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  • mbickhaus

Beyond the Surface: Navigating Student Perceptions and Building Trust


I have no idea why she asked me that.

She looked at me, grinned with that charmingly crooked smile, and said in her slightly lispy manner, “Are you British?”

I didn’t understand what made her think that. I do not have an accent and, while I have some English ancestry, I am melting-pot Americana. Perhaps it was because I was wearing a dress, which was uncommon for teachers at our school. Dressing a certain way wasn’t a style choice for most of us but a strategy for survival. For me, that day, dressing up was a survival strategy.

While I have no idea what prompted that question, I think it illustrates how often others’ perceptions are skewed by their experiences and beliefs. People know what they have seen in life, read in books, and watched on TV and movies. Our personal experiences differ vastly from those of our students and colleagues. With the vastness of the world and the capacity for exploration through technology, no two life experiences are the same. THAT is what makes our work tricky.

We address and try to cooperate with each individual psyche when we teach. We are privy to very little of what is actually going on in those minds, spirits, and souls. While we can work within a framework of typical and expected norms, many of our students do not function within those parameters.

How, then, are we to proceed with so many unknowns?

We must arm ourselves with as much information as we can and get to know the kids as reasonably well as possible within the professional constraints of a classroom and school. I think we can get to know our students efficiently through the regular school day, though it takes time and intentionality. There will be tough cases who reveal little about themselves, but through our efforts, they will learn that our classrooms and schools are trusted places for them. We create environments where they can flourish and take social and relational risks because you have demonstrated trustworthiness through your curiosity, consistency, and relationships.

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