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Chris Claudillo Essay on "Know Yourself, Change Your World"

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Chris Caudillo, a student of Professors Nolet and Romano, at Western Washington University's Woodring School of Education, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "Know Yourself, Change Your World" by Parker Palmer.

Prompt: Palmer cites a study that found relational trust was the one variable, not money, models of governance, state-of-the-art curriculum, in-service training or technology—that made a difference in improving kids' learning. What do you think goes into relational trust between teacher and student? Teacher and teacher?

Read author Parker Palmer's response to Chris Caudillo's essay here.

Read classmate Christine Everson's response to the same article here.


Parker Palmer

Photo by Dan Kowalski

One Voice Among Many

By Chris Caudillo

These days, there is a multitude of voices speaking to the minds of children and teenagers, each competing to be heard above the others. These include the literal voices of family, the voices of friends conveyed face-to-face and by phone, text, email, instant messaging, Facebook and MySpace, and the voices of celebrities, sports stars, bands, magazines, Twitter and YouTube. In the midst of the cacophony, kids are actively choosing which voices they listen to and learn from, moving on to other voices as they determine them to be relevant, all the while formulating their sense of self and their views of the world. Where does the teacher’s voice fit into this? How do we ensure that kids consider the voices of their teachers, that they don’t get relegated to the end of the relevancy line behind Twitter?

It seems that for students to willingly tune in and turn up the volume on their teachers, they need to believe that the teacher’s knowledge is valuable, worthwhile, and trustworthy. Fundamental to this perception of the teacher’s knowledge is the student-teacher relationship itself. Trustworthy knowledge can’t come from an untrustworthy teacher. Neither can valuable understanding be effectively shared through a relationship that is perceived by one or both parties as less than valuable. This is where I see the need for relational trust.

Relational trust starts with the teacher. Though the relational aspect is two-way, it’s necessary for the teacher to initiate both sides: The teacher must have trust for students, and the teacher must earn the trust of students. Some things that go into trust for students include respect, a sense of compassion, and affirmation of each student’s individual value. We are often more willing to acknowledge the importance of another when we realize that that person has already recognized our importance. The second half of the relationship, earning the trust of the students, requires such things as creating a sense of safety, a nonjudgmental attitude, humility, integrity, and a respectable character. Overall, relational trust requires persistence in order to establish it, consistency in order to maintain it, and the time and investment that are necessary to make a relationship meaningful.

Throughout my childhood, I have had teachers whose voices held varying degrees of relevance for me. Some of those voices I valued and treasured, some I’ve since forgotten, and some were just irrelevant. In each of these cases, I know that the amount of effort a teacher put into having a relationship with me influenced how much I valued the teaching they offered.

A good example was Mrs. Peterson in fifth and sixth grade. It was evident that she cared about my classmates and me. I felt confident that I could talk to her about any problems I had. She allowed us to know her—she was a fan of the Seattle Mariners, Elton John, and the X-Files. Her classroom was a safe place for creativity. I was free to write sentences about giant purple mutant ducks, as long as all of the vocabulary words were used correctly. It was through Mrs. Peterson’s enthusiastic encouragement that I first discovered my passion for writing. Her voice meant something to me, and it made an impact on my life. I later earned my degree in creative writing.

Our students need more from their teachers than information and instructions. Such information holds little meaning unless students believe that they matter to the people who teach them. Relational trust is what allows us as teachers to speak with voices that are relevant to the personal lives of our students. If we believe that our voices are worth listening to, relational trust is worth our efforts.

Chris CaudilloChris Caudillo is a graduate student at Western Washington University and plans to teach high school English. He balances his studies with hiking, rock climbing, guitar strumming, and massive amounts of coffee.


Parker Palmer's Response:


When Sharon Palmer, my wife, edits my writing, she asks three questions: Is this worth saying? Is it said clearly? Is it said beautifully? I rarely pass all three of those tests until the tenth or twelfth draft, and then only in part! I don’t know how many times Chris Caudillo and Christine Everson drafted their essays, but both of them pass all three of Sharon’s tests with flying colors.

Both essays focus on the critical role of “relational trust” in teaching and learning, arguing that the best teachers have not only knowledge and skill but also the “heart” to connect with their students, which is critical to student learning. Both alert us to the challenge of trust-building amid the complexities that students bring to class every day, complexities hidden behind the masks that young people (like all the rest of us) often feel compelled to wear.

Chris Caudillo reminds us that if students are to learn, a teacher must make her voice heard among the multitude of external voices that clamor for students’ attention—a goal that is reached not by shouting but by building trust. Christine Everson reminds us that young people often come to class agitated by inner voices of fear and self-judgment—a tumult that must be stilled if learning is to occur, another pedagogical task that requires a teacher to earn students’ trust.

As these two teacher candidates know, relational trust in the classroom goes far beyond “being nice.” Healthy human development involves growing beyond the infant stage—where you have no choice but to trust adults—toward individuation, which means in part learning to be discriminating about whom you trust. As researchers have shown, if the adults called teachers cannot bridge this developmental trust gap, real learning is not likely to occur.

In an article called “Trusting What You Know: Negotiating the Relational Context of Classroom Life,” Miriam B. Raider-Roth says, ”Based on an in-depth study with sixth-grade students, this research demonstrates that students’ construction of trustworthy knowledge in school depends heavily on the quality of their relationships with teachers and peers.“ (Teachers College Record, Vol. 107, No. 4, April 2005, pp. 587–628.)

Education is a field that tends to be obsessed with “tips, tricks and techniques” to help teachers get through the day. So it is a source of hope to read these essays by two teacher candidates whose professors have asked them to probe the depths of the teacher’s heart, which is where good teaching comes from. And the fact that people like Chris Caudillo and Christine Everson will soon be in the classroom, teaching our children, is something to gladden everyone’s heart.

—Parker J. Palmer is author of The Courage to Teach and Let Your Life Speak, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal



Interested? Want an opportunity for your students to step up their writing and write for a real audience? Learn about how to join the YES! Magazine Exemplary Essay Project here.

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