Sunday 22 April 2018

Trust in Schools

Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Twitter and who is interested in education will know that the notion of 'trust' in schools - or lack of it - is constantly being commented upon  Governments should trust schools more to get on with the job of educating pupils. CEOS of multi-academy should trust their senior leaders of schools more to come up with local solutions for school problems .  Senior leaders should trust teachers  more to know what is best for their pupils and let them get on with the job of teaching in the classroom.  Teachers should trust senior leaders to know what is right for the school.  Parents should trust teachers to do their best for children.  Teachers should trust pupils to take responsibility for their own learning.  In other words,  trust is a good thing and there should be more of it.  However, high levels trust are not easy to create, develop and maintain, and can be very easily lost.  So in this post, I will use the work of Romero and Mitchell (2018) to explore:

  • The importance of trust in schools.
  • The nature of trust.
  • Implications for the leadership and management of schools in creating, maintaining and developing trust.

The importance of trust in schools

Romero and Mitchell provide a range of supporting evidence to support the folllowing claims

  • Trust is important in high functioning modern institutions
  • Trust is a defining characterstic of professional work
  • Trust between teachers and lead leader plays an importants role in attempts to collaborate, openness to new ideas, mentoring and professionalism
  • Student trust of teachers is associated, for example, with academic achievement and good behaviour
  • Trust is essential for effective partnerships between schools and parents.
  • Trust is important between the different levels of an educational organisation, system or institution 

However, whether these claims are fully warranted would depend upon a careful analysis of the supporting evidence for each claim: Wallace and Wray (2016).  Nevertheless,  for the purposes of this post, I am going to assume that each claim stands up to critical scrutiny.

The nature of trust

The components of trust is subject to some debate,  Adams and Miskell (2016) hypothesising that trust constists of five components - benevolence, competences, honesty, openness, and reliablity.  Bryk and Schneider (2002) argues that relational trusts consists of of four components - respect, personal regard, personal integrity and competence in core responsibiltiies.  However, Romero and Mitchell state that trusts has three key facets:

  • Benevolence - is the sense that the trusted party has the trustee's best interests at heart.
  • Competence - reflects the belief that the trustee has the needed skills and abilities
  • Integrity - reflects the belief that the trustee will behave fairly and ethically.

As such, Romero and Mitchell argue that trust is effectively a second-order factor, and is a function of the levels of all three facets, with each being present to varying degrees.  This has has a number of consequences for both attempts to measure trust i.e. the need to measure all three facets, but also how to develop, maintain or report trust in schools.   For example, there may low levels of trust in a school, even if individuals act with high levels of benevolence and integrity, but with low levels of competence.  In other words, trust requires the presence of high levels of benevolence, competence and integrity.

What are the implications for trust in schools.

It seems to me that this analysis has a number of implications for schools and school leaders.

  1. Given the interrelationship between trust and each of benevolence, competence and integrity,  maybe low levels of trust within schools is likely to be the norm. This does not mean low levels of trust should deemed acceptable, instead it should be seen as a recognition of the challenge of creating high trust environments. 
  2. If school leaders wish to develop levels of trust within a school, it will involve spinning 'multiple plates' - just being deemed to be a good person or good at your job will not be enough to generate trust.
  3. The actions necessary to develop trust in schools - will depend very much on the situation in each school.  If there are perceived low levels benevolence, competence and integrity, this will require sustained action across all three factors.  Whereas, if there are concerns about leader competence - it may require a school leader to focus on doing the basics of school leadership - managing pupil behaviour, recruiting staff on time, and keeping the books balanced.
  4. If you accept the notion that of what its meant to be competent changes over time, with increasing levels of performance being required to be competent, then schools then schools have no choice but to constantly investing in the professional learning and development of ALL staff.
  5. At whatever level of the school system you operate at - be it a CEO of Mat, school leader, head of department, teacher or teacher assistance - do not take trust for granted, as it can so easily slip through your fingers and disappear
  6. Probably the simplest thing to do when trying to develop a high trust environment is adopt Bob Sutton's No Asshole Rule, Sutton (2007)


Adams, C. M. and Miskell, R. C. (2016). Teacher Trust in District Administration:A Promising Line of Inquiry. Educational Administration Quarterly. 52. 4. 675-706.
Bryk, A. and Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement. New York. Russell Sage Foundation.
Sutton, R. I. (2007). The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. London. Hachette UK.
Wallace, M. and Wray, A. (2016). Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (Third Edition). London. Sage.


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