Trust in education

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

Archive for the tag “Teacher”

Trusting badges

Earning badges for achievements is nothing new. Organisations like Scouts and Guides have been doing it for years.



Digital badging is newer.


With the rise of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), there has been a rise in the use of digital badges as a recognition of the holder ‘s achievement and a proof that the holder has done what he/she claims to have done, although the use of badges is not confined to MOOCs.

Grant and Shawgo  have annotated a bibliography of sources which offer information and opinions on different aspects of the badge system.

A major issue associated with the badge system is the notion of trust, i.e. whether an employer or person authorised to grant accreditation for prior learning can trust the validity of a badge and the rigour of the learning behind it.

So far there is little evidence of the badge system in use in Australian schools although schools of distance education are diversifying their offerings beyond the traditional provision for remote students.  In time a badge will perhaps replace a certificate upon completion of the course.

Proponents envision a robust, valuable and open system of accreditation.  Leslie (2013) writes, “the value of the system overall increases as more nodes join and a large, robust network emerges over time”.

I have been experimenting with badges in the classroom this year – they’re not digital and they’re linked to behaviour outcomes rather than academic outcomes.  The primary school system in Australia is not quite ready for that yet!


Our classroom system works this way:

  1. Students earn a card for displaying a particular behaviour that I want to encourage (e.g. good listening, following instructions, being kind to someone)
  2. When a student has five cards the same, they “cash them in” to earn a badge which they display on their desk.  They also earn a sticker for their chart which is the school wide reward system.
  3. Another five cards earns a badge of a different colour, which is higher in value.  Bronze is followed by silver, then gold, platinum, pearl, emerald…

Trust is involved when:

  • I tell a student that he/she has earned a card and they collect it from the box on my desk at a convenient time.  I am probably not near the box when they collect the cards.IMG_0084
  • A student cashes in their cards and writes on a post-it note which badge they have earned.  Again, I am probably not near the box so I don’t see how many cards they have deposited or what type they are.

The system is ripe for abuse but very little is happening.  I have assumed that I can trust the children in my care and I believe they have acted in a trustworthy way because the non-tangible rewards for being trusted are better that the tangible rewards for betraying trust.


Photo credits:

“US Navy 081004-N-5345W-021 Cub Scouts prepare to parade the colors” by U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristopher S. Wilson – This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 081004-N-5345W-021 Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

“Openbadges” by Anyashy – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


Cats and dogs as parents


On one level, this is just a funny clip about the differences between cats and dogs.  On another level, it says something about parenting and how we teach our children to view the world.

The dog in this clip patiently encourages its young, never far away while the puppy attempts to descend the scary staircase.

The cat just pushes its kitten down the stairs.

Of course, we only see the cats briefly.  The mother cat may have tried the other options first.

I remember gently but firmly pushing my daughter (then aged about 8) onto a chairlift because I’d tried all the encouraging talk and she was still hesitating.  I knew she was a child who sometimes did just need a push to try something new.

Teachers sometimes see parents who act a bit like the dog mother as she tries to walk down the stairs over the top of the puppy – helicopter parents or smother mothers – who try to shield their child from everything that could go wrong and rescue them from their bad decisions so that they never have to face the consequences.

They justify their actions to themselves and others as just protective parenting.  They say that they are only seeking justice and fairness when they question why their child is being punished for something he or she did at school or why he or she didn’t get a better mark for a piece of assessment.

It’s true that teachers sometimes make unfair judgements – usually in the absence of all the evidence.  It’s true that marking across classes and schools is not completely equal, no matter how hard we try.  Occasionally even the most reserved parent needs to step in and ask questions.  Teachers, however, are professionals who in most cases make decisions thoughtfully.

It’s also true that as parents we generally want to believe that our children would not do the wrong thing – not punch a classmate, not lie to a teacher about what happened in the playground, not break the school rules –but if we are honest we have to admit that children (just like adults) sometimes make bad choices.

We will not always be there to rescue our children from the consequences of their actions.  If my adult daughter gets angry with her boss and swears at her and gets fired, I can’t step in to complain that she was provoked and the boss is unfair.  If my adult son doesn’t get the promotion he really wanted because he hasn’t been working as hard as someone else, it will do me no good to ring the employer and argue about why he deserves to get it.

And sometimes, life is just unfair.  People invest money which is subsequently lost by the actions of con artists or the whims of the stock market; women who have done nothing wrong suffer domestic violence; jobs can be hard to find; people contract chronic or terminal diseases.

Children need to start developing resilience while they are young and part of that is learning how to cope with the knocks, setbacks and disappointments that life brings – deserved or undeserved.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child.  Once we have found the village to help us raise our children, we parents need to place some trust in the other members of that village. Sometimes they might push our kitten down the stairs (metaphorically, not literally!) but maybe that is what our kitten needs.

Trusting parents not to do children’s homework

I’m sure all teachers have been in the position where you suspect that a child’s homework has not been completed by that child.  It can be hard to understand the thinking of the parent (presumably) who did the homework.  In one case I remember I think the mother did it for the sake of a quiet life.  She certainly didn’t gain her son any academic advantages because her spelling was worse than his!

Should parents help children with homework?

Should parents help children with homework?

However, I am often surprised at the vehemence with which some primary school teachers insist that assessment pieces should not be done at home.  Their reasoning is that parents might end up doing the assessment for the child or significantly assisting them to do the assessment and that’s not a fair judgement of the child’s ability.

