Trust in Education


In any successful classroom, relationships between teacher and adult are built on trust. Whether it is the consistency of action in behaviour management or simply doing what you said you would. Trust allows students to take risks without fear of castigation for failure, they trust that their teachers will have their back.

Teachers are under pressure and their wellbeing is becoming ever more a focus with some great work being done to support teachers. I wish I had accessed this kind of support when I needed to.

One of the issues that underpin the health and wellbeing of the teacher is the level of trust that is shown to them by the people that lead them. When a school leader says, “I hired you, so I trust you.” they allow their staff to feel as though they also have room to fail, to learn and to improve.

But what if they didn’t hire me? I hear a few voices say. Part of any change management process should be to establish that working relationship of trust. For the same reason that zero-tolerance policies so often fail, new leaders that state that it is “my way or the highway” often also fail to have the impact that they desired.

Trust in a school stems from the leadership of the school, the level of scrutiny and accountability they demand from their staff, and the systems that they implement to monitor processes that they put into place. Tom Sherrington over at Teacherhead discusses some of these issues in action with his excellent post on tight and loose leadership.

It isn’t all the fault of school leaders, they are also under pressure, they are not trusted either. Their careers are staked on the results that they generate. One bad OFSTED and it could be all over. Strong leaders are able to absorb this pressure and protect their staff from as much as they are able, the weak project their fears and stresses downwards into the schools.

Lack of trust isn’t just something that affects one school, it affects the relationships between schools. Secondary schools doubt the validity of KS2 results, this is the baseline that they inherit. This is what they are going to be judged on. At a critical time in a students life, that of transition there needs to be much more trust between educators, instead, there is often less.

The cause of all this lack of trust is the result of the level of scrutiny and accountability that has been imposed on the education system. The target-driven system of levels and results being the baseline for that accountability, which doesn’t look like disappearing anytime soon.

But it is not all doom and gloom, we might have no control over the scrutiny from government, but we do have control over our own environments. Trust can be built both practically and emotionally.

There is a great article on “How to build trust at work” by Hannah Price, which I will summarise here.

You can improve how trustworthy others believe you are by improving your credibility, your reliability or your intimacy, or you can reduce your self-orientation (be more of a team player)


  1. Tell the truth
  2. Admit when you don’t know something
  3. Admit when you’re wrong


  1. If you say you’ll do it, do it
  2. If you’re meant to do it, do it
  3. Explain your thought process


  1. Extend trust to others
  2. Include others
  3. Watch your reactions

Self Orientation

  1. Give others a chance to talk
  2. Listen with intent
  3. Take responsibility for failures

Outside of education, it has long been recognised that high levels of trust result in higher levels of performance. In 2002 a Watson Wyatt study showed that high-trust organizations had a total return to shareholders (stock price plus dividends) that was 286 per cent higher than low-trust organizations.

This is not the only evidence, A 2005 study by Russell Investment Group showed that Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” (in which trust comprises 60 per cent of the criteria and is the “primary defining characteristic”) earned over four times the returns of the broader market over the prior seven years.

In a 2006 FranklinCovey study done with the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council, top executing grocery stores had significantly higher trust levels than lower executing stores.

Apart from building trust using the outline above what else can we learn from the experience of successful high trust businesses?

In a low trust organisation, you pay a tax on your performance, in business, this is often a monetary cost, in Education, it could be a financial cost or a time cost.

A lack of trust by leadership leads to the establishment of routines and activities to ensure control. These often overlap resulting in unnecessary duplication of work and or paperwork.

The increase in paperwork or bureaucracy created by a lack of trust results in complex and unwieldy policies that are not fit for purpose or limit creativity and the ability of staff to develop more suitable solutions to the challenges they face.

A culture of doubt and mistrust creates staffroom politics which divide a school against itself, generating behaviours such as withholding information, infighting, operating with hidden agendas, spinning, manipulating and holding meetings after meetings. These behaviours result in wasted time, talent, energy and money.

In addition, they poison school cultures, derail strategies and sabotage initiatives, relationships and careers.

A staff that isn’t trusted disengages from the leadership and the school. They will put in just enough effort to avoid getting fired, but won’t contribute their talent, energy passion and creativity.

With trust, you can avoid all these problems. With trust, you will enjoy your life in Education so much more, whether you are a leader or a teacher.

For more on the impact of trust on businesses, Stephen Covey wrote this great article that has lessons that can be applied to education.