Trust in education

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

Archive for the tag “teachers”

What Queensland can learn from the Finnish education system

Steve Austin from ABC Local Radio in Brisbane today interviewed Dr Juhani Tuovinen, Senior Research Fellow at the Graham Clarke Research Institute in Adelaide. Dr Tuovinen identified some characteristics of the Finnish education system which contribute to Finland consistently ranking highly in OECD testing.

Well, at least up until 2013.  But that’s another story.


Dr Tuovinen spoke about:

  • teacher selection – only 10-15% of applicants are accepted and must have tumblr_mjreh0bmhs1qa37j0o7_500achieved a Masters degree and have passed psychological testing before they cn be employed as teachers
  • teacher training – which is closely connected with the employing education system
  • taking education seriously – where wider society is prepared to make sacrifices in order to fund the systems and infrastructure needed to make delivering a quality education possible

and my personal favourite

  • collaboration and trust between stakeholders

This trust means that all stakeholders have the same goal – to place the students’ interests at the centre of their decision making rather than their own political agendas.

Photo credits:


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.

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

Messy Learning involves trust

Scared to try something new

I happened to overhear a conversation in the staff room.  I wasn’t eavesdropping.  The teacher sharing it obviously trusted her fellow teachers but wouldn’t have wanted the principal to hear.

She thought the principal had her in mind to lead an initiative at the school.  There had been a few conversations between them about the prospect and she had “evidence” that he had been testing her proficiency in the particular skills needed.

Because of those skills she was a natural choice but it wasn’t something she had done before and she didn’t want to do it.

She knew (because he had said so) that the principal was staking his reputation on the success of the initiative and felt she would be blamed if it didn’t work, even if she had tried her hardest.

Failure has to be an option

If something new is being attempted, failure has to be an option for the people involved to be willing and comfortable to trust.

This is part of what is sometimes called “messy learning”.


Here’s an example of one small messy learning moment.  A few days ago in class we were making periscopes.  One boy was determined that he could use a different construction method and it would still work.  I wasn’t convinced but when I saw his confidence and enthusiasm I said, “OK.  Give it a go.”  It did work and he was pleased with himself.  If it hadn’t worked I hope he still would have felt comfortable about it and would have continued experimenting to make it work.

Messy learning doesn’t always mean instant success but when it’s well planned and scaffolded, it often leads to deep learning and for students a by-product of that is often academic success.

photo credit: <a href=””>John Spencer – EdRethink</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

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