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

Making "Thinking Time" for Curricular Development

In academia, we often hear faculty discuss the need to find time to write.  I've recently been reading Helen Sword's Air & Light & Time & Space, in which she discusses the need for those very things in writing.  In the first chapter, she notes, "[A]cademics talk constantly about making time, finding time, carving out time to write. We fantasize about having more of it, and we bemoan our chronic lack of it."[1] 

I find the same is true for developing and assessing curricular programming. As librarians, true public servants, our profession is rooted in our service to others. Even if we are not scheduled for the reference desk or to attend a meeting, our "availability" is our calling card and in some cases our badge of honor.  It's expected that we will stop what we're doing should a patron come to our door or call on the phone.

The problem is that without free time to think, to think uninterrupted, we cannot innovate.  We keep with the sta…

Revamping the Lecture

Lecturing has a bad name in today's world of experiential learning, but it's an often necessary component to legal research classes as students have to have some bibliographic information before we jump into the databases. As I conclude one semester and begin prepping for the next, I've been doing a lot of reading on how I can make my lectures more effective and engaging learning experiences for my students.

As Todd Zakrajsek notes in his 2017 Teaching in Higher Ed podcast on Dynamic Lecturing, "You can't just take bad examples of something and claim that the whole concept is bad." Instead, we should focus on what makes a lecture compelling for our students in our course planning and evaluate our lectures after our classes for their efficacy, reflecting on what worked well and what didn't.

So how can we make the most of our lectures?  Here's a few ideas I've come across:
Make your objectives clear to your students. Don't hide the ball--let you…

Battling Law Students' Fixed Mindset

Many students show up to law school with fixed mindsets--the belief that each person is born with a particular intellectual ability and that they there is little to nothing one can do to surpass that innate intellectual level.  A large proportion of law students were classified as smart early on in their learning experiences and have been academically successful their entire educational careers.  Many faculty members had a similar experience as they advanced from primary school to secondary school to undergrad and finally to law school--where most continued to succeed academically.

For some law students, however, law school is the first time in their lives that they have struggled to succeed immediately.  This can have a disastrous result, because those with fixed mindsets have a tendency to equate mistakes with failure.  These students then have a tendency to avoid challenging themselves, to ignore constructive criticism, and to give up or not try.[1]  In their minds, they are just n…

Embracing Learner-Centered Pedagogy

Most educators pride themselves on putting our students first and try to make teaching decisions with our students' best interests in mind. But, what does learner-centered teaching really mean?

In their 2017 book, Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practice, Kevin Michael Klipfel and Dani Brecher Cook set out to answer this question--and how it can be applied to teaching in a librarianship context. When asked to articulate what having a learner-centered approach means, most point to individual exercises or classroom techniques they employ or try to avoid, but are unable to describe the philosophy as a larger concept.

Ultimately, Klipfel and Cook's definition of learner-centered pedagogy is "who we are as people matters."[1] They explain it in further detail as: "Our conception of learner-centered pedagogy encourages library educators to encounter the learner as an individual with personal interests, preferences, and motivations, and uniquely human set of …

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 workshop I attended …