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Telling the truth, no matter how difficult, is essential to teachers who want to be seen as trustworthy
For Administrators

Honesty Tempered With Compassion Makes Teachers More Trustworthy

By Brian Gatens June 18, 2015

Teachers have to build and maintain trust with students, families and colleagues to be effective. Trust comes from five qualities, each one as important as the next — kindness, reliability, competence, honesty and openness — that must come together to foster a sense of belief in your work.

Let’s look at honesty.

Is honesty just telling the truth?

Telling the truth, no matter how difficult, is essential to teachers who want to be seen as trustworthyYes it is, but trusted people go a step further. Being honest with others means they expect you to speak plainly and directly to what you think and see about them.

Yet we need to remember that honesty without compassion is a form of cruelty. Trustworthy people create an expectation that they’ll say what they mean (and mean what they say), but they also take the feeling of others into account.

What does honesty in the classroom look like?

You develop the trust of students when they know you’ll speak to them with an honest belief in their ability. In your one-to-one student conferences, use data from their classwork assignments and tests to offer a thorough, direct picture of where they stand as students and how they need to grow. Practice these same principles when meeting parents.

Don’t (silently) agree to lie to each other

Honesty is hard. Your work will require you to have difficult conversations with students and families, whether you’re talking about the child’s grades, behavior choices or interactions with peers.

Don’t take the easy road by avoiding honest conversations about difficult situations. Parents, as upset as they may be, ultimately want their child’s teachers to speak the truth. And if they can’t handle the truth, that’s on them to work through.

Honesty is found in plain language

When sharing thoughts and opinions, many people tend to fall back on euphemisms and “soft” words to say what they mean. You’re much better off using language that is clear and direct, while considerate of people’s feelings.

Suggestions on ways to improve should include the actions that will produce improvements. Rather than say “You didn’t complete 10 homework assignments,” you may want to say “I noted that you didn’t complete 10 homework assignments. Can we talk about what you need to do complete the next 10?” The first is a statement. The second is a statement tilted toward a solution.

Focus on the behavior, not the person

A lot of people interpret honest criticism as a direct personal attack. To prevent things from getting personal when you’re speaking with someone about a pressing issue, you have to keep your focus on their actions and results.

Don’t begin the conversation by focusing on personality factors. Instead, focus on expectations and ways to meet them. This kind of conversation will be more productive if you refer back to the problems with their performance.

Have good timing

Be sure to take the events surrounding the person into account before you decide to have a conversation. I tend to avoid intense meetings at the end of busy weeks as people are often tired and unprepared.

I also let the other person know what the meeting will be about. Getting called into the main office and then being expected to have a deep conversation isn’t something that people are naturally prepared for.

Practice what you preach

When building trust through honesty, be prepared for the other person to share their honest thoughts about your work and how it affects them. Just as we expect others to be open to our honesty, in turn, we should extend them the same courtesy.

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