People don’t seem to trust teachers the way they used to. Our community no longer assume they can rely on the school system and its teachers to provide a quality education for their children.
It’s not helped by headlines like this that appear so frequently in the news.
It’s not helped by school choice policies which generate anxieties, perpetuating the idea that since there is choice some schools and some systems will be better than others.
It’s not helped by politicians who talk about the education crisis and getting rid of bad teachers.
It’s not even helped by visionary speakers like Sir Ken Robinson talking about how schools kill creativity and fail to prepare students for modern life.
Educators and those who support us, rail against the injustice of this. We feel angry when we are portrayed in a negative light. We bemoan the fact that our professionalism isn’t recognised and that everyone is an arm-chair expert. We feel it’s unfair. We feel we’re fighting a losing battle, and it’s doubtful we will ever be able to stop politicians and the Murdoch press from publicly denigrating teachers.
But that’s beyond our control. We need to focus on what we have the ability to do.
So how do we rebuild trust?
If we ask that, we’re asking the wrong question, according Philosopher Onora O’Neil in this brilliant TED talk.
Calling the task rebuilding trust, I think, also gets things backwards. It suggests that you and I should rebuild trust. Well, we can do that for ourselves. We can rebuild a bit of trustworthiness.We can do it two people together trying to improve trust. But trust, in the end, is distinctive because it’s given by other people.
You can’t rebuild what other people give you. You have to give them the basis for giving you their trust. So you have to, I think, be trustworthy.
Our goal as individual teachers, as schools and systems, needs to be that we are perceived as worthy of trust. And, to be worthy of trust, according to O’Neil, we need to show people three things:
We need to show that we are competent, we are honest and we are reliable.
- Be competent. We need to be committed to having the necessary skills required for our job, and we need to keep growing our competency by reflecting critically on our practice, keeping and engaging in on going professional learning and keeping our skills up to date.
- Be honest. It goes without saying that we need to act with integrity at all times, and this includes giving honest feedback. Parents don’t trust us when we gloss over weaknesses in their children’s learning.
- Be reliable. If we say we are going to do something, we need to follow through. People need to know that they can depend upon us.
If I was to add to O’Neil’s suggestions, I’d include be ethical and be open.
It’s only as we let people in to our schools, and classrooms that they will start to see we are worthy of trust. If the only information people receive is through the media, or from the mumbled responses of their children when they ask them what they did at school today,“Nothing, Mum”, then how will people see that they can put their trust in us. They can only act on what they know.