Trust in education

Trust in the school context, especially around the use of technology.

Archive for the tag “K through 12”

Trusting that students will say something nice

The school that my children attend prides itself on its community “feel” and the character of its students.  On the whole I agree.

Happy students from another school.

      Happy students from another school

A couple of the most telling examples from over the years:

  • The applause that went on and on and on and on for the senior student who was given an award for having achieved despite difficult circumstances.  This student’s father had died during his senior year.
  •  The guest’s at my son’s 16th birthday party, sitting around a fire pit and singing.  A 16th birthday party could have been a lot worse…
  • The time I chanced upon a group of students on campus at the end of an open day.  Most visitors had left.  One of the students had his back to me and didn’t know I was nearing the group on my way out.  He was describing something which had happened and his description included some swearing. I don’t think the students recognised me as a current parent of the school and his comments were intended for his peers’ ears only.  The students who could see me gave him meaningful looks and he turned in some confusion and noticed me and realised that I had heard his words.  Maybe I should have been offended.  I don’t enjoy listening to “f words” but what had the most impact on me was the look on his face which clearly showed his disappointment in himself.  If he had said it in words, I don’t think he could have any more clearly expressed the sense that he had let down himself, his peers and his school.

I do understand why schools ban students from discussing or posting about school happenings on social media.  They fear for their reputations if a bad impression is given and we all know that a social media post can have a wide reach.

The trouble is that the good things happening often go unnoticed for fear of the bad things that might get too much notice.

Yesterday my daughter, along with her classmates, worked to put together birthing kits.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

She told me that she thought it was possibly the “coolest thing she had ever done”.  She was touched by having been able to do something which would help someone so directly.  I’m sure some of her friends felt the same.  Wouldn’t it have been cool if she could have snapchatted or Facebooked it.

The students’ characters, the school’s values and the cause they’re working for would all have got some great publicity.

If we teach digital citizenship, can we trust our students to say positive things?

Dig Cit 2





Dig cit

Photo credits:

Prinnie Stevens, Mahalia Barnes


Autonomy equals trust

Management isn’t about walking around and seeing if people are in their offices…It’s about creating conditions for people to do their best work.

I’ve just read management “expert” Dan Pinks book Drive. The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  I also heard him speak at the EduTech Conference in June and found his ideas and insights inspiring.

Dan Pink offers insights into rewards and motivation.

Dan Pink offers insights into rewards and motivation.

Pink has investigated research around motivation and rewards and come up with some conclusions which apply equally well to schools as they do to businesses.

Schools often operate on the system Pink calls Motivation 2.0, the traditional “sticks and carrots” approach where good results and behaviour are rewarded and bad results and behaviour are punished.  (Motivation 1.0 was the system our earliest ancestors operated under – otherwise known as survival.)


Pink asserts that Motivation 2.0 doesn’t usually work and that what works better is Motivation 3.0 which is framed around the principles of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

He believes that we do our best work when:

  • we have autonomy to work the way that suits us best,
  • a sense that we are striving to master the skills involved in our work and
  • we understand and believe in the purpose for what we are doing.

Have a look at this RSA Animate about Drive.

It seems to me that autonomy is much the same thing as trust.

If your boss, your principal, your teacher are giving you the freedom to choose your task, your time, your team and your technique, then they are placing trust in you.

Sometimes the structures of school make it hard to implement systems based on trust and autonomy.

For example, how can we give students autonomy over their tasks when assessment has to have some sort of standardisation?  How can we give them autonomy over their time when the school day operates on a timetable?

Pink has some suggestions, and the advent of MOOCs and BYOT seems to offer other opportunities to tinker with the system a bit.

What about systems that let teachers do their best work?

Do inspections and carrot rewards for high student achievement lead to teachers feeling motivated and trusted?

Photo credits:

I trust you not to go on Facebook in my class

My son received a detention for being off-task during class.  He was using his laptop to visit Reddit.  His friend who received one around the same time was checking the basketball scores.  The rule at school is that you don’t use websites in class that are not related to the work you’re doing so I think it’s fair enough that they got  detentions.  They knew the rules and chose to break them.

It was what came next that bothered me.  In addition to the standard letter sent home to parents when a student is given a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning detention, an email  was sent to my son by the Head of Department expressing her disappointment and her belief that he was not “a man of integrity”.


Of course he’s not a man of integrity.  He’s 15 years old and subject to the same struggles to control his thoughts, actions and impulses that every 15 year-old faces.  As a “How Stuff Works” article explains, it is “the combination of that prefrontal cortex and a heightened need for reward that drives some of the most frustrating teenage behavior”.

An adult’s prefrontal cortex is more likely to curb impulses and our brains are more able to delay gratification.  If the likely negative consequences outweigh the positive benefits of our impulses, we can generally manage not to give in to them.  We can wait until a more appropriate time to check our favourite social media sites or the basketball scores but if we’re honest, many of us would admit that we find it tempting to stay on Farmville just a minute longer, to visit just one more internet store before we go to bed, to just check our personal email or Facebook before we get down to work.

How can we expect students whose brains are still developing to do more than we can manage to do ourselves?  And how can we condemn their characters when they fail to live up to expectations many of us can’t live up to?

Of course class time shouldn’t be a free-for-all to do anything you like just because you have the technological ability in front of you.  Every classroom needs routines and management procedures that help it to function efficiently and allow learning to occur.

But how about we use students’ non-serious misdemeanours (the checking the basketball scores-type misdemeanour as opposed to the inappropriate website-viewing-type misdemeanour) as an opportunity for learning – for us and them?  For example, we can help them to learn that multi-tasking is a myth and that it is possible to develop self-control.  We can learn that something about our class is not engaging them enough to stay on task.

And if we build students’ trust in us to support them and help them learn from their mistakes, we can perhaps build enough respect that they will want to try to honour our requests and obey our rules.

photo credit: <a href=””>The Poss</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

Trust Story 2 (Teacher-Parent)

The new P.E. teacher walked into the staff room and said something like, “Help yourself to some of this cake if you’d like some”.

The assembled teachers made polite responses like, “Oh, don’t you want to take it home?  Don’t you want to take any home?”

The P.E. teacher insisted that he didn’t want any of the cake and said, “Yeah, Hannah Cameron  gave it to me.  I don’t know why.”

The other teachers, many of whom had been at the school a long time and some of whom had taught Hannah or her sister, suddenly became more interested in the cake.

“Oh, Jane Cameron made that cake?  That’ll be a great cake.  She’s a fantastic cook.”

The P.E. teacher decided that he would take a couple of slices home after all.

Jane is a great cook and she shows her appreciation through her baking.  Her daughter, Hannah, is a talented athlete and Jane was probably showing her gratitude for the new life the new teacher was bringing to the school’s sporting program.

The teachers who knew Jane knew her as a supportive and contributing member of the school community and knew that she could be trusted to make a good cake.  The new teacher didn’t yet have enough experience of Jane to know whether to trust her or her cooking.  Trust takes time to grow and develop in all relationships.


Photo credit: <a href=””>woodleywonderworks</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

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