Openness to Ideas, Perspectives and Change Yields Trust in the Classroom

In order to be trusted, you must be open — in heart and in mind.

  • Open to ideas.
  • Open to listening.
  • Open to change.

When we see openness, we see possibility and hope.

Openness to ideas, concepts and change help teachers build trust in students, families and co-workers.Students, families and colleagues all need to see you as open before they will trust you. Closed minds, mouths, hearts and systems rarely give people the chance to grow and thrive. To be closed is to tell others they have nothing to offer you.

This series of articles explores the five pillars of trust in the classroom — kindness, reliability, competence, honesty and openness. In the final segment, I’ll discuss the keys to bringing openness to your teaching practice:

Embrace change

Those who trust you need to know you’re willing to look at a situation from all sides and adapt as necessary. Insisting “it’s your way or the highway” undermines trust because you’re showing more loyalty to an idea than you are to people.

This is where ego and fear of looking weak come into play. Too many people stick with the wrong direction just to save face. Knowing you are open to positive and necessary change will strengthen the faith of others in your work. No one ever looks back on a positive decision and has less trust in the person who had the guts to make it.

Listen and repeat

Demonstrating your openness to a new idea is a two-step process: Listen intently to what the other person has to say, then tell them what you have heard in your own words.

This sends the signal that you understand what you’ve been told, and taking the extra step of putting it in your own words says you’re open to the other person’s thoughts. This also gives your counterpart the opportunity to reflect more on what they’ve told you.

Don’t interrupt

When you’re discussing a pressing matter, emotion can kick in quickly and cause you to interrupt the other person mid-sentence. Don’t do that.

Interruptions represent a verbal closing of your mind that blocks people’s ability to trust that their opinion is important to you. Hear someone out all the way, and share your thoughts only when they have finished speaking.

Heed body language

Crossed arms, moving away from someone and avoiding eye contact send signals that you aren’t open to what people are saying. Leaving your arms at your sides, sitting with a wide stance, making eye contact and nodding provide cues that you are open to the other person. Some nonverbal cues send a far more powerful signal than what you are saying.

Also take the time to watch the cues the other person is sending you. They’ll indicate if they’re pleased with your behavior by responding in kind.

Open your classroom

As a classroom teacher, I found that my strongest relationships with students were forged outside of formal class times. Having an open lunch where groups of students could eat lunch in my room, being available after school and attending student extracurricular events all projected openness to my students and their lives.

When children realize you’re dedicating time to them because you want to, they translate that into trusting that you have their best interests at heart.

Don’t be a know-it-all

Parenting is, at best, an imperfect science, and you’ll find that many parents will come to you for advice and guidance. Let them explain their challenges and reveal what they’re doing before you come in with any advice.

People usually know what they need to do, but it only becomes real when they say it out loud to another person. Being open to hearing them out — and not cutting them off — sends the message that you’re a trustworthy person.

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Brian P. Gatens is the superintendent of schools for the Emerson Public School District in Emerson, New Jersey. He has been an educator for more than two decades, working at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. In “From the Principal’s Office,” Gatens shares advice, provides insights, and gives guidance on everything from what principals look for when interviewing teaching candidates to how to work with overly protective parents. His front-line assessments supply candid perspectives on school life.

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