I don’t agree with that position for lots of reasons.  Here are some of them:

  • I know that as a classroom teacher, as hard as I try, there is no way I can give every one of my students the same amount of support and scaffolding and helping them at the point where they really need help as a willing and competent parent can give.  There just aren’t enough hours in the school day.
  • It’s common for secondary school and tertiary level assessments to be completed in unsupervised conditions. (Yes, some tasks are supervised but not all.)
  • In “real life” we can usually ask for help or access resources to help us complete whatever it is we need to complete.
  • Collaboration and critical thinking are skills we talk about as essential for 21st century learners.
  • Some assessment tasks can still be done at school to give a “balanced” view of what a student can do under different conditions.  Some children perform well under exam conditions.  Is it not giving them an unfair advantage if all assessment is done that way?
  • A parent does not do their child any favours if they do the child’s assignment for them.  It may gain advantages for them in the short term but in the long term that child is not equipped with the necessary skills to approach tasks in study or in working life.  Helping your child to learn how to research and apply critical judgement, to summarise and analyse is not the same as doing their assignment for them.

Yes, some parents are more equipped than others to help their children with schoolwork but there are a lot of factors which predict academic achievement, including parental expectations but also

  • teacher effectiveness
  • curriculum quality
  • school environment
  • prior student ability and motivation, and
  • socio-economic status.

I still think my major job role is to help children to learn, not to help them to ace tests.

I am a partner in children’s learning – along with their parents.

I teach them for a year.

Their parents teach them for a lifetime.


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

Trusted professions

I observed a lesson go wrong last week – or at least not turn out the way the presenter intended.  He asked the “volunteer” who was helping to put his hand in a box.

Do I trust you enough to do what you ask?

Do I trust you enough to do what you ask?

The “volunteer” did so without hesitation.  The presenter had expected some hesitation so then he would have an opening to talk about trust and being comfortable with not knowing the outcome of something.  The setting was a children’s story in church.

My favourite story about a children’s story in church, however has to be the one where the preacher asks, “What is grey and furry and lives in a gum tree?”  A child replies, “Well, I know the answer has to be “Jesus” but it sounds a lot like a koala.”  I’m afraid it says something about the lack of inquiry and open-endedness encouraged when a child expects the answer to every question asked in church to be “Jesus”.

Anyway, in this case the preacher did a quick poll to see how many people would have put their hands in the box and the majority said they would because, as someone added, “We trust you”.

The preacher’s role put him in a position of trust.  His friendly and open nature also made him a person who was viewed as someone to be trusted.

The job title of teacher is also a position of trust.

Surveys about trusted professions

Here are the results of two separate surveys conducted in Australia in 2013 about which professions are most trusted.  The Reader’s Digest survey  ranked teachers at number 15 (and clergy at number 38) out of 50.  A Roy Morgan survey  placed teachers 4th (and ministers of religion 12th) out of 30.

Teachers are one of the most trusted professions.

Teachers are one of the most trusted professions.

I’d like us to be number 1 but nurses and paramedics are hard to beat.

Picture credits:

Box Picture by Hay Kranen / PD.

Teacher picture from

Speaking the language of trust

When your child is very ill, you really have no choice but to trust the health professionals who are caring for her.

We have to trust doctors and nurses when we don't know anything about medicine ourselves.

We have to trust doctors and nurses when we don’t know anything about medicine ourselves.


This was my situation last week when I took my daughter to the emergency department on our local doctor’s recommendation.  Our doctor couldn’t work out why my daughter (A) was displaying the symptoms she had and for a few hours, neither could the staff in emergency.

To cut a long story short, she has been diagnosed with Addison’s Disease which is a rare condition and to make it more complicated, her symptoms did not fit the typical presentation.

I experienced a few of the most agonising hours of my life between the time the registrar in emergency told me that the possible cause of the symptoms was a tumour and the time the endocrinologist told me that the most likely cause was an adrenal or pituitary malfunction with tumour a long way down his list of possibilities.

When the CT scan results were normal and various blood tests confirmed the probability of Addison’s Disease, I felt a bit more weight lift from my heart.

No-one would choose to have Addison’s Disease but it’s a better diagnosis than a tumour.

I know a lot more now than I did a few weeks ago about endocrinology but it’s still not very much.  I have little choice but to trust in the knowledge and experience of the doctors treating A.

I have no reason to doubt their knowledge and expertise but admit that there were a few moments when I just wanted to bundle her up and take her home from hospital – away from cannulas and drips and blood tests – but I knew enough to understand that my love was not enough to treat her problem.

To bring this blog back to the realm of education where it usually lives, I quote John Hattie who wrote about home-school collaboration that it is when parents are able to “speak the language of schooling” that their children’s educational outcomes are positively influenced.

I don’t speak very much of the “language of medicine”.  I have to trust those who do speak it and luckily for us, A is being treated by professionals who understand it well.

Parents who don’t speak the “language of schooling” have to trust professional educators.  We are more likely to be trusted if we demonstrate that we understand and speak the right language but are also able to effectively “translate” for those who don’t speak it but have a right to understand what their child is experiencing.

Photo credit: Item 73713, Engineering Department Photographic Negatives (Record Series 2613-07), Seattle Municipal Archives.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Abingdon: Routledge.

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