It’s All About Trust

Fresh out of college, I began my teaching career teaching English to high school students. A lover of literature and writing, I eagerly anticipated sharing my passion with my students. However, one of my classes proved to be a challenge I did not expect. This particular class was comprised fully of boys, young men really, who wanted no part of literature, prose, or me. Like a uniform, each one wore a black leather jacket, jeans, and a white tee shirt with a packet of cigarettes rolled into the sleeve. They entered the classroom slowly, hesitantly, and sat with their legs stretched out in front of them quite literally creating a barrier between them and me. I attempted to dazzle them with my knowledge of Shakespeare and my infallible grammar and made no inroads. Then it came to me; these young men had struggled in school for years, and their bravado masked their lack of confidence and trust in a system that had let them be left behind. I then began talking less and listening more. I got to know them and they came to know me. Some actually would stop to talk with me in the halls, and gradually the leather jackets were thrown over the backs of the chairs and we all began learning. It’s all about trust.

Several years later after the birth of my daughter and a move to a different community, I began teaching in our neighborhood elementary school with different responsibilities. Here I was the Special Education Coordinator and, among other duties, I was charged with conducting assessments of students to help determine if they qualified for special education. As a young parent myself, the enormity of this task was not lost on me. While getting to know these children one –on –one in the testing sessions was always a pleasure for me, conveying the results to parents was more complex. Referrals to special education arise out of difficulties in the school setting; children are frustrated and parents are anxious. Team meetings full of unfamiliar processes and vocabulary can be intimidating. First and foremost, these emotions needed to be understood and respected in order to have discussions that led to the best outcomes for the students. As I listened to parents share their understanding of their children, their dreams and their fears, I was able to find the connections between their concerns and my findings. And when parents heard their sentiments reflected in my words and they knew that I had listened, trust was built. Only then could we really begin the important task of helping the student.

An admission professional has the honor and pleasure of offering a student placement in her school. On these occasions, the admission officer, the student, and the family celebrate a new beginning together. However, admission officers also have the responsibility of accepting only those students who are mission appropriate, meaning the student is the right “fit” for the institution and vice versa. No one benefits from placing a child or adolescent in a school that isn’t able to fully provide for and support that student. But almost always, the family hearing this news is disappointed. Early in my tenure as Director of Admission, I truly dreaded making these phone calls. But soon I learned to reframe my message to reflect what I was really saying: our decision was not based on some “failure” of the student, rather it was based on the honest statement that our school couldn’t provide all that the student needed. This opened the door to a conversation that focused on the strengths and challenges of the student and a dialogue regarding next steps. Again, it was the process of listening that led to mutual understanding. While these parents often continued to feel disappointed, they came to trust that I always had the best interest of their child at heart. And it’s all about trust.

About The Author

Carolyn Nelson, M.Ed.