The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

The Role of Trust in Student Achievement

Over the years, there has been significant research conducted by academics interested in learning more about the relationship between trust and student achievement. Trust, being characterised as an individual's willingness to take risks whilst feeling a sense of vulnerability. And when we think about vulnerability, you would not be alone in thinking this is the vulnerability of the student. The process of learning, when challenging, often leaves boys feeling exposed, whether they are contributing their ideas in front of their peers, trying to solve a problem in mathematics or sharing their creativity through the arts. A teacher has the capacity to minimise this feeling of vulnerability by establishing positive relationships with students and creating an environment where making mistakes is seen as an opportunity to learn. Whilst most people would argue that the trust that influences student performance is the trust that the student has in their teacher, recent studies suggest that the role of trust extends to the community. Moreover, it is the trust the teacher has in their students and parents that is critical to school success and it is this which is the strong predictor of student achievement. Why would teachers' trust have such influence over the way students learn?

Schools are changing and the atmosphere required to implement change calls for a high degree of trust. The role of education is no longer limited to ranking students and measuring performance. Schools, especially those like Scotch College, are interested in discovering the factors and conditions that promote the best outcome for all boys. However, if teachers feel fearful to take measured risks in the classroom, without the support of students and parents alike, education would be destined to remain the same, where ranking students and devising assessment continues to be the core business. If we sincerely believe in equality in education, then it is the role of the teacher to find what brings about learning advancement for every student in the class. In other words, if we do not want factors such as prior achievement, challenges in learning and socioeconomic status to be a predictor for student performance, teachers are going to need to take risks to find effective strategies that work, and our role is to trust them in that journey.

In fact, studies into social capitalist theory discuss how trust strengthens relationships and improves both group and individual accomplishments. Similarly, the quality of relationships is central to the creation of a culture where trust enhances school performance, with everyone playing a role. Through establishing trust in our teachers, they will be more inclined to improve their performance by exploring new ideas and moving out of their comfort zone.

When I think about trust in our community, it is overwhelmingly positive. It's not uncommon to hear boys, parents and teachers discuss the strength of the community at Scotch, and I am sure that what they mean by this, is the sense of belonging and trust they have experienced in their interactions during their time here. Personally, when I think about why I feel a level of trust in the community as a teacher, it is often the small things that spring to mind. I think about how the boys say thank you after every lesson, the fact they understand why we have high expectations of them and work with us to fulfil them, the effort they put into their class work and their willingness to share with us when they don't understand something. But, more importantly, the sense of trust that is fostered when I want to try something new and the boys choose to work with me, resulting in a successful outcome for everyone involved. I would argue, Scotch has a high degree of trust in its teachers; this is well placed and is bringing about extraordinary outcomes for our students.