Trust is earned
How to build trust in schools
Hope April is going smoothly and you are feeling open to express your views. This week’s big idea continues the theme of culture, with the concept of trust…
Big idea 🍉
Trust is a critical component of effective education. However, it relies on us having healthy reserves in our 'trust account'. Let's dive in:
Trust is a big factor in situations where we’re not fully in control—where we have to place our resources, decisions, and future in the hands of others. School is a prime example of such a situation.
As teachers, we continually ask our students to place their faith in us—that our guidance and action will benefit them over time. And as colleagues and leaders, we rely heavily on each other for job security, success, and satisfaction.
When trust is present, we embrace suggestions from others about where to allocate our attention and effort. When it is absent, we can view direction from others as an inconvenience, or even with suspicion, and reject it altogether.
It is no surprise that high levels of trust in school are associated with student motivation, positive attitudes, and academic engagement, as well as teacher improvement (eg. via openness to feedback) and organisational success (eg. via psychological safety).
Trust is important in schools, but it is not something we simply have bestowed on us by default. Rather, it is something we must earn over time—it is a form of social currency. We can grow our 'trust account' by demonstrating:
Credibility Is my teacher/colleague knowledgeable enough to lead me in the right direction? Achieve this by building and showcasing your accomplishments and expertise, in teaching and beyond. Get others to vouch for you.
Consistency Is my teacher/colleague predictable and fair? Demonstrate this by being transparent in your values and expectations. Communicate them regularly and ensure they align with your actions. Exhibit steadfast emotional stability.
Care Does my teacher/colleague understand and look out for me? Exhibit this by taking visible action to show you know them, you are on their side, and you have their interests at heart. As Roosevelt once said: “kids don't care what you know until they know that you care” (and the same is probably true for adults).
Nuance → All three of these investments are critical, but their balance shifts with context. Downward trust (eg. of teachers by leaders) prioritises competence and consistency, whereas upward trust (eg. of teachers by students) leans more heavily toward care.
Note → Caring for someone not necessarily the same as being ‘nice’. False promises—such as telling people that things will be easy or that they will be successful, when they may not—only serve to erode trust over time.
Trust takes time to earn and discipline to keep. But as any experienced hand will tell you: it’s worth it the investment. School is so much more impactful and enjoyable when students have confidence in their teacher and colleagues have confidence in each other.
How big is the 'trust account' in your classroom or school? What would you prioritise to build it further?
Little updates 🥕
On topic → For more on the role of trust in schools, check out this recent evidence review of school leadership & environment, by Coe & co.
On trend → Last week, the Grattan Institute released a report arguing for a greater focus on resourcing teachers with high quality curriculum materials. And this new working paper finds encouraging (long-term) effects of a knowledge curriculum for reading.
Other → The National Institute of Teaching in England has launched a consultation on professional development: have your say here.
Now, before you dash off...
Evidence Snacks has been up and running for a few months now. I just wanted to pause, say a HUGE THANK YOU for giving it some of your time, and cheekily ask for a little more! So, if you’re up for giving me 30 of your seconds, I’d love your take on what you like and what I do can even better: