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Blog Oct 13, 2021

What Do Trust-Building Interactions Look Like?

Designing all of our learning settings with relationships at the core could not be more important than it is today — for reducing stress for both children and adults, for addressing trauma, and especially for re-engaging young people and bolstering their belief in themselves and their futures.

Research shows that strong relationships and supportive developmental experiences are what cultivate potential. A deep focus on building strong relationships, fostering a sense of belonging, and attending to social, emotional, and cognitive development is not in conflict with efforts to accelerate academic learning; these strategies are mutually dependent and reinforcing.

Trust is the cornerstone of developmental relationships — and it is created when we go “beyond being nice.” Trust can be built through interactions characterized by gestures of caring, authentic listening, personalization, consistency and dependable support.

What Do Trust-Building Interactions Look Like?

Our core practice continuums provide rich descriptions and images of practice across levels, from emerging to developing to advanced. These tools are designed to prompt reflection and empower growth across roles in a school.

Here are some examples of what trust-building interactions look like across the continuum:


Quality of Interactions

At the emerging level, adult interactions with students are often one-directional and directive or transactional in nature (e.g., directions, demands, statements). At the advanced level, there is a reciprocal nature to adult-student interactions, and students almost always demonstrate willingness and eagerness to engage with adults. Educators also signal attentiveness and regard for student feelings through verbal and nonverbal communication and students almost always demonstrate willingness and eagerness to engage with adults.

Personalized Understandings and Connections

At the emerging levels, adults engage most students in surface-level conversation, such as asking about their weekend or about their progress on an academic task. At the advanced level, adults get to know all students as whole individuals by actively listening, asking questions, and providing opportunities for students to speak about their interests, experiences and beliefs.

Choice and Voice

At the emerging level, student voice is often limited to academic discussion, in settings and activities that are highly controlled by adults. At the advanced level, student voice is a driving force in the classroom and the school, and it is common to see students leading conversations and projects, giving feedback to adults, and co-constructing classroom and school culture in partnership with adults.

Supporting Growth

At the emerging level, adults work to support growth for the class as a whole, but they cater to the “average” student, rather than providing effective individualized supports. At the advanced level, adults provide personalized learning experiences for all students, with the right amount of support and challenge that maximizes their individual growth on their own unique pathway.

You can read more examples of what trust-building interactions look like and access tools and resources to reflect and redesign in the Turnaround for Children Toolbox.