Building trust requires kindness, reliability, competency, honesty and openness
For Administrators

5 Requirements for Building Trust in the Classroom

By Brian Gatens May 14, 2015

Without trust, we are nothing.

Interestingly enough, my favorite story illustrating this point didn’t emerge from my work with children and teachers. It happened in 2008, when a close family member was diagnosed with a brain tumor requiring a highly invasive surgery and a long recovery.

After the initial punch to the gut passed, we found ourselves in the offices of one of the world’s best brain surgeons. He spoke with such kindness, assurance, experience and openness that we couldn’t help but feel that we were in the best of hands.

This trust didn’t come from his title, the diplomas on his wall or the hospital where he worked. Instead, it resulted from a direct and heartfelt conversation about the reality of the situation, the cure he was offering and the challenges to follow. Our trust in him was well-founded: A healthy recovery, with only a few long-lasting effects, eventually followed.

Building trust requires kindness, reliability, competency, honesty and opennessA similar dynamic exists in our classrooms. Though the situation is different and the stakes seem lower, your students and their parents are coming to you in much the same way. Trust isn’t a single word — it’s a combination of five things that add up to one classroom essential.


It’s difficult to trust people if you don’t believe they have your best interests at heart. Treating people well, even when they don’t deserve it, projects a gentleness of spirit that will bring them closer to you.

It’s important to remember that kindness isn’t about always being “nice” to people, but instead approaching all situations with an attitude of compassion. You don’t surrender your ability to be direct with people, you just make sure you’re acting with the other person’s best interests in mind.


Two rules apply:

  • Do what you say you will do.
  • Do it when you say you’re going to do it.

Missing a deadline, not following up, or forgetting to follow through on a promise will destroy the capacity of others to trust you immediately. This is especially harmful to children who rely on adults, not just for fair treatment but also for examples.


It’s not enough to know what you need to do. You also need to project that understanding to parents and students.

That means being able to approach a problem with authority, list previous solutions, and deliver results reinforcing that you can be trusted to maintain a high level of work and make problems disappear. Competency comes from repeated practice, watching more skilled colleagues at work, and spending time reading and studying about the work of others.


Although it’s true that honesty without compassion is cruelty, saying what needs to be said is essential to building trust. If the family feels you’re not being as compassionately honest as possible, they won’t believe you when you offer a solution.

It’s important to ground your honest appraisal in your experience, previous examples and solutions that you’ve seen work. If you don’t know the answer to the problem, be honest about that too, but reinforce the point that they can trust you to keep searching for a solution.


Along with skill, experience and expertise, remaining open to other perspectives and situations is essential in building trust. If you appear to be driven toward a single solution and refuse to consider other options, your judgment will be questioned. Being open requires enough humility to be able to say out loud that someone else has a better, more workable solution.

If you want others to believe in you, believe in the power of developing their trust in you.

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