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Washington, Utah, US: Building Trust in an American Classroom








Learn For a Lifetime, Lead By Example, and LOVE LIFE!

-Building Trust in the American Classroom-


“Every single thing you do matters. You have been created as one of a kind. You have been created in order to make a difference. You have within you the power to change the world.”- Andy Andrews, The Butterfly Effect

If you were to walk the halls of Riverside Elementary in beautiful southern Utah, one of the things you would immediately notice is the culture of kindness and love that permeates the school. This feeling is not created by accident; it is not by chance. The “LOVE LIFE” feeling at Riverside is built on purpose; it is intentional; and it is the key to all other successes at our school.


Building a culture of trust and love in our American school is based upon many factors but I would like to share three key components that I feel could be replicated at any school anywhere in the world:


Key #1- Teach Character

Although many might believe that the role of teaching character is reserved only for parents and the home, we feel that as a school we can be a vital support to parents in teaching those core character values that are positive in any society.

Riverside Elementary is a Lighthouse School as a part of the Leader in Me program developed by Dr. Stephen Covey. As a part of this program, all students and stakeholders at our school learn and live the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Students learn the value of being proactive, putting first things first, and beginning with the end in mind.

We recognize that teaching character as a part of our curriculum helps us to develop a kinder, more balanced, and better prepared citizen for our community.


Key #2- Know Every Child by Name, Need, and Number

Too often, students at a school seem to be known merely by a test score or an educational weakness.

At Riverside, we strive to let every student in our school recognize that we know them by these three things:

  1. Name- No word is more beautiful to a person than their own first name. We challenge all stakeholders in our school to address students by their first name. This creates an immediate friendship and trust because the child feels “known” by an adult.

  2. Need- This means we know something about each child. This could include a hobby or a strength or a talent or a challenge at home.

  3. Number- This means we are able to easily access an academic measurement number that will give us an idea as to the strengths and/or weaknesses of each student.

Key #3- Create Memorable Moments

Life, and by nature, school consists of a series of peaks and valleys. One way we create a culture of trust and love is to plan and create memorable peaks. We feel like our students can learn more in the valleys if they are inspired by the peaks.


One way we create memorable peaks at our school is to provide opportunities for service and kindness. When students work together with adults in doing good it creates a foundation of goodness that builds trust. If any school wants to build trust, serve side-by-side with your students.


One of my favorite sayings is, “Others are only mirrors of you.” If we want to develop trust with our students and in our school we need to be able to look in the mirror and see a person that is worthy of trust; a person that is trustworthy.


As I complete the final few months of my 33 year journey in education I look back and smile as I remember the peaks and the valleys. Always remember, it is about relationships. It’s about people. Too soon we reach the finish line and too late we find the joy is in the running.


Burke Staheli is the principal of the Riverside Elementary School in Washington, Utah, US. He is seen in the picture above reading the book ”The Quiltmaker” and inviting each of the children to do an act of service to earn a quilt square. He then made the featured quilt using all of these squares. GEA visited his school on a program for European teachers who were learning about the strengths of the US education system. The picture below demonstrates a leadership curriculum the school follows called Leader In Me.






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