Trust in the classroom: is it something we really need? — Plinio Morita

On July 5th, we hosted a CTE graduate student workshop on the topic of Trust in the Classroom. My goal was to foster discussion around the topic of trust in a collegial and safe environment. Based on the feedback that I received from the participants, I decided to devote a blog posting to it as it was highlighted as an important, but unusual topic in teaching development workshops.

This observation is supported by the lack of literature about trust in the classroom in higher education. The literature on trust is extensive, ranging from engineering, to social sciences to business. When it comes to education, the focus has been on secondary and elementary education, as many authors discuss activities and techniques to develop trust and create a trust fostering environment. However, a post-secondary classroom is quite different. When looking for literature on trust in higher education, I was able to find only a handful of studies on this topic.

In order to properly tackle this topic, I approached it both from a classroom dynamics perspective, looking at several publications on how to foster a trusting environment; and also from an impact on learning perspective, looking at how trust can impact information retention. This approach was very interesting, since my PhD research in Human Factors Engineering at the Department of Systems Design Engineering is looking at the impact of trust in teamwork.

During our workshop, we discussed a few important points, such as:

  • Importance of trust for teaching
  • How to develop trust
  • Trust issues and how to deal with them
  • Important relationships in the classroom

Audience participation was a great component of our workshop. The workshop had several activities, such as scenario analysis and brainstorming, one of the participants said:

“I never thought of trust in that way. Trust is something we have in the back of our minds, but we never externalize it. Now I can see the importance of it and how to develop it.”

Covering all trust-related issues as they apply to teaching and learning in a blog post is simply not feasible, but I’d like to highlight a few important components of how to foster a trusting environment and the benefits of such approach. On Figure 1, I highlighted several important components of how to foster a trusting environment and to make an effort for your students to trust you.

Figure 1 – How to foster trust.

On Figure 2, I am showcasing a few advantages of a trusting classroom; both from having students trust you in the position of a TA or instructor, and the instructor/university trusting your work. The left side of the diagram focuses on learning benefits, while the right side shows a few professional benefits to the TAs.

Figure 2 – Advantages of a trusting classroom.

The final word is: trust is a key component of the learning process as it supports participation and open dialogue with students, as reflected by Cook, Levi, and Hardin’s quote below (Cook, Levi, and Hardin, 2009):

“The more we trust each other, the better we are able to cooperate, and therefore the better are our prospects for progress.”

If you are interested in finding out more about the topic, I have selected a few references below.

Applebaum, B. (1995). Creating a trusting atmosphere in the classroom. Educational Theory, 45(4), 443-452.

Cook, K., Levi, M., & Hardin, R. (2009). Whom can we trust?: how groups, networks, and institutions make trust possible. Russell Sage Foundation.

James, J. (2005). Trust in the classroom. Pacific Lutheran University.

Raider-Roth, M., & Gilligan, C. (2005). Trusting What You Know: The High Stakes of Classroom Relationships. Jossey-Bass.


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As a Graduate Instructional Developer, Plinio Morita will have the opportunity to provide support and share his experience with numerous graduate students interested in developing their teaching skills. Plinio completed his undergraduate studies in Electrical Engineering and Masters in Biomedical Engineering at the respected University of Campinas in Brazil. He spent 2007 in Spain working for the Spanish Ministry of Heath, while working on health technology assessments. In the fall of 2009, he joined the Advanced Interface Design Lab (AIDL) at the Department of Systems Design Engineering, University of Waterloo, to pursue his PhD in Human Factors Engineering. Since early 2010, he has been the AIDL Lab Manager and has been working on several projects in collaboration with military and industrial partners. Over the years, Plinio has been actively involved in teaching, facilitating meetings and events, and supporting other graduate students in professional development. His teaching, presentation, and facilitation skills have been developed through numerous experiences as a TA, invited lecturer, guest speaker, and leader of several groups and societies. He is the president of the Systems Design Engineering Graduate Student Association, Vice President of the University of Waterloo Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Student Chapter, and a member of the Graduate Student Planning Committee - Vision 2015. Plinio is dedicated to always working towards student integration and engagement. Plinio is extremely excited with the opportunity of sharing his experience and knowledge with his fellow graduate students at the University of Waterloo.

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