The New Adjunct: A Matter of Trust

By Melissa Miller, Ed.D., M.Ed.

“O Ever-failing trust / in mortal strength!” – John Milton

Dr. Johnson beat me to the punch with his May blog, “Do Students Need to Trust Us to Learn?” This is a topic I have been reflecting upon recently because of an interesting book I am reading: Trust Matters: Leadership for Successful Schools by Megan Tschannen-Moran. A few years ago I attended a Women Education Leaders in Virginia (WELV) conference in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Ms. Tschannen-Moran was a keynote speaker. I purchased her book (and got an autograph, I’m a sucker for a signed book), but it has been sitting on the shelf since the conference. After reading Dr. Johnson’s blog, I’ve been thinking about trust and teaching, and took the time to read the book.

Trust is a variable in most aspects of our daily lives. There are unspoken bonds of trust between humans as we navigate our interactions: in traffic, amongst neighbors, on public transportation, etc. In many instances we put implicit, even if guarded, trust in others (think about this next time you get behind the wheel). But in the classroom, there is a relationship that is cultivated throughout the semester. There are opportunities to gain (or lose) trust, but I have found that most students arrive at our doors with a sense of trust from the beginning. Why is this? In my experience, students may not know me personally, but they have high expectations for myself and their other professors. Most start with a level of respect, which has an undercurrent of trust, and I see this as a gift, not to be abused or squandered. My students generally trust me from the word “go” and I’m not always sure why. For some, I believe they have been culturally raised to be respectful of professors (or other professionals). As a new professor, I have been a little surprised by this provisional trust (especially coming from public education). In Trust Matters, Tschannen-Moran points out that “although it makes intuitive sense that trust grows gradually over time, researchers have been surprised to find higher levels of initial trust than expected, even though the parties have very little knowledge or experience of one another” (p. 43). Is it our profession? Our reputation? Or is this simply part of the script of the student-professor relationship?

Tschannen-Moran describes five components called the “Facets of Trust”: benevolence, honesty, openness, reliability, and competence. I agree with these components, and they hit home with me regarding how I want to earn or continue to earn trust in my classroom. Benevolence comes from genuinely caring about our students. This is something that is vital to not lose sight of. Remember why you became a teacher; think about your professors who mentored and inspired you. Honesty is a component of a healthy relationship; this is something I struggle with. I don’t lie to my students, but is is often difficult for me to be brutally honest – sometimes I want to be too nice and couch honesty only in constructive criticism. This is something I am working on! Openness is another facet that does not come easily to me – I am, by nature, a very private person. I make it clear that my students can come to me with their issues, however, but I am guarded about sharing too many personal details of my life. Reliability and compentence are two areas I would rate myself with high marks on a self-evaluation. I am punctual, organized, and studious in my classroom; I work hard to remain educated and aware of current research and content knowledge. These qualities are often noted on my student evaluations, which is rewarding.

I never thought about the connections between teaching and trust, although it does make sense after reading Tschannen-Moran’s book. George MacDonald said, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved,” so I think working towards these components is a noble, worthwhile goal.

How do you embody these facets into your teaching relationships? Which ones do you struggle with?

About the New Adjunct: Dr. Melissa Miller completed her Ed.D. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. She holds a M.Ed. from Mary Washington University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Dr. Miller’s professional and research interests include adult and online learning, professional development, and literacy. Presently, Dr. Miller works as an adjunct instructor and an evaluator, while also enjoying her roles as a wife and mother.

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