Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency

The Role of 'Trust' in Personalized Learning

By Deborah Cleveland, AEA PD Online


A few years ago a friend of mine had the opportunity to travel to Finland and learn about its education system. When she returned, I met her for lunch and bombarded her with questions.

  • What did you see?
  • What was it like?
  • How was it different than what we do in the US?
  • What can we do in our schools to be more like Finland?

I don’t remember her specific responses to these questions, but what I do remember is that she said it started with trust. It is all about trust in Finland. Finland's citizens trust each other and this extends into the education system. Teachers trust their students and in return students trust that their teachers are working with their best interest in mind. The citizens trust the education system. The community as a whole believes that the individuals who are teaching children are doing what is best for students. The teachers trust the parents to support what is happening at school. The parents trust that teachers are working hard (planning, collaborating, assessing, etc.) to ensure that students are learning the concepts and skills necessary for success. In Finland there is a culture of trust.

To add to this conversation, I found this MUST READ!!! Blog post “Finland: A Society of Trust.” In this post, the author provides interested readers a glimpse of this culture of trust that exists in Finland.

What does this have to do with personalized learning?

Personalized learning requires a culture of trust. Trust is essential if we are going to create the kinds of learning opportunities that allow students to choose what, how, when, and where they are going to learn. The community, educators, parents, and students must trust that the learning that is happening is going to lead to students being successful during and after school. 

How do we build a culture of trust?

Ahh...and now the heart of the matter, how do we build this culture of trust in our world so that we can create these rich, personalized learning opportunities for students?

I think it starts with sharing the vision of personalized learning with stakeholders. The conversation should address:

  • What personalized learning is
  • Why personalized learning is good for students
  • How personalized learning could be implemented within the stakeholder groups’ context

For educators committed to personalizing learning for students, the what, why, and how of personalized learning must be shared with students, district/school leadership, school boards, parents and the community (business owners, legislative representatives, community organizations, etc.). Finally, this message must not be delivered once, but the message must evolve as the process of personalizing learning evolves and then redelivered to stakeholders in an on-going manner. 

For more information on building a culture of trust check out ASCD’s article, “Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for School Reform.”

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