Teachers skills translate to a host of careers outside the classroom
For Administrators

Having Competence — Building it and Expressing it — Helps Teachers Build Trust

By Brian Gatens June 15, 2015

It is essential that everyone around us — students, parents, colleagues and administrators — has a high level of trust in our work. Without trust, we’re just killing time in the classroom. Kindness, reliability, competence, honesty and openness are the pillars that trust is built upon. Let’s talk about competence.

Project it

Teachers skills translate to a host of careers outside the classroomAs with the other four traits, competence is so low-key and somewhat hidden that it’s a bit like being in a room filled with air. When it’s there, you don’t seem to notice it, but when it’s not, you notice right away.

Competence, as it connects to trust, is not solely about being able to do your job. It’s about sending the message that you can meet your responsibilities.

Go deep on knowledge

The most competent people I know are willing to talk about the larger knowledge base that surrounds a problem or situation. For example, being able to speak effectively and with authority about children who can’t complete their homework sends a strong message that you know what you are talking about.

Knowing current research is vital to establishing your authority, so you should always be keeping an eye on developments that affect your classroom approach. You don’t want to be giving the impression you are making things up or speaking off the top of your head. That undermines trust.

Be articulate

Having all the knowledge and experience in the world matters little if you can’t express yourself to colleagues and parents. You have to make a point of speaking clearly and deliberately, in words anyone can understand — minus the educational jargon and acronyms.

Make sure the people you’re speaking with understand what you are saying. I’ve seen too many colleagues undermine the perception of their competence by tripping over their words.

Don’t be dismissive

No one likes a know-it-all. Say you’re having a conversation with a co-worker dealing with an exasperating child. Even if you know exactly what to do, you’ll burn through a colleague’s trust if your reply sounds dismissive.

Some people who are having trouble with their approach need to talk their way to a solution. Being patient, listening to others and then sharing your thoughts is the best way to build trust in these scenarios.

Use your experience

After several years in the classroom, you’ll have a healthy base of experience. You’ll have worked with a wide variety of children, met many kinds of parents, and have learned what does and does not work.

When working with others, it’s completely appropriate to share what you have learned. Talking about how you’ve approached past situations is an excellent way to demonstrate your competence. This sends the message that your experience can help.

Acknowledge mistakes

Competence isn’t just about having all the answers. It’s also about learning as you go and doing a better job next time. Classrooms require split-second decisions; you’re bound to make a few wrong ones.

This isn’t a matter of if, but of when. And when it happens, acknowledge your error and be clear in how you will prevent a repeat. I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes, and I’ve learned that people are far more understanding when you accept responsibility and show a willingness to grow.

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