How to make sincere students

"Trust is an investment that always pays off"

Focus: trust

What it brings in everyday school life, how the distrust of parents can be countered and why it improves the health of teachers: Read our interview with trust researcher Martin Schweer about the power of the V-word here.

The interview was conducted by Stefan Schlögl on April 4, 2018


When I think back to my school days, the teacher I trusted most was anything but a cuddle teacher. He asked a lot and tested hard. Can even strict teachers exude confidence?

It depends on how we define "strict". If one understands by strictness that there are clear rules and goals, that is an important vote of confidence. This gives rise to authority in a positive sense, which is predictable on the part of the student.

The situation is different when teachers use their position of power inappropriately, for example to downplay someone in front of the class.

But even educators who appear relaxed to the outside world are not automatically confidants. Sometimes they are simply indifferent to the needs of their counterparts, the pupils sense that.


Confidence researcher Martin Schweer: "The decisive factor is authenticity, i.e. being genuine and actually living your own values, views and convictions."


What role does trust play in the relationship between teachers and students?

A very important one - which is also being recognized more and more. We know from many studies that trust is a resource that has a positive effect. Because it promotes the motivation of everyone involved and creates a better learning atmosphere.

Schoolchildren who initially show little interest in the lessons or who struggle with the content also benefit from this. At the same time, emerging conflicts can be resolved more quickly and more constructively.

Trust is something very individual. It is based on experience, attitude to life, the current situation. Nevertheless, one would try to describe the ideal, trustworthy educator: What distinguishes him or her?

The decisive factor is authenticity, i.e. being real and actually living your own values, views and convictions. It is also important to set clear standards for accepted and unaccepted behavior in order to avoid ambiguity.

At the same time, students must not get the feeling that they are being treated unfairly, for example because others are being favored. This includes transparency in the assessment so that grades can be traced.

Of course, professional competence is also required, but it is also important to give young people the feeling of being able to receive support at any time if necessary. Be it in class, in conflicts in the class or in more private matters.


“Lecturers can demand performance and impose sanctions. As long as they also take measures such as transparency and honesty, that is not a contradiction in terms. "


But teachers and students do not act on an equal footing. There is a more or less clear power imbalance.

This unequal distribution of power does exist, and it is neither negotiable nor exchangeable. We have to deal with such asymmetrical relationships every day.

However, it is crucial to clearly address the different roles, after all, there are also rights and obligations associated with them. Be it taking responsibility or trying to do your job carefully.

But there are certainly some teachers who fear that if I trust my students too much, my authority will be gone. That could be interpreted as a weakness.

From my point of view, this is a common misconception in everyday psychology that also exists in business executives. True to the motto: I have to be strong, otherwise I will lose respect and authority.

What is decisive, however, is the clear separation between thing and person. Lecturers can and should demand performance and address inappropriate behavior, they can certainly impose sanctions - but also take confidence-building measures such as support, transparency and honesty. That is not a contradiction.


"Anyone who has the feeling that their work is valued is more resistant to moments of frustration and stress peaks."


At the same time, however, pedagogy warns that too close proximity could limit young people's need for autonomy.

Of course, every student is different. This is a reflection of their respective experiences, for example in the family. While one does not want close proximity, personal support is important for the other. Teachers must also pay attention to this.

But there are no patent remedies. It is crucial to recognize these needs and to make offers. In doing so, teachers do not have to be compulsorily happy, respectful interaction is a good start. Not least because the boundaries of the counterpart are preserved and a solid basis of trust can still be established.

Now students and teachers have different relationships of trust. For pupils, for example, “information” is often associated with social media, while teachers tend to trust specialist knowledge and experience. Can these different groups even find common ground?

I even see it as an opportunity to learn from each other. Of course, this requires openness and courage on the part of the teachers.

The request to a student to show what a certain app can do is sometimes interpreted as a weakness for the teacher - also because he believes that he always has to know everything.

I think that's wrong thinking. Asking questions simply shows genuine interest in the other person's world.


"Trust is an investment that always pays off."


Isn't it difficult in everyday teaching, with all the requirements and the pressure to perform, to also take care of “soft skills” such as trust?

Clearly, the demands of everyone involved are increasing nowadays. Incidentally, we experience similar things in everyday university life when accompanying the prospective teachers.

Ultimately, however, teachers find it much easier to design successful and goal-oriented work in an intact climate of trust. Striving for trust is therefore an investment that - to stay in the economic picture - pays off.

Because teachers also benefit personally?

Those who enjoy teaching and feel that their work is valued are more resistant to moments of frustration and stress peaks. This prevents psychosomatic complaints or the risk of burnout.

Now at school there is not only the relationship between teachers and students, but also that between teachers and parents: How can their trust be won?

It is not uncommon for parents in particular to be insecure, sometimes even mistrust, as is the case with many institutions. Nowadays, however, doubts sometimes get out of hand.

In fact, you can only get ahead if parents are actively brought on board. So not only be informed, but actually obliged to take responsibility.

This includes a regular exchange in which all those involved, i.e. students, teachers and parents, jointly articulate their goals, plans and mutual criticism. The result should be an agreement in which all three parties must pull together.


“The school as an institution should critically question itself: Does it penetrate into the classroom what is important to us? What do we understand by a culture of trust? "


How can the school, the organization, help to strengthen trusting relationships?

First, the institution should question itself critically. Does it actually penetrate into the classroom, which is important to us as an institution? What do we understand by the keyword culture of trust? Who should we include?

It doesn't help if the school management thinks up meaningful projects, but teachers and students don't get involved. In addition, the specific profile, i.e. the identity of a school, should be asked about.

Also important: How do we as a school radiate into society? How can we get actively involved in the town and region? Schools as a social player, as a competence center that the population perceives as indispensable.

You give lectures to business executives and teach at a university. Please have a little chat: How do you build trust as a teacher?

Of course, this can only be compared to school practice to a limited extent, if only because I cannot establish such intensive contacts with students. But in general I rely on a high degree of transparency.

I try to define clear rules of the game so that everyone knows how assessments are made. I also hope, of course, that I am technically competent.

But the most important thing for me is to convey one thing to the students: my sincere effort to teach them something.


To person

Professor Dr. Martin K. W. Schweer (53) has held the chair for educational psychology at the University of Vechta (Lower Saxony) and head of the Center for Trust Research (ZfV) since 1998.

Schweer has published numerous publications on the subject of schools and written relevant specialist articles, including in: Teacher-student interaction. Content fields, research perspectives and methodological approaches. 3rd edition, Springer 2016.



more on the subject

Inquired: What holds students and teachers together
From practice: four teachers talk
Essay: The courage to dare to trust


An article from Was Jetzt magazine, issue 1/18