A Policy of Trust and Respect

I’m a huge believer in the notion of trust and respect as the primary drivers in the relationship between student and teacher. People have occasionally told me that I’m just incredibly naive about this, but all I can talk from is my own experience, and in my own experience, building relationships of trust, respect and genuine care between student and teacher is the foundation upon which all “policy” rests on in my  classroom. I realise that school administrators will feel a need for something a little more concrete than this, but any policies, AUPs or guidelines that aren’t based on this first rule are  simply not sustainable in my view.

Take blocking and filtering for example. While school boards have the best of intentions for protecting students when they block access to web 2.0 tools and other social technologies, such policies fail the trust and respect test, because they start with an assumption that bestows upon the students neither trust nor respect.

Or what about when a school tells students that their mobile phones will be confiscated if seen? Again, this approach treats students with neither trust nor respect.

Forcing students to complete work that appears meaningless to them, asking them to remember facts that seem unconnected or pointless, again treats kids with neither trust nor respect.

So, yes, when policy makers make policies, I believe they need to think about it in terms of providing an environment of trust and respect first, and then expecting students to work within guidelines that honour that trust and respect that they have been offered.

For example, having a mobile phone in school or in class is not really a problem if it’s use is bound by behaviour that treats the student with the trust to know when and how to use it the correct way, and the respect to assume that they will. Instead of jumping up and down and reading them the riot act if we so much as even see their cell phone, perhaps we need to expect that they are welcome to carry one as long as it doesn’t get used inappropriately… after all, isn’t that how most adults would wish to be treated? Imagine if schools confiscated cell phones from teachers.There would be an outcry and a resounding “Don’t they trust us to do the
right thing?!” from staff, as they felt a sense of violation at their employers assumption that phones would be used inappropriately. As teachers, we would feel as though we were not trusted, we were not respected, and that our ability to make sound decisions was in question before we’d even done anything wrong. I have never seen an employer make those sorts of draconian rules for their employees, but I hear about it happening from schools all the time with regard to their students.  I can only imagine how untrusted and unrespected our students must feel when placed in a similar situation. I’m not suggesting that that school policy should be a free-for-all where kids just do whatever they want. Far from it. I do however think that kids should be given the opportunity to prove they can do the “right thing” before we set up policies that automatically assume they won’t.

I see the same sorts of thinking when it comes to Internet access policies. Blocking access to the web becomes far less necessary if we begin with a fundamental assumption of trust that our students will do the right thing, backed up with the respect that they are capable and able to make those decisions for themselves. Instead of assuming the worst, how much better would the environment we create in our schools be if they were based on trust, respect, and a belief that students want to do the right thing if given the chance.

I really do believe that we get what we expect. As long as we create environments that are based on the expectation that students will do the wrong thing, they probably will. Funnily enough, if we start to create environments where we expect our students to do the right thing, they will usually do that too. They will give us whatever we expect from them, but mostly, school policies are set up to expect the worst.

Seriously, what’s the worst thing that could happen if we created an environment of trust and respect?

Image: ‘James,
I think your cover’s blown!


CC BY-SA 4.0 A Policy of Trust and Respect by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

9 Replies to “A Policy of Trust and Respect”

  1. Ah yes, so true. Don’t expect that the kids will use the tools correctly; take them all away. Geez. We actually had the Admin just step in and block both Facebook and MySpace, because kids might use it and write something that was hurtful to someone else. Where’s the teaching here? What ARE we teaching?

    Did illustrate though, that this might not be a great idea, but putting a “countdown clock” on the retirement page. It won’t work from school, because the site is blocked!

  2. Chris, there will be many that empathise with your struggle. I just today posted on my blog about how I’m beginning to feel that my employer limits my ability with these restrictions in place, and ultimately causes me to work less effectively as I try to emulate what could so easily be done had the policy reflected even the 20th century, let alone the 21st. Lucky there is a strong edtech group of people throughout the world constantly striving to find alternate ways to achieve a task, and are then willing to openly share this with us. Thanks heavens for teachers.

  3. I hear your frustration Chris and feel exactly the same way. We are supposedly preparing kids for jobs that haven’t been invented yeat but can’t even prepare them for those that have been invented. Most have such a powerful computing device in their mobile phones yet we are unable to let them use them becaus of ‘policies’. Same with most of the wonderful free web 2.0 tools out there. We are restricted to the rather user ‘unfriendly’ software provided via our education department.

  4. ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen if we created an environment of trust and respect?’. In regards to web filtering, the problem is that somebody’s backside is on the line who has to answer this question and ensure a duty of care is provided for students. I think there is a happy ground in the middle where inappropriate content is blocked and educational tools are freely available – just very few jurisdictions seem to be able to find this happy place. Must be more difficult than I imagine to do so.

  5. Your post reminds me of a conversation that I have all the time with my second graders, it goes something like this: “This class is most likely the only class you are going to get to be apart of this year. It is important to me that it is a place where we all feel comfortable and take care of one another. I promise that I will be respectful and kind to you, and I expect you to do the same thing for me and your fellow classmates. I know that I will make some mistakes this year, and I know you will make some too. I promise that I will watch for my mistakes, apologize when I make them, and try not to make them again. I expect you to do the same for me. The more we work together, the more we will all learn (me included).”

    If I can say this to 2nd graders and get results it should be a no-brainer to do this with older students…

  6. Well said Chris and something that certainly needs to be addressed in these interesting times. Working in the public system presents some extraordinary hurdles when you are trying to balance access to information and emerging technologies and you have to deal with a mindset that says ‘block everything until an unblock request is received’. Whilst I think this approach has more to do with reducing liability for the DET, it does little to teach students about the appropriate use of the web and how to exercise discrimination and it shouts ‘we don’t trust you’ and the same is to be said for mobile technologies.
    On the other side of the coin is the frustration generated for students doing legitimate research and find themselves throwing their hands up in despair because everything is blocked, usually as ‘uncategorised’. The most commonly heard comment is ‘what’s the good of having all this when we can’t use it’.
    Maybe you could throw some of this to the floor at your upcoming presentations. It certainly needs hearing by a wider audience.

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?