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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Trust - The Challenge and Need in Education

When I was a child, in sixth grade to be exact, our school went to camp. For me, growing up in Washington meant camping was a regular event, but the idea of going to camp with my classmates...well, I wasn’t sure what to think. It didn't take long to learn that school camping was not like the camping I was used was mainly kids in cabins going to bed early, eating food that all tasted the same no matter the color, walking around trails, and completing “learning activities” along the way.

At the end of the week my cabin was ready to participate in a team-building activity. The title of this activity? “Trust Fall.” Now, it’s important to note that I was not a popular kid, in fact, most of camp for me was looking forward to free time so I could go off alone and fish. I didn’t make friends easily growing up - talking to others didn’t come naturally, and confidence was something I just didn’t contain. So when the counselor said we were going to partake in an activity called Trust Fall...well, my imagination took over and I pictured myself free-falling from a tree to a group of hands waiting below.

For those unfamiliar with a Trust Fall here is the idea, as I quickly learned that day. One person stands as straight as possible with his arms folded in front of him while facing away from those watching. A second person, who is deemed strong enough catch the person standing in front, is given the role of catching the person when he falls backwards. So, simply put - one person falls backward without bracing himself, while the other person catches him.

The counselor, who seemed to be enjoying this activity a little too much, asked us to partner up. I, being the loner of the group, was partnered with, of course, the last remaining kid who stood alone. Still though, if I could trust anyone in my cabin, the kid who also didn’t get connected to the group would have been as good as anyone.

For whatever reason I was chosen to go first. My partner looked strong enough, he said he was ready, he said he could catch, I fell backwards. I kept falling, and falling...and then...pain. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn't think, I just hurt.

It was that moment - lying on the ground looking at the clouds slowly move overhead while gasping for air - that I realized something...It was going to be hard for me to ever trust again. Sadly, that has been the case for a very long time.

The challenge with trust, no matter the field you work in or the life you lead, is that it requires you to hand over control to someone else. This of course comes in many forms...We give control of our hearts to the ones we love, our child’s safely and intellectual growth to his/her teacher, food cleanliness to our favorite restaurants, finances and financial future to our accountants/financial planners, health to our doctors, and for many - even our eternity to our Savior and God.

Trusting is difficult. For many years I ran under the notion that I would only trust someone if he/she deserved it. If that person had shown time and time again I could trust him/her to get the job done - the right way, have my back, show honestly in difficult times and fairness even when it didn’t mean getting his/her way...then, and only then, I would trust them. Of course, we are all human, so offering trust on the basis of perfection meant I would never be able to trust anyone for too long.

In the world of education, the need for trust is abundant, yet how often do we truly analyze its importance? When looking at the network of relationships within a school, the need for trust becomes very clear. When starting with a teacher at the center, a web of trust begins to form between the teacher and students, parents, counselors and administrators...all of whom work together as well...this is just a glimpse, and does not include the many people/entities that make up the community and world our students grow up in...

For me, this all leads to one do we create an educational environment where trust exists? After all, mistakes are going to happen, and people may not always catch us when we fall backwards…

The answer: We must offer trust freely first, without the requirement of earning it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying you can always trust everyone...but what I am saying is in the world of education, and in regards to the web of student, parent, teacher, counselor, administrators and other school personnel (instructional coach, librarian, nurse, specialists, etc) we need to offer trust freely, until proven otherwise. I will be the first to say that this isn’t easy, we are asking imperfect people to make the right choices, not gossip/talk negatively about us, protect us, do right by us, and live a life of integrity at all times. Yet, for schools to be successful, for schools to get the most out of our students, and each other...I truly believe this is a step we need to take.

I am going to be honest...this is difficult for me, and it has been my entire life. I am not sure if that comes from a fear of being hurt or disappointed, a fear of mistakes being made by others, a desire to do things myself, or any other factor that may be in the way...Yet I will continue to try each day to offer it freely...after all, we all share the same goal and desire - to ensure our students, every single one of them, are safe, cared for, and successful. Trust will help us get there, because without it...well, let's just say our students deserve better than that.


  1. Thank you Ryan for your openness, sharing your story with us isn't easy, but it also makes you a great leader! I was that kid too. Allowing us to look into a part of your life that isn't "Fakebook optics" challenges us to let others in too. I love what are school is becoming, your transparent modeling allows each of us to be willing to catch each other when we fall, encouraging each other to trust and work together with confidence! For our students and each other as an one awesome team!

  2. Great post! I think anyone who says they don't struggle with trust on some level is not being honest with themselves. I wouldn't trust them ;)

  3. Thanks for sharing and trusting us with this blog post. You're absolutely right! In a school community, all members need to be able to trust each other. We should trust others to an extent (based on our expectations). When (not "if", because it will happen) the trust gets broken, we need to forgive and allow the opportunity to fix/rebuild the trust again. We're all human and will make mistakes. We should teach and set the example for our kids on trust. Your 6th grade counselor should had you and your partner try again (and again) to rebuilt the trust. :)

  4. Excellent post Ryan. Building trust requires leading by example, openly discussing with others the importance of integrity and trust, sharing details about shared goals and the consequences if trust if broken. If there is an event where trust was compromised it need to be discussed with all involved opening and immediately. This will ensure the team learns from mistake and what to do so it doesn't happen again. Got me thinking - thanks Ryan!