At the beginning of the school year in each class, we always spend a lot of time getting to know one another. The first term starts with engaging in conversations with the students and asking them to trust me, learn with me, and learn about themselves. We’re doing team building activities and I’m giving them time to explore who they are in this new space together.

But, there’s also something special about the second term in elementary school. It’s a time when I feel like we’ve built a classroom community, know one another, and the students are ready to dive in. Maybe because the days are starting to get brighter or maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on each students’ strengths and next steps while writing report cards, but I always feel like we’re in a different stage of our relationship. We’re building a trusting relationship with each other where we can all feel comfortable and safe.

It’s so important to build that trust. In times of challenging learning, the student-teacher relationship can be key to students feeling like they are not alone in their learning journey. Educator Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, likens this trust to another familiar relationship. When we are with a physiotherapist, they give us exercises to help our bodies to move better physically. Sometimes those exercises stretch us to our limits, but we trust our care to these professionals. They assess and watch how we move and encourage us to continue getting stronger. Much of this ability to grow is based on trust; I know that I trust this person to do the best for me and provide care for me. Similarly, we help students to learn in class. We ask them to stretch their thinking, learn and attempt to master new skills, and take risks for their own growth. They trust us to guide them, provide them attainable next steps, build on their strengths, and be the person who helps create a safe place for them to learn.

Lately, I’ve also been thinking about the importance of building a space where students also trust each other. It’s difficult to host any space where there are so many different people together; many who come from different backgrounds and experiences and whose personality traits differ greatly from one another. How do we build trust between all of these students?

First we can define what that safe, trusting space looks like, sounds like, and feels like for each of us. We might have already done this activity together, but term two is a great opportunity to revisit those ideas. We might look at the original ideas if I’ve got a copy on chart paper or digitally and see how everyone feels as a whole or allow students to reflect individually and anonymously. I might ask if there’s anything to add, perhaps students have better language or understanding of what they are looking for in the learning space.

As the educator in the room, it’s also time for me to reflect personally on the ultimate goal of this learning community. This year, I’m radically dreaming of the possibilities for our classroom communities. I want students to feel safe and cared for by me, but I also want them to feel safe and cared for by each other. I want less division amongst social circles and more inclusion of everyone not because they are simply present in the space with us, but because we trust that we all belong here. I want all students to feel safe sharing their thoughts and to know that they don’t have to be perfect. This, too, all seems built on trust; that students trust one another to be respectful and trust that they will be kept safe.

Teaching is so challenging. There are so many things to think about; meetings, curriculum, deadlines, and more. It’s hard to trust that building belonging is essential for learning and wellness. In my year of radical dreaming, I’m remembering that at the centre of each day is a trusting, positive, and exciting experience for students in my care. I wonder what that looks like, sounds like, and feels like for all of us.


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