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Trust and Verify: The Real Key to Schools' Improvement


Trust is a concept that we do not often discuss in the context of the school environment but it is a concept that is fundamental to both the good functioning of a school and the relationships within it. The Webster dictionary defines trust as “an assured (or confident) reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”


Trust is a key component of highly effective schools and of a confident self-assured teaching profession (Norman McCulla and Warren Marks quote Day and Gu (2010)). This trust involves both organizational trust or ‘trust in an organisation’s competency, integrity and sustainability’ (Fink, 2015, p.153), and relational trust, or trust between teachers and leaders, teachers and teachers, students and teachers and parents and teachers.


However, schools operate in the context of the wider Australian culture where it is generally accepted that levels of trust are declining, whether in relation to government policy, political parties, religious institutions, financial institutions, corporations, unions or schools (p65). This poses a challenge for passionate educators who are committed to a quality education and building quality schools on the basis of strong trust.


Norman McCulla and Warren Marks conducted research into trust in Australian schools using an international online survey and individual interviews. They explored the relationship between what should be happening in schools and what is actually happening using about thirty dimensions. It is no surprise that they found that on most parameters there was a significant difference between the ideal and actual perceived levels of trust.


This is an insightful study that is well worth reading. It is not all negative.


In the research teachers identified the qualities of leaders that they felt contribute to high levels of trust as:

  • a concern for the welfare of staff
  • effective gatekeeping
  • knowledge of pedagogy
  • addressing poor performance
  • walking the talk
  • sharing decision- making
  • and most importantly being open and honest (p66).


Principals also identified nine desirable actions to build trust:

  • eradicate nepotism in promotion systems
  • confront poor teacher performance
  • focus primarily on student performance
  • focus on evidence based teaching
  • provide evidence based advice
  • articulate a clear professional purpose
  • articulate a clear and consistent set of professional values
  • confidently confront media-based ‘teacher-bashing’
  • confidently portray teaching as a high-quality profession


As educators we need to encourage the building of policy frameworks and the development of human capital in schools based on a clearly defined and consistent moral purpose based on trust.


More of Dr Norman McCulla and Dr Warren Marks’ chapter entitles Australia: Halfway to anywhere? can be found in the book Fink, D. (Ed.) (2016). Trust and Verify: The Real Keys to School Improvement. London, UK: London: University College London Institute of Education Press.


If you would like more information on this topic please contact us for information about the future online course and further readings for self-identified accreditation hours.


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