Wallace on....Building Learner Trust

Wallace on....Building Learner Trust

By Susan Wallace


It’s all too easy for us as teachers to take learners’ uncooperative or challenging behaviour personally.

But in the daily hubbub and stress of the classroom or workshop it’s important to remind ourselves that what drives learners’ behaviour is often the accumulation of their past experiences rather than any personal dislike they’ve taken to us, the teacher.

Being in a classroom situation may trigger feelings of humiliation or failure. If teachers have punished them or undermined their self-esteem in the past, they may now see all teachers as the enemy.

So you – professional and well-intentioned as you are – nevertheless become a handy target for all the anger and resentment they’re feeling.

The bottom line is that they have probably learned not to trust teachers (or other authority figures). If you respond to their behaviour with matching aggression or confrontation, the problem will only escalate.

The most positive way forward is to work at re-building the learner’s trust. This is never easy and calls for patience and persistence. But there’s a seven-point approach that goes a long way towards establishing the trust that’s necessary between teacher and learner so that effective learning can begin to take place. It looks like this:

  • Whenever possible, interact with your learners as individuals; don’t always address them as a class. This includes learning names quickly and using them at every opportunity.
  • Behave towards learners in a way that demonstrates that you like them and care about their welfare. Be approachable.
  • If you show disapproval, make it clear that it’s because of their behaviour, not the learner as a person.
  • Make sure you engage learners in dialogue; listen to them, don’t just talk at them.
  • Make sure your negative interactions with any one learner (e.g. reprimands, requests for quiet) never outnumber your positive interactions with them (e.g. praise, friendly greeting).
  • Negotiate or discuss a way forward whenever it’s appropriate to do so, rather than simply issuing an order.
  • Make sure your own behaviour and interactions always provide a role model for your learners.


Susan’s new book Getting Behaviour Management Right in a Week, is due to be published by Critical Publishing on January 17, 2017. It is part of a series that also includes Getting Mentoring Right in a Week by Jonathan Gravells and Getting Lesson Planning Right in a Week by Keith & Nancy Appleyard.

SET members will be eligible for a 20 per cent discount on these titles when they are published and ordered via Critical Publishing goo.gl/ghZiuJ using code IAWLIT1216. The offer is valid until 30 April, 2017.

Professor Susan Wallace is emeritus professor of education at Nottingham Trent University. She is an author and expert on behaviour management.




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