Trust and Distrust - Contrasting Outcomes

For two weeks in March I had the good fortune to visit five senior secondary schools in Shanghai, China. It was wonderful to be immersed in a different culture and educational system. The expectation going into this excursion was that I would observe contrasts in our cultures and that indeed occurred. However, I was also surprised to observe many similarities. That observation came through the visits to the schools and classrooms. What I observed were teachers and students learning through discussion and inquiry. Positive relationships were being built, good rapport was established between teachers and students and learning was taking place. The most effective classrooms also had teachers utilizing available technology and resources to engage students in learning about their country and the world.  I did observe one limitation and that became apparent after talking to the students.

That limitation was that the students in almost all of the schools were not trusted to freely access the internet and use resources to enhance their learning opportunities. You may not be aware but social media sights such as Facebook and Twitter cannot be accessed in China. The students are clearly aware of social media and would love the opportunity to be able to use it freely. They question why they are not trusted not only to use social media but also to be able to access the internet without strict supervision.

There is always a chance that students will use and access the internet inappropriately. That chance exists here in our North American schools however, when we extend trust, trust is built. Stephen M.R. Covey shares that, " To extend trust is based on the principles of empowerment, reciprocity, and a fundamental belief that most people are capable of being trusted, want to be trusted, and will run with trust when it is extended to them. The opposite of extending trust is to withhold trust, which creates an enormous cost everywhere, especially in organizations."

The Chinese students I spoke to made a great point and would most likely agree with Covey's statement. Withholding trust to the students in the Chinese schools may not only be costing the students greater opportunities to learn, as Covey further shares, "Distrust occurs and people tend to not trust people who don't trust them." I was not in the schools and classrooms long enough to observe this; however, I believe Covey's contention.

Contrast this lack of trust with this delightful and affirming story of leadership by a courageous student and a caring teacher. Sasha, a grade one student in a grade one/two multi-aged class, was so excited to participate in the much anticipated Primary Days of Music. This is an annual event where primary students from across the school district learn and perform songs at a district wide gathering of primary school choirs. Unfortunately, and much to Sasha’s  sadness, only the grade two students in her class were scheduled to attend the district event, thereby leaving Sasha and her grade one classmates out of luck. Unlike many of us who would grudgingly accept and/or complain, Sasha decided to let her feelings be known by writing a letter to her teacher, Mrs. I.

*To Mrs. I,

I dont thik its fare thet the grad Ones lrned all the wrds and all the acshins and all the songs ant the grad Ones cant go to primary days of mousic. Why couldn’t the grad Ones go to primary days of mousic, and the grad twos and threes did? Last year the grad Ones got to go to primary days of mousic!

ples write a note back 

Love Sasha.

*exact copy of Sasha’s letter

Much to Sasha’s and her mother’s delight, Mrs. I responded and delivered a sealed and decorated envelope to Sasha thoughtfully explaining the reasons why the grade ones could not attend. Mrs. I, summarized her letter with, “Thanks again for expressing your voice. It is always important to speak your mind.” Apparently, Sasha felt a lot better about missing the Primary Music Days after her teacher took the time to listen and to respond. Sasha’s mother expressed this by stating:

“She had been heard.  She had been listened to. Her voice mattered.”  

Sasha had the courage to let her feelings be known and felt compelled to do so. Clearly, Mrs.I, as her thoughtful and empathetic response demonstrates, has diligently created a safe, caring, and trusting classroom culture where students can express their concerns and questions openly without distrust or fear. I believe that the Chinese students would value and embrace such an environment, an environment that encourages and extends trust. In fact, all of us would appreciate this.

We can all learn a lesson from Sasha's courageous act and Mrs. I's heartfelt response and her successful efforts at creating a trusting classroom environment.

There is nothing that motivates or inspires people like having trust extended to them. When it is, people don't need to be managed or supervised; they manage themselves.  Covey, 2006

When have you been extended trust? Do you genuinely extend trust to others? Describe how you felt when you were immersed in a  situation where trust was not extended to you. 

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