a question of trust

There is a basic relationship of trust that needs to be in place for a student to learn from a teacher, and for a teacher to teach a student. 

The student must trust that the teacher offers useful suggestions in good faith, and this trust is expressed in the student making an effort to do what the teacher suggests.  Teacher and student can then see what happens and move on from there. 

Questioning and debating what the teacher offers may be good and may be necessary, but the student needs to accept the offer and play with it for teaching and learning to proceed. 

This is because although trust is earned, it cannot start to accrue without an initial act of faith on the part of the student.

If the student rejects what the teacher offers before trying to do what the teacher suggests, they are free to do so, but then the teacher cannot teach that student and that student cannot learn from that teacher. 

If the student says yes to what the teacher offers, but then in practice does what they originally planned to do, they are free to do so, but that student cannot learn from that teacher and that teacher cannot teach that student. 

Only when the student says yes to what the teacher offers and then goes on at least to try to do this in practice to the best of their ability, can the teacher then teach the student and the student can then learn from the teacher. 

If the student does not trust the teacher to do their job of teaching, the teacher cannot trust the student to do their job of learning.

Or is this wrong?


  • While I do agree, I think it is less true in the national school systems. The children don’t choose to study English, they didn’t choose to be in that class with that specific teacher. Gaining the children’s trust is something the teacher has to address when planning for the class. Particularly when a teacher comes in to replace a teacher who has left or gone on Maternity Leave – the kids are certainly suspicious of anything the new teacher does differently….
    Thanks for thought provoking post!

    • Hello Naomi, thanks for stopping by. Certainly, children in the state school are subject to the education process in ways that don’t apply to adults, and volition is a big part of that.

      Nothing I wrote is meant to remove or reduce the responsibility the teacher has to be worthy of trust; it’s just that, try as you like, it’s the student who must extend the trust in the first place for you both to move forward.

      Ironically, this may be even more true in the national systems, precisely because teachers can’t bank on an implicit contact arising from the children showing up of their own volition.

      Of course, kids natural curiosity and will to get to know the world goes a long way (or can) to balance this perhaps.

      What do you think?

  • Good timing, Anthony. I have been thinking about this lately as I was listening to a podcast about physiotherapy (yes, a bit different) but it was saying that a patient has to trust their physio’s treatment will help them otherwise they won’t do the exercises each day at home. Trust was emphasised as very important.

    I also see this in teaching practice on CELTA courses. Trainees who can clarify language well seem to get asked more questions than those who tend to confuse students. And when a trainee makes a big error which students notice (eg. present perfect = have + past simple*), students tend to go rather quiet!

    Have you seen the same in TP on CELTA?


    • Hello Scott, thanks for commenting. Once certainly seen what you describe, and am myself guilty of mistrusting physios in my time as well!

  • Haha…I only needed to see a physio as I stopped cycling and started running. Maybe my first mistake.

  • Hi Anthony,

    Very true. Thanks for initiating the topic here.

    Got a question! what do you suggest for a trainer who wishes to build up the trust both before a presentation and while they’re doing it? Thanks.

  • Hi Anthony,

    Very much true. Thanks for initiating the topic here.

    Got a question! What do you suggest for a trainer who wishes to build up the trust both before and while they’re doing a presentation? There is this hot, controversial and practical topic; there is this prepared trainer and the session seems to be very well-organized and everything but what about the trust thing between the presenter and the audience? Thanks

    • Thanks for commenting. While that’s true, i never said it wasn’t, and it also doesn’t change the fact that the student has to trust the teacher, or that without this trust, all the skill in the world won’t help the teacher help the student.

      I should also point out that when I wrote this post I was mainly thinking about the teacher-student relationship find within teacher education (ie adults working together); that said, I think it’s true of any learning situation.

  • I do agree with you, it is a two-way street of trust upon which a teacher-student relationship can be built and then thrive. Without this trust, students are more likely to even act out in terms of behavioral problems and so on.

  • With younger students, trust can be earned much faster and easier; teaching adults, however, needs the right tools from the very early start, i.e. even the first warmer can win a heart.

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