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Why Building Trust with Students During Middle School is Essential for Success

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Amazing. Dynamic. Curious.  

These are the words that first come to mind when I think of students at the middle level. The middle school years are a time when students are thrust into environments where exponential possibilities meet new educational opportunities. And their experiences in these environments will help them grow into leaders in high school, college, and beyond. 

However, if not for the ever-present adults helping to foster growth in the lives of these young adolescents, holistic growth would not be possible.

So how do we, as educators, build the types of meaningful relationships needed to help our students reach their fullest potential in these few key years that are so essential to building a solid foundation for learning and ensuring success for life?

Why is Trust So Important in the Middle Years?

In the middle years, collaborating with peers is a foundation of learning and their social lives. Whether through purposeful organization or during an instructional task, students being able to trust one another and trust the adult leading, is paramount to long-term success. 

During my 20+ years in the middle grades, I have witnessed the power of trust. 

As a principal, I was able to witness the educators in my building introduce complex concepts and guide students to push their understanding in part because they were ready to learn the concept, but more importantly because they trusted their teacher to guide them along their educational journey. 

For anyone who has ever worked with middle school students, you know that the state of your relationship with each student can either help create positive results or can greatly hinder both your and their success.

How to Begin Building Trust

A trusting relationship is a foundation upon which a good working and education environment is built. So how can you begin? Start with these strategies:
  • Get to know your students: Ask them their opinions on topics and ask them to elaborate on why they feel that way; let them know their voice is valued in your class.
  • Presume positive intentions: Assume your students are coming into class with positive intentions. This helps create more positive interactions between you and them and allows for impactful conversations to happen. 
  • Be vulnerable and show them you’re a real person: When appropriate, share a personal story with students that could help them create a connection with you. 
  • Listen to understand, not to respond: If a student is sharing a personal story or if you two are discussing a difficult topic, just listen. Remove your ego from the conversation and force yourself not to respond. Sometimes students just want to be heard by someone – anyone. Show them you can be that person. 

I suggest picking up Brené Brown’s book Dare to Lead if you’re interested in learning more about how trust is developed and the importance of trusting relationships. I found the book to be informative and useful in both my professional and personal life. 

Fun. Demanding. Lively.  

These are the words that first come to my mind when I remember my own middle school years.

What three words come to mind for you?

No matter if your words make you cringe or laugh, I hope this blog helped you associate one more word—trust—as well as all the reasons why it’s so important for our students’ futures.


Robb Gonda has been involved with middle-level education since graduating with his undergraduate degree from Ashland University in that discipline. He has served as a teacher at the 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade level with a majority of that experience in the New Albany-Plain Local Schools District. For the past 10 years, he served as a middle school building principal in Upper Arlington City Schools. Currently, Robb is a board member for the Ohio Middle-Level Association and serves as a Community School Coordinator and School Improvement Facilitator at the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio. 

Email Robb to see how he can support your school or district!