Creating a culture of trust

by Amy Logan, President, Montana ACDA

In the midst of my graduate studies these past two years, I have had the opportunity to really focus on the most important aspects of my teaching career. I have realized that I place great value on relationships, teamwork, and a positive culture in my classroom above most everything else.


Last summer I attended an inspirational “High Trust / Excellence in Teaching" workshop taught by Trust Psychology creator and founder Dennis M. McLoughlin. This incredible psychology has transformed my personal life and parenting, as well as my classroom culture. After nearly a semester

teaching with this psychology as my foundation, I am noticing a great decrease in my personal stress level and classroom discipline problems, and a huge increase in my level of enjoyment of this career I’ve chosen. I will recommend a few key components that anyone can try within their personal and professional life.

Taking care of yourself
The first is the importance of taking care of oneself. Excellent teaching demands so much of a person. We are performing artists and the most important part of the culture in the classroom. To be at our best, we all have basic genetic needs that must be filled. In High Trust*, these needs are labeled ARFF for Achievement, Respect (Love), Fun and Freedom (Joy). As humans, we are internally motivated to fill these needs. Our behaviors are driven by this fulfillment or lackthereof. Music teachers may easily get bogged down with the magnitude of responsibilities our jobs entail. If we make it a priority to find a balance and fill our ARFF, we will be happier and healthier. “The more you give yourself (ARFF/what you want) the more you will, unconditionally, share yourself with others” (D. McLoughlin). 

When inspecting my own life, I realized my ARFF was out of balance. I felt a sense of achievement and even respect, but my sense of freedom was low. I am currently making the effort to find time for things I enjoy and attempting to live a more balanced life. I also realize that when a student acts out, they are seeking to fill one of their ARFF that is low. Sometimes it simply takes recognizing this to begin to develop a relationship of trust and respect.

Establishing trust; the key that turns teacher and student energy into achievement
According to Dennis McLoughlin, the biggest challenge for any teacher is: “how do we work with young people in ways that inspire them to choose what is best, and maximize their potential?” The answer is found within the theory of Trust Psychology*. 

Trust is the key that turns teacher and student energy into achievement, not conflict. Trust is the “critical variable” in human relationships (and teaching is a multitude of complex relationships) that predicts success. I believe through my clear expectations, practiced procedures, and daily interactions, students trust that my classroom is a place of safety and unconditional love. They are inspired to creativity, meaning, joy, and a desire to excel. We hold respect for all in the highest regard. Respect is something we do because it is the correct thing to do. It is not a personal favor. High Trust* encourages me choose to influence young people in the most positive ways possible. I make the conscious choice to approach every potentially negative situation with trust that the student can learn, grow, and be enriched through positive interactions. It isn’t always easy or second nature, but the outcomes of some potentially disastrous situations have been almost entirely positive. Those who make kids safe get to set the standards. If my classroom is a place of safety, the standards can be set high enough to challenge kids to continue to grow. I make the effort every class period to dismiss on a success, giving students a sense of pride, accomplishment and joy. 

Trust Psychology* states that my purpose as an educator is to teach kids to think and be responsible so that they may become independent. Through respect, trust and joy, we can teach responsibility. Curriculum may grow kids cognitively, but healthy teachers grow kids in responsibility.

I am learning to replace some of my old habits with intentionally thoughtful, trust-based choices. I am learning to ask more questions of students to keep them engaged and involved. Rather than telling an off-task student what they should be doing, I ask them, “What is your job right now?.” Their response allows them to own their behavior and make changes. A tardy student is asked “What time does class start? What time did you arrive? What time will you be here tomorrow?” 

I have learned that mistakes are something to love because that is where new learning goes. I no longer get angry when kids make poor decisions, but look for opportunities to encourage them to learn and grow. One great challenge I’ve found has been resisting the trap of saying things more than once and thereby teaching students not to listen the first time. I used to call out the page and measure number numerous times. I now state it once, and then I will frequently ask the class, “Where are we starting?” I have also changed the way I frame class rules and concert etiquette expectations. Rather than a list of “do not’s,” I choose to word these expectations only in the positive, stating what people may do!

Framing things in the positive
Framing things in the positive is sometimes contrary to my nature and our society which loves to focus on the negative, the problem. We not only “cry over spilled milk,” we gossip about it and steep ourselves in painful emotions. But choosing to live a High Trust* life means focusing on solution.


Interestingly, Trust Psychology* teaches that we shouldn’t act on feelings, but rather think and act on knowledge and intuition. Certainly problems will still arise. Kids will misbehave and make poor choices. What I permit, I teach. Punishment, however, can only stop behaviors, it cannot teach them. This does not mean that we are encouraged to let things slide. Instead, I choose to be solution driven when I gently stop inappropriate behavior, ask questions, give choices, demonstrate better ways, practice and celebrate the successes. When I model and speak the positive, it’s amazing how quickly the students choose to come along on the journey. They know they will not be made to feel stupid or embarrassed, but rather a mutual trust will guide our interactions.

Check it out..."Trust Psychology" workshops are available
"Trust Psychology* is Dennis McLoughlin’s own creation. He is an incredibly captivating and inspirational person who wants to share his observations of the world and this “better way” to live. When revisiting the question of how to work with young people in ways that inspire them to choose what is best, and maximize their potential, I find it inspiring to realize that much of the answer can be found in my own ability to grow in trust.


If I work to fill my own ARFF, practice a trust mindset and continue to reflect on my gratitude, I will create the positive classroom culture I hope for. While there are many quotable bits of advice that come from High Trust* workshops, I would highly encourage you to experience the workshop live and first-hand. If you are passionate about building a positive classroom culture and school climate, I recommend High Trust* as a powerful, life-changing psychology on both a personal and professional level. 


Get more information about Trust Psychology*, as well as a list of upcoming workshops on the website (numerous opportunities around Montana in 2017). I plan to attend for the second time in June, even after I’ve finished my master’s degree. I have already seen incredible results in the response of students as I attempt to build positive relationships and classroom culture. Trust is the environment where thinking and responsibility flourish. I wish that environment for you and for your students!

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