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Importance of Trust in Building Community

March 2, 2017

Evie Blad wrote a article in this week’s Education Week entitled, When School doesn’t seem fair, Students may suffer lasting effects.  Her opening sentence…

When students believe schools are unfair places, their loss of trust can lead to a lack of engagement that affects them for years, researchers say.

…explains the challenge we face and the reason why schools, administrators and faculty, have to work diligently to build and maintain a trusting environment for their students.  How does a trusting school culture get built?  I would suggest it first starts with building trusting relationships among  with the faculty.  My experience has led me to believe that when faculty feel supported and respected by the administration that serves them, then it is very likely that classrooms will exhibit those same qualities.  When faculty believe their administration has their best interests at heart and adult actions align to the beliefs and values, there is likely to be a trusting school culture and healthy classroom cultures.

In her book, Trust Matters, Megan Tschannen-Moran writes,

Trust binds leaders to followers.  Without that bond, a manager can enforce minimum compliance with contract specfications and job descriptions, but that will not lead a team of teachers to greatness.  As “lubricant,” trust greases the machinery of an organization. (Page 16)

For me, those word sum up the importance of establishing a trust adult culture in schools, which then creates an atmosphere for trust and fairness in the classroom.  Trust is not something that happens without a great deal of thought and effort.  Tschannen-Moran shares this definition of trust.

Trust is one’s willingness to be vulnerable to another based on the confidence that the other is benevolent, honest, open, reliable, and competent.

That definition sets a very high bar for all of us in schools, especially teachers in their relationships to each of their students.

Evie Blad writes about the “trust gap” in schools.  She reports on studies that show students from different racial and ethnic groups have different levels of trust as a result of their school’s response to their issues.  With regard to disciplinary issues and how they are treated, Black and Hispanic students’ trust is more likely to erode over the course of their middle school years as a result of how they are treated in schools by administrators and teachers.  The data would suggest that there is a structural bias in place as a result of how students are treated.  The lack of fairness in the students’ minds definitely erodes the trust they have.  Blad points out that the perception is reality.  She writes:

And it wasn’t just a perception; there was real evidence of bias at the school, the study says, noting that only black students received discipline for broad, subjectively interpreted infractions like “defiance.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise to us that many underrepresented students in the US feel disenfranchised from their schools because they feel they are treated unfairly.  While it may not be the intended reality, it is the perceived reality.

In her interesting opinion piece on the Hechinger Report entitled, How can we show disenfranchised, black students that they matter when everything else is telling them otherwise?, Dena Simmons (@denasimmons), Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, writes:

In the end, we, all of us, must be compassionate. We must be open to other experiences, and we must learn to accept others and ourselves for everything we are —and everything we are not. We must fight for ourselves and for each other. And, we must begin to shift the violent course of history to one of peace, love, and mutual understanding. I have faith in us. My task is simple: it is for Black lives to be seen, to be human, to be treated with dignity. Our shared humanity depends on it.

Her words are powerful and indicate that we have to work extra hard to be sure we are building strong bonds of trust with all students in schools.  Checking ourselves at the door as to whether we are treating all students equitably and fairly.  If so, then we will be able to design learning environments that are safe, caring and engaging for all students.  When teachers believe they are respected, valued and trusted, they will consciously and unconsciously create respectful, meaningful, and trusting learning environments for students.

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