DAILY INSIGHT: The cost of distrust

By Carl Hooker, CIO Advisor

Last month, I had the benefit of sitting in on a Superintendent’s luncheon at our Spring TEC-SIG meeting. They shared stories of issues they were dealing with and having to overcome in their specific districts. Dean Shareski was our keynote speaker on that day and he guided our discussion about how many of our issues deal with our own district’s narrative. Specifically, one thing he mentioned that really stuck with me was the fact that distrust costs us more than we think.

This idea of distrust costing us is not unique to education. In life, when a man makes a mistake or has a wandering eye, it often results in flowers, chocolates and gifts to apologize for a temporary lack of judgment that creates distrust with his wife. While that’s a very general example, the same principal applies to the business world. Companies that have public issues with products spend millions in advertising and satisfaction surveys to overcome any distrust from their current and future potential customers.

In education, we face this battle on a daily basis. Parents distrust what a teacher may be teaching their child. Teachers distrust what their principal is telling them to help improve their teaching practice. Community members distrust the district administration when it comes to goals and initiatives. All of these levels of distrust cost us more than money, they cost us time.

I’m guilty of playing every role in the above educational scenarios. I’ve been a questioning parent, a teacher not sure about the accuracy of my evaluation, and a community member certain that the district I pay taxes in has made a monumentally bad decision. The latter scenario is one that I have encountered regularly as a district administrator. In my relatively brief stint in this position, our district has taken some great strides in making innovative changes in the classroom. However, that change has slowed for a number of reasons, with the most primary reason being distrust.

How do you combat or prevent distrust in education? We’ve taken several steps with community dialogue nights, booster club presentations, staff training, surveys, and parent coffees. Many feel the best step would be to have complete transparency, but even that can at times not be trusted and add more confusion and distrust when numbers and funds aren’t properly explained.

I’ve calculated the time spent on “distrust” in just the last month and I’m shocked to say that nearly 25% of my time has been spent on it. I know I’m not alone and likely not even in the top 10 in my own district in terms of time spent dealing with distrust. The cost of distrust can’t be measured solely on hours spent discussing it or money allocated to advertise against it. It costs us all with increased frustration. It costs us some level of our own self-confidence in doing our job. It costs us in our relationships with peers, colleagues, and the community. But the most detrimental and potentially dangerous cost of distrust in education is none of these items. It’s the fact that distrust can derail what is ultimately the most valuable and important mission in all of this: educating our children.

Carl Hooker is director of instructional technology at Eanes ISD in Texas and blogs at Hooked on Innovation.