Understanding Trust in Bullying Prevention Efforts

We know that effective bullying prevention efforts are found within strong school communities, but what is at the heart of those strong communities? TrustAs Tony Bryk and Barbara Sneider suggest, "trust is the connective tissue that binds individuals together to advance the education and welfare of students."  Understanding the critical role of safe and supportive places for our students in bullying prevention efforts is not enough. We need also to understand how to build those strong school communities. The importance of building trust in bullying prevention efforts, then, cannot be ignored.

Tony Bryk and colleagues, among other researchers, have compelling evidence of the importance of relational trust across the school community as a critical resource for school reform. Parker Palmer explains that relational trust is built on empathy, commitment, and compassion among other aspects. When relational trust is evident, people understand the rights and responsibilities of themselves and others. It is a dynamic, social interaction.

The most successful school reform efforts, including bullying prevention initiatives, will have evidence of strong relational trust.  It will be found across school buildings and will involve everyone. This trust will be identified within student populations, across the teaching staff, between schools and their parents, and so on. In sum, trust must be evident within and across every subgroup. The potential of the most solid research- and evidence-based bullying prevention initiatives can be realized only when trust is evident within the entire school community.

Megan Tchannen-Moran and her colleagues have spent nearly two decades studying trust in schools. They suggest that when we trust, we are willing to be vulnerable to someone. Essentially, our feelings are open to being hurt. This willingness comes from our confidence that the person is benevolent, reliable, honest, open, and competent.
As we build trust in our school communities, we honor the obligations we have to one another. We assume the good intentions of others and come to rely on them as well. As we increase the honesty and openness in our buildings, we share decision making, remain flexible, and keep promises. Most importantly, by building or restoring trust in our schools, we are providing the foundation for strong communities.

The Colorado Trust published Build Trust, End Bullying, and Improve Learning in 2008, a report of its school and community bullying prevention initiative that touched the lives of over 50,000 students. The report cites increases in academic achievement and highlights the critical role of adults in effective bullying prevention efforts. In particular, the report states that "a positive relationship with adults and students at school and a school culture of trust and fairness are key to reducing bullying."

"Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him." --Booker T. Washington


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