Trust, vulnerability and interdependence in schools – reflections on ResearchED ’17

Trust, vulnerability and interdependence in schools – Kev Bartle

Bartle1It’s always a pleasure to listen to Kev Bartle speak about school leadership. In yesterday’s ResearchED presentation, the likeable Wearsider and Headteacher at Canons High School, explored Mintzberg’s organisational configurations, arguing for schools to be structured as professional organisations where power and decision making are decentralised.

Accepting the professionalism of teaching colleagues – as a given – is at the heart of this ideology, as is a culture of positive relational trust.

So, what is relational trust? Megan Tschannen-Moran’s definition is usefully shared: “Trust is one’s willingness to be vulnerable to another based on the confidence that the other is benevolent, honest, open, reliable and competent.” (Tschannen-Moran, 2004) Exploring some keywords in this quote, Kev focuses us on the significance (for him) of the word ‘other’ highlighting, for me, the relational aspect of trust. In the famous trust exercise, I’m thinking that there are few people that I would prefer to be standing behind me as I fall backwards, with my eyes closed than Kev.

High levels of trust, he proposes, is fundamental for organisations to be successful. The Head Teacher in schools structured in this way, he suggests, are at their most vulnerable and therefore will need to have high degrees of trust in their colleagues.

Of course, trust shouldn’t only exist between school leadership and ‘faculty’ – described as collegial leadership in the literature. Three other trust ‘attributes’ are presented, distinguishing the following relationships: faculty with faculty (Staff professionalism); faculty with students (academic press); the school with community (environmental press).

Byrk and Schneider’s ‘Trust in Schools’ is the focus of our attention for the next few moments and I am drawn to the facilitating factors for trust that are highlighted. I am surprised that small school size is described as a facilitating factor and my mind wonders a little about what size constitutes a small school. I work in a huge secondary school (NOR: 2,200+) does this mean that trust will be more difficult to engender?

I’m also drawn to the way that Kev distinguishes between contractual trust and relational trust. The former, he suggests is typical of some organisation’s attitudes toward members of its workforce where individual accountability is high and low levels of relational trust exist. Contractual trust is a reliance on the agreed contract to mediate the relationship between services provided and the payment or otherwise for those services. To not provide the service to the agreed level is to break the contractual trust. Where teachers are concerned, withheld PRP or capability procedures could be the consequence of a break in contractual trust. Relational trust, on the other hand, assumes positive intentions. The outcomes are likely to be increased task support, honesty, openness and integrity – leading to improved task performance or at the very least a compassionate response to underperformance.

Next, we are presented with evidence of the impact of improving relational trust on a range of outcomes. Afterwards, I contend that the evidence presented could be interpreted in another way: do improved outcomes facilitate improving relational trust, or is it the other way around? Kev is ready for the question and accepts the bi-directional causality.

As I digest Kev’s presentation on the long drive south, I can’t help but admire his approach. Teachers should be trusted to be professional, never more than when they are finding the job difficult. They are at their most vulnerable then. This is our opportunity to build trust.  Today, after a good night’s sleep, I will revisit my leadership model and consider a redesign.

Thanks, Kev.


About blakeeducation

Assistant Head in Hampshire. Advocate for social mobilty through effective parental engagement, quality T&L, literacy, social capital, curriculum and culture.
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2 Responses to Trust, vulnerability and interdependence in schools – reflections on ResearchED ’17

  1. Dai says:

    I like the idea of trust as well. During my MA we skimmed through some research done by a professor called John (double surname, which I forget) at St Mary’s, Twickenham in which he identifies how trust is forged in different schools varying in shape and size. A few years have elapsed and my musings have led me to the concept of ‘care’. Care for pupils. Care for outcomes. Care for progress. Care from all the players. To elicit care is the most important part of being a teacher. And care is best elicited through care.
    Trust, I proffer, can be achieved via the pursuit of care.


    • Thanks for sharing Dai. How would you define care? How would ‘care’ be received in a culture where ‘trust’ does not already exist? Do you view care as an antecedent for trust to develop or is trust a precursor for a caring climate?


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