Education Opinion

3 Ways to Build Trust in Professional Learning

By Learning Forward — May 19, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
Hayes Mizell

National education reports often have difficulty getting attention, but that was not the case when the Gallup polling organization released State of America’s Schools. Rather than prescribing technocratic approaches for improving education, the report focused on the “human elements” that drive student achievement.

According to Gallup, the factors of engagement, relationships, collaboration, hope, and trust are essential for learning and high performance. This is true not only for students, but also for teachers.

In fact, the report’s headline grabber was that nearly 70% of teachers “are not emotionally connected to their workplaces and are unlikely to devote much discretionary effort to their work.” Among reasons for teachers’ lack of engagement, two stand out. In a Gallup survey of employees in 14 different occupational categories, K-12 teachers “were dead last ... in saying their ‘supervisor always creates an environment that is trusting and open.’ ”

In public education, building trust is everyone’s responsibility, but Gallup emphasizes the importance of school system and school leaders. Implicit is the connection between education leaders, trust, and professional learning.

There is no doubt that a lack of trust is at the core of many educators’ cynicism about and resistance to professional learning. However, education leaders responsible for organizing professional learning can build trust when they:

1) Engage teachers in authentic dialogue about their learning needs. Teachers know their strengths and their limitations better than anyone. But they are wary of acknowledging the latter because they believe -- particularly in an environment of high-stakes teacher evaluation -- that it will cause others to question their competence. What learning experiences do teachers need (not what the principal or central office thinks they need) to perform more effectively? The only hope of engaging teachers in identifying their learning needs is for education leaders to take the time to talk respectfully, honestly, and deeply with teachers, in a safe and supportive context. Listening to the teachers, and acting on what they feel, as well as what they say, can result in professional learning that teachers value and use.

2) Organize professional learning that teachers experience as appropriate and helpful. In spite of an increasingly strong knowledge base of what constitutes effective professional learning, it is not yet the norm for many teachers. Pockets of slapdash professional development persist: one-size-fits-all content, didactic presentation, disregard for local context, information overload, and lack of relevancy and practical application. Teachers have the right to expect that not only will their professional learning be a good use of their time, but that they will emerge from it with necessary new skills and confidence to use them. It builds trust when leaders organize professional learning to meet that expectation.

3) Support teachers’ application of the new knowledge, skills, and behaviors they develop through professional learning. For most people, mastering new learning is difficult. There are at least two steps to the process. The first is the learning experience itself. This can occur on a computer, in a workshop, in a collaborative team, or elsewhere. The second step is more difficult, applying the learning in real time, in a challenging, interactive environment. This is especially true for teachers who may have had learning experiences that were superficial or of limited duration. Like most new learners, teachers need sustained, intensive support and experience to translate their learning into effective practice. Teachers may well ask why education leaders invest in professional learning without including the follow-up support necessary for effective implementation. For professional learning to be trustworthy, its design must address not only the learning process but also the support teachers need to use their learning to benefit students.

The Gallup report raises serious issues about the isolation and alienation of teachers. There are many pathways education leaders can take to address and resolve this problem. Ensuring the responsiveness, integrity, and effectiveness of professional learning is a logical place to begin.

For more about the role of trust within professional learning, see Learning Forward’s recent Transform Professional Learning action brief.

Hayes Mizell
Distinguished Senior Fellow

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP