“Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”

Stanley A. McChrystal

Teachers should let pupils fail in a safe environment, letting them pick themselves up, so they come out on the other side having learned with feelings of pride about what they achieved. There is an element of trust in such a relationship, however, and not all teachers will help you if you fail. The bottom line is that we don’t learn when we don’t trust: it is a crucial aspect of information exchange and negotiation (Rettinger, Nickles & Tresp, 2007).

That said, trust is not a given; trust has to be earned and not just by the teachers, but the pupils also, otherwise the relationship that is supposed to be facilitating learning, becomes stagnant.

The education system must have a shared purpose and consciousness if it is to progress and succeed; yet we all have different life experiences making us who we are. In terms of digital media, children have different skill sets and quite different vocabulary, in comparison with older generations, yet we still need to have a shared sense of trust in each other, something that is lacking in the current system (Gregory & Ripski, 2008).

Nowadays, there are so many changes in the lower levels of technology – using books, computers or a state-of-the-art tablet – that suddenly things that the teachers grew up doing are not what children are doing todayHow can a teacher still credibly and legitimately teach a class when they themselves haven’t trained in the aspects of learning that their pupils already know and understand? There is an inversion of expertise.

Cooperative behaviour between students and staff is important in facilitating a high-functioning classroom, where students trust teachers and feel able to actively engage in their work. If you go to a teacher with questions about an exam, and the help given turns out to be inapplicable, you feel a sense of disappointment. You have put yourself (and possibly your grades) on the line by trusting their expertise and it has come to nothing. Many adolescents reject teachers’ authority and expertise (Franse, 1990) because they have been let down; we need to rebuild that trust, working towards a sense of shared purpose towards educating the future generation. The trust I speak of could be referred to as role-based trust, where it is the role of the person and the system of expertise which they belong to that you trust, as opposed to the person themselves (Kramer, 1999).

If children are raised and educated in a system that doesn’t trust one another, then what does that teach them about the real worldLee (2007) examined the student-teacher relationship regarding trust, and highlights that this relationship is positively correlated with school success, academic motivation and academic performance, emphasising just how important trust within the education system really is.

Trust is important not just between pupil and teacher, but also between teachers, parents and the board of directors.  Bryk and Schneider (2003) found that social trust between these parties improves the workings and routine of the school. Relational trust among teachers also gives an imperative to reform and develop their teaching. Teachers with high relational trust were also found to go the extra mile for the children. The researchers found that schools with high relational trust were more likely to demonstrate marked improvements in student learning. Of course, this trust takes time to form; a simple workshop will not initiate trust within an entire staff body, it has to be earned and worked at through day-to-day social exchanges. Results of da Costa and Jose (1995) indicate that trust and respect between teachers is a prerequisite to effective collaboration, and that without trust and respect, collaboration is futile.

CHALLENGE FOR TEACHERS: be more willing to be reverse-mentored by the children.

Both parties learn when they can input into a discussion equally.

There must be a new kind of leadership where there is an element of trust within the teacher-child relationship, which could hold this system together.



  1. I enjoyed your blog, I agree that the student-teacher relationship is crucial to student engagement; Roorda, Koomen, Split and Oort (2011) found that the student-teacher relationship has a significant effect on engagement but less so on achievement. Clearly, students will want to work harder for favoured teachers over others, but perhaps this student-teacher relationship is about vulnerability. In my first blog I talked about how video games allow the user to accept failure as a part of learning; the TED talk below is on failure and the lack of communication on the subject in everyday life. Well worth a watch, but essentially, if we continue to ignore where we went wrong, we cannot hope to learn from anything and make better decisions the next time we are faced with the same problems.

    Roorda, Koomen, Split and Oort (2011)-The Influence of Affective Teacher–Student Relationships on Students’ School Engagement and Achievement; A Meta-Analytic Approach doi:10.3102/0034654311421793

  2. In broad I do agree with your point, a relationship between teacher and a student is very important. But I think you must put this into context with many other things that can have an effect. Look at this quote from a book by Duncan (2007) called school readiness and later achievement:

    “…academic skills are only one facet of educational success, and improvements in problem behavior or social skills may better predict other important school outcomes, such as a child’s engagement in school and motivation for learning, relationships with peers and teachers, and overall self-concept and school adjustment.”

    All these points must be looked at, and there are some very interesting blogs this week on parent’s engagement in their children. A study by Frymier and Houser (1999) found that a good teacher-student relationship (with good communication) lead to higher referential skill, ego support, conflict management and immediacy, tied in with much higher motivation, which does show that there is an important role for this (as you explained) along with the others.


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