Trust has been on my mind a lot lately and what it means to trust.
I have witnessed several friends unexpectedly lose jobs over the past few years. They erroneously assumed they enjoyed job security after years of dedicated service. The reasons for severance varied but all of my friends harbored feelings of betrayal. Some recovered quickly and secured new jobs, others struggled to find comparable work. Some endured extended periods of unemployment and the loss of insurance and other benefits. Irrespective of individual struggles, egos were damaged and trust was lost.
This is the extent to which I tend to think of trust; in terms of personal experiences. Perhaps it’s time to dig deeper.
For my friends, losing their jobs was a painful breach of personal trust. However, the damage goes much deeper than just hurting those who lost employment. Colleagues left behind also suffer from mistrust, living in fear of sharing a similar fate. In his TED Talk, Simon Sinek compares the unproductivity of cultures based on fear to communities that thrive because of trust.
Listening to Simon’s examples got me thinking more deeply about trust in terms of culture. Specifically, what does trust mean in the context of institutions like school? Do our schools resemble the communities of trust that Simons describe, or are they institutions run on fear and distrust?
Personally, I’ve been lucky. I’ve taught at some amazing places! I’ve thrived, mostly, because of administrators who have trusted me. And, in turn, I have trust my students. That has created safe spaces to explore learning and develop new curriculum.
As I connect with colleagues from around the world through social media, conferences, visiting schools and providing professional development, I’m observing a different reality. While there are still many amazing schools built on a culture of trust, it seems distrust is far more abundant. Teachers are losing their professional autonomy. They cannot choose the best way to teach their students because curriculum is prescribed by policy makers far removed from the classroom.
Students are not trusted as well. They have little or no agency in determining the content or method of their education. They are required to keep daily schedules that adults would be hard pressed to follow. There is very little down time for socialization, quiet time or physical play to breakup the hours of sitting in desks. Let’s not forget the mandatory homework. Sigh. No, we really don’t trust our students either.
In his 2012 TEDxCopenhagen talk, Jerry Michalski asks, “What if we trusted you?”
I write a great deal about student-directed learning, respecting passion and becoming co-learners with students. Trust is always inferred but maybe that is not enough. Perhaps trust is the cornerstone and the rest are all building blocks. Could it be as simple as trusting our students and our teachers ? Would that trust allow us the safety we need to take risks, explore new ideas that might actually help us create more relevant and meaningful learning environments?
Not sure, but isn’t it worth a try?
What Simon Sinek and Jerry Michalski talk about in these videos rings true to me because of my own life experiences. Whether trust is a cornerstone, or no, it deserves a spotlight as a major clue to figuring out how to fix our schools. IMHO.