Trust: The Essential Ingredient in Meaningful Learning
Kim Ridley, Head of School
I am thinking about the word “ trust” and how I believe it opens doors to exploration, creativity, and meaningful learning.
On Wednesday, I spent several hours at Fresh Pond, moving from one cohort to the other. I observed students working on various projects, collaborating with each other, and playing together. I followed Ami’s class to a secret corner of Fresh Pond that I had not visited before. These first graders were so happy to show me the way to this plot of land that was shaded, with several climbable trees and branches growing out in all directions. They summoned me to watch them climb. Then several students said, “come on Kim, let me show you how to climb this tree.” Someone had hoisted a big thick branch and laid it upon another branch on the tree that was used as a ladder of sorts. I rested my foot on the base of that branch and watched it wobble back and forth. I said, “I think my body is too heavy for this branch so I can’t trust myself to climb up without getting hurt.” One student said, “Kim just watch me, this is how you do it.” She had the nerve to have on Mary Jane patent leather shoes, as she scaled that tree with ease and confidence. I was in awe!
Walking back to Neville Field to see what other cohorts were up to, I began reflecting on the idea of trust. Ami’s students have formed a cohesive and trusting community. I thought about the impact on their learning, as I watched them seamlessly playing, adding sticks to the fort they are building, and playing games with their stuffed animals. This kind of play and learning was unscripted, and new ideas and choices appeared to be welcomed. There was a moment of disagreement, and time was made for problem solving and off to playing again. From my educational lens, trust creates this sense of flexibility in thinking and the freedom to engage in new learning experiences. I remembered that trusting feeling as a child, and yet, I can’t remember when I stopped trusting in this way.
Elena Aguilar, who has written several books about adult development and coaching in educational settings, refers to trust as “an accurate awareness of self and with how we show up and engage with others.” I think about how we as adults have to continuously practice trusting ourselves —and yet, at school, I see example after example of how teachers intentionally teach students to trust themselves by nurturing community, collaboration, a sense of agency, and freedom of choice. I believe trust in adults is cultivated in a similar way by highlighting and supporting one’s sense of agency, and cultivating a sense of freedom to choose the way we show up as professionals, or how we want to be in relationship to others. The collaboration and community pieces of this puzzle are more challenging for adults. Why? I think we forget how much we rely on each other for our very survival. We lose sight of the work and intention it takes to nurture collaboration and community. Just as we intentionally set up opportunities for students to learn how to trust themselves, their classmates and teachers, we have to remember that we need to model what it means to trust each other. Our ability to successfully open our school this fall depended on this kind of trust that comes from being playful, exploring ideas, taking risks, asking hard questions, working through as well as leveraging our differences, which ultimately helped us to re-imagine school. Trust also comes when we are working toward a common set of values and beliefs. Fayerweather’s mission calls us to cultivate learning that is relevant, meaningful, and relational in partnership with adults who trust and believe in these ideals.