own words and/or contemplating what you might do differently next time. I've been contemplating how to better incorporate reflection into legal research classes. At the beginning of this semester, at the recommendation of a works