Theories: Trust and Engagement

NOTE: this is a follow on from the theories of engagement series. There is more detail on previous theories here.

Does the following scenario sound familiar…

You walk into your class and check your records to see who has done the homework

Less than half the class…

Last lesson you set the minimum amount of homework because students didn’t seem to ‘get it.’ (Because they didn’t do the homework due then either.) 

You feel frustrated.

Especially thinking about the time you will spend following up with detentions or writing letters/emails home… 

Or maybe you just give them a good old fashioned spray (age appropriate of course :).

(For international readers and those who are not familiar with the word spray, here is a video example of a spray)

Let’s timeout for a minute and think about what is happening here…

There seems to be a classwide strike going on


Is what you are asking too difficult for them?

  • If students were playing a video game they would exert the effort..

Do they not understand the content?

  • If they took the time to read a paragraph or two it wouldn’t be that difficult… And they certainly are not asking questions

Do they not have enough time?

  • They had class time and time at home…

Is the content not interesting?

  • It’s the content in the curriculum, and although it’s no action movie students did choose this subject

So what is it then…?

Let me give you another train of thought as to what might be happening.

According to the book ‘The Speed of Trust’ (which is a business book but here i applying to to the classroom), the scenario above has the hallmarks of a lack of trust

But I think I need to explain a little here what I mean by trust and what is involved.

I am not talking about child safety and professionalism.

What i am talking about is when students ask questions like:

‘Why are we doing this?’

When a student asks this, aren’t they questioning the school and whether it has his or her best interests at heart. It is a symptom of low trust.

I also think it’s important to mention confidence and its relationship with trust. (and in think thinking of it this way helps it make more sense in the classroom)

Exactly what is low trust?

According to the book ‘The Speed of Trust’ by Steven Covey, there are 4 symptoms of a lack of trust 

Symptoms of lack of trust

  • Lack of collaboration
  • Lethargic execution
  • Disengagement
  • Resistance to change

Sounds like the situation above

And what teacher wouldn’t want to minimise these 4 things…

So let’s dive in a little deeper into some of the ideas that ‘The Speed of Trust’ book can give us in the classroom. 


1. “Nothing is as fast as the speed of trust.”

One of the main premises in the book is that 

“Nothing is as fast as the speed of trust.”

We all want to do things fast these days. (We teachers have a lot of content to get through.)

But the author calls a lack of trust a ‘tax’ which slows things down. 

Think of a task that should take 15 minutes taking 20,30,40 minutes or even longer…

Put another way, think about doing a task with someone you know well. Then doing the same task with someone you don’t know well. Which will be faster? Is it the same person who you have more trust with?

In classrooms i think it’s worth saying for the record that a students trust can be affected by:

  • The relationship with you
  • The subject
  • The other kids in the class (this is probably the biggest one, especially in middle years)

And being able to see this lack of trust isn’t exactly easy

2. Components of trust

Trust is part competence and part character 

In other words there is the content, and then there is you. They are different. 

3. Trust can be rebuilt

It is important to know that trust is something that can be regained. Once it is not in a relationship, it is gone forever.

In the book the author goes over 13 different behaviours that increase trust, their opposites and their counterfeit. Here’s a link for more details.

4. Trust is linked with engagement when measured

If trust improves, engagement will improve, so to move engagement the focus should be on trust. Here’s a video that explains it better than I can

Excuse the sales pitch, but there is a few good points in here.

What do you think?

Something to it or not?

I personally think that if we could find a lever for these four things then it’s worth looking into further

  • Lack of collaboration
  • Lethargic execution
  • Disengagement
  • Resistance to change

I mean what teacher hasn’t experienced this at some point in their career

Take care,

– Christopher

P.S – It’s not just me thinking about this in a school setting. Here is a school group in NSW using the speed of trust.