Trust and Student Achievement - Steve Barkley

Trust and Student Achievement

I have several projects during the first weeks of the year that deal with Professional Learning Communities examining student data and generating ACTION from those conversations that will lead to increased student achievement.

These PLC’s need to create trust that will encourage vulnerability and risk taking as teachers look at student learning results and consider instructional possibilities.

Last year looking into the start of 2009, I wrote about Relational Trust connected to the work of Parker Palmer.

Parker sited the work of Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider, two scholars at the University of Chicago, who studied school reform in Chicago through the 1990’s.(Trust in Schools: A Core Resource in Improvement)

“What factors, they wondered, made the difference between schools that got better at educating children over the course of that decade—as measured by improved test scores—and schools that did not? The answer was not money, models of governance, up-to-date curricula, the latest in teaching techniques, or any other external variable. The answer was “relational trust” between teachers and administrators, teachers and parents, teachers and teachers. Schools with high relational trust, and/or leaders who cared about it, had a much better chance of serving students well than schools that ranked low on those variables.” (Center for Courage and Renewal)

In the December 16,2009 issue of Education Week, Kim Marshall’s commentary “Is Merit Pay the Secret Sauce For Improving Teaching and Learning?” includes the following thoughts on trust:

Getting this collaborative “engine of improvement” running is not easy. Some of the success factors are technical- 24 hour turn-around of interim assessment results and clear data displays, for example—but others have to do with the level of trust among teachers and administrators. Just as important as shifting the conversation in a school to results is keeping the assessment process informal and low-stakes, so that teachers feel safe admitting when things aren’t working and will listen to ideas from colleagues. The process is similar to Total Quality Management, a successful business strategy emphasizing small adjustments during a process rather than officious inspection at the end of the line.

Bret Simmons’ blog describes the connection between stretch goals and vulnerability which requires trust:

If we are really stretching, there will always be a gap between where we are and what we are trying to become. Those gaps take time to close, and they make us uncomfortable because they reveal our vulnerabilities. As a leader, you can find strength in vulnerability if you can learn to live with the creative tension that exists in the gap between where you are and where you need to be.

What messages are you hearing as a PLC facilitator, member, or observer?

Words of limitation, escape, and blame;

My students can’t reach …
I don’t see a way we could…
If only parents would…
Administration just doesn’t understand…
I didn’t bring my data…
I don’t want a coach in my room…


Words communicating vision, trust, vulnerability, personal and group accountability:

We need to find a way…
How can we use the student’s strength…
Here is student work from my lesson…
I wonder what else I can/could…
What ideas do you have for another way…

How can I help…
Who can observe the group in my room…

Collect some statements from your PLC activities and assess the current trust level.

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2 Responses to “ Trust and Student Achievement ”

  1. C. Bell Says:


    Thanks for this insight. The timing is perfect as we return from the holidays and refocus on our goals and objectives. The “relational trust” quote has made its way into my “Monday Minute.”

    Chuck Bell

  2. gabrielle Says:

    Trust is so integral to student success. I think schools begin to grow when the teachers & Admins begin to focus on student achievement. Rather than saying, “I don’t like this method because it means I need to do x..”, teachers ask, “Does this work for our students. If so, how do we know and how can I bring it into my teaching”

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