10 Ways To Earn Student Respect and Trust

This is my garage the day before it was being re-sided. I called it the "GGG" (Gardner, Garage Graffiti) event. They came to my house on a Saturday morning. Do you think they will remember this day? What if they had not come?

This is my garage the day before it was being re-sided. I called it the “GGG” (Gardner, Garage Graffiti) event. They came to my house on a Saturday morning. Do you think they will remember this day? What if they had not come?

Students know which teacher(s)….

  • are more interested in being popular than in providing and expecting academic excellence . Students will “like” this teacher, but will not “respect” him/her.
  • are there only for the paycheck. These are the people who deserve the quote, “those who can – do, those who can’t – teach”.
  • stopped working hard when they got tenure and are now just putting in time.
  • are incompetent. Students recognize those who read only the questions in the teacher’s edition, use publisher-provided Powerpoint presentations and read them word for word, who have artificial conversations or Q&A sessions.
  • are invested in the totality of the student, beyond what is required by the contract and mandated by administration.
  • are the go to adults for help, support and understanding with life’s struggles

“When students feel that teachers and school administrators genuinely care about them and help them to feel welcome, they are more motivated to cooperate and to succeed.” -Robert Brooks, PhD

A former student remembering her band experience wrote that,

“It is more than just about music.”

She attributed the life-skills she learned in band (time management, team building, respect for authority, commitment, self-discipline….) to have been major factors in her success in college, medical school and life.

In a Facebook message from a Music Education major;

“I just wanted to take a moment to thank you again and again for steering me in the right path, …! There is no way I will ever be able to give you the thanks that you really deserve, for the potential you saw in me, for the care you gave me, for the trust you put in me, and for the time and energy you invested in me! You changed a life…MINE.”

Responding to a blog post called, “I Want To Trust You”, another former student wrote;

I’m remembering a little white lie that Tina and I told you just to get out of class for a minute or two……..Unfortunately, you found out about it. I’ve never felt so guilty as when I was caught tricking YOU! You were the TEACHER to go to when things weren’t going ok. And a trusted teacher…….I was SO sorry!”

Four days before Christmas, I received a text message from a senior,

“G, I just got kicked out of my house. Please help me!”

How can teachers get past the compliance expectation and earn respect….and TRUST?

  • Be real. You can’t fake it with teens, they will see right through you. If you can’t be real, you should not be there. Please leave education.
  • Be available. How easy is it for a teen to say to YOU, “Can I talk to you?”? What if it is not during class or immediately after school? In how many different ways are you available and do students know and understand that? Do they know if it is ok to email, call, text or instant message you? When a teen says they need to talk, somebody needs to be available. Be that person. Consider your use of texting and social media.
  • Be there. Yes, you’re “on duty” at school. What about when a student is in the hospital, at the funeral home, pitching in the softball/baseball game, getting baptized, being awarded Eagle Scout status, or when their garage-type band is playing at the coffee shop? Take your spouse or your kids and just be where you can when you can. They will notice.
  • Trust them. If you want trust, you need to give some. I have a periodic discussion about trust, abusing it, losing it and the difficulty in earning it a second time. Read: “I WANT To Trust You“. Teens make mistakes and the trust area is one of those places where they can mess up. But help them learn. Take a reasonable chance. Yes, you’ll get burned some….but you will also empower leaders to rise up.
  • Respect them. There is a good chance they will recognize and return it.
  • Advocate for them. Of course you have students who are financially challenged and could benefit from music lessons, a better instrument, participation in a select ensemble or some other training. You won’t always succeed, but try to find funding to help. Call the employer to help him get that job. Write a letter to help her get that scholarship. Help them with college applications their parents can’t (or won’t).
  • Listen, really listen. Teens typically think that people don’t listen. They think adults are quick to lecture, criticize and correct, but are slow to listen. You don’t always have to have the answer. Sometimes there isn’t an obvious answer. Sometimes listening is the answer, because in allowing them to share, you enable them to find their own answer. Unless they are sharing something illegal, dangerous, hear them out. Don’t argue. Don’t interrupt. Don’t pre-judge. And when you can, share your wisdom, experience, expertise and advice.
  • Expect and Encourage Excellence. Students will complain when the load is heavy and the challenge is significant, but they know, even when they won’t admit, that achieving excellence requires work. They want to achieve and succeed. Being there for them doesn’t mean lowering your standards. Make them stretch. They’ll appreciate you eventually, even if not today.
  • Don’t assume. A question I ask often is, “You okay?” Simple question….and sometimes they shrug it off, but there have been many times for me that this gives them the opening to ask for help.
  • Don’t give up. It can be difficult, disappointing and even deflating when teens mess up. Don’t give up on them. That’s what the rest of society wants to do sometimes…. They will be disappointed that they disappointed you, but your unconditional support (not approving what they do) is vitally important to them.


Sometimes I complain about my job; about the part-time-ness, the pay, the union, my bosses, the financial realities, and more…. but I will ALWAYS love the teens I get to work with. They can be challenging; sometimes immature, making decisions without thinking through to the consequences of those decisions, they can love you today, hate you tomorrow and love you again the day after……, but if you’re in it for them, you’re positively impacting lives and as the commercial implies, you cannot put a price on that.

Thanks for reading,


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17 yrs experience as a high school band director. 14 yrs as college adjunct faculty. 30+ yrs in the fundraising industry and 24 yrs as a small business owner. (Don't add all those up.). Experience in both the fundraising sales and education worlds give me a unique combination of perspectives in both. I love working with the youthful enthusiasm of today's teenage achievers and with those who work with them.Also 4yrs as proprietor of VirtualMusicOffice.com, which offers a wide variety of virtual services including web/blog design/hosting/managing, social media management (scheduling posts/tweets for maximum impact and brand enhancement) and small business consulting - specializing in school product fundraising.

5 comments on “10 Ways To Earn Student Respect and Trust
  1. Hi John,
    I’ve just stumbled upon you and was drawn into your blog. Your love and respect for young people scintilates off the page. Great share. Your texts/FB messages are testimony to the profound impact you’ve inspired in your students. Schools need more teachers like you. Great teachers are great givers, however please remember to take the oxygen first John!
    Warmest wishes
    Kathryn x

  2. Thanks for those kind words. I’ll try to breathe….. John

  3. Teensmom says:

    Please don’t burn out. Teachers like you are needed!

    What do you say to the student who loves high school music, but gets, “play without the amp” from his school teacher? Said student now has to choose between the school music program and the all-city non-school program. He passed both auditions. Friends are in the school program. All-city means travel and no course credit (not to worry; student has more than enough credits)? Should it come down to the teacher he respects more, and the one who respects him in return? All-city is a higher level of play.

    Said student will still be in the school orchestra, just not the supplementary program if he opts for all-city.

  4. Thanks for the comment. When you say “without the amp”, are you describing something in orchestra — or is that a guitar class?

  5. Sometimes there are better options than the school ensemble. In my school, there are some musicians who are so incredibly advanced that I do not fault them for playing with the local university ensemble or an area youth symphony — instead of the h/s ensemble. Sounds like your experience involves a h/s teacher who does not appreciate your student. That is sad. If the teacher he respects and who respects him is the leader of the all-city ensemble, that sounds like a good way to go (to me).

    Good luck.

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