How Do You Build Trust in an Online Community?

Currently I am taking a graduate course on Connected Coaching from Powerful Learning Practice. In the past year I have been exploring my general interest in coaching. I also have an interest in better understanding how we develop cultures of learning and risk taking in our schools. I do believe that engaging in the coaching process can support the continuous learning and reflection of teachers, staff and administrators alike. This commitment to continuous learning and reflection of practices are essential components to creating change in our profession.

From now through December, I will periodically post about my learning and reflections on my Connected Coaching experiences.   

Creating the environment to build relationships

We are about to embark on week four, but I have been really mulling over this idea of building trust, one of the first topics we explored in the course. My head is swimming with thoughts and ideas, some of which have yet to fully form, so this topic is clearly a work in progress. As I reflect upon our time spent on that concept, I start with the question of: how does one structure the online environment so that trust forms between members?

When I think back to the first week, while the topic was an introduction to trust building, we actually didn’t spend time talking about specific strategies (though that perhaps inadvertently came out in discussions). In fact, the whole time was spent in giving us space and time to share, getting to know one another, and engage in discussions around our stories about learning or coaching. Even in the second week, while the topic of trust was not the explicit focus, this idea was really extended into having us share our values and beliefs about coaching. In essence, we were really sharing values and beliefs that were important to us as individuals, an activity that required a little more risk taking as we revealed a bit more of whom we were as individuals. At the same time, we were building community as we discussed these values and how they resonated with us relative to coaching.

In the third week, our own values were used as a starting point to talk about coaching dispositions. Building on the values we identified allowed us to create our own models of understanding of the coaching content. By valuing our experiences, our instructor was modeling trust. I should add that this was further emphasized in how discussion questions were reframed back to us, asking for further reflection upon past experiences and to share these stories. In essence, we were being trusted to be sources of expertise.

Thoughtful Technology Use

I am starting to see first-hand that as a facilitator in online spaces, one must be just as reflective about the tech tools used to carry out these activities. This is because the use of a variety of tools is important for engagement. Also, given individuals’ varying experiences with technology, ease of use of these tools is critical. A tool that is difficult to use decreases accessibility and the means for the group to build on their work.

Perhaps most importantly, technology cannot be used for the sake of doing so.  I can see a clear purpose for why we are using the tools we do. For example, one of our assignments included having to compare ISTE and IAC coaching standards with the Connected Coaching standards, as well as further insights. We were asked to share these ideas on Voxopop. (For those not familiar, Voxopop is like a message board, but all done through recorded voice messages.) I’m sure I could have done this activity in a simple comparison chart and posted it, but the act of being able to speak to and hear from my co-learners around the world really focused my thinking and led to some unexpected insights. Tech tools are not just about engaging the individual, but must absolutely be about deeper learning.

My take away thoughts on building the foundations for trust in online spaces:

  • Building trust means giving space for it to happen.
  • As a facilitator, a balance is required between the need for structured activities (so individuals feel safe to share and discussions remain on the learning at hand) and flexibility to let individuals express themselves.
  • Identifying the pre-existing values and beliefs of a group is critical to both building trust and identifying a path forward for one’s work together.
  • Valuing and building upon the experiences and voices of others emphasizes trust in the individual and models trust for the group as a whole.
  • In online spaces, take the time to ensure you have selected tools that are engaging, accessible and promote deeper learning. All three qualities will be needed to further entrench group trust.

What have I missed? What other ideas or insights do you have on building trust in online spaces?

Making the International Day of the Girl Every Day

As an educator, nothing pleases me more than seeing schools full of girls, eager to learn and taking on challenges. This is because I know in many parts of the world girls are denied access to education because it is not held as a basic human right. Two years ago, The United Nations General Assembly declared October 11th as the International Day of the Girl. Along with many supporters and activists worldwide, Canada played an important role in advocating for the establishment of this day. Currently, many around the world are recognizing that we must urgently work to support education for all girls.

Why do we need an International Day of the Girl?

According to Plan Canada’s website, 66 million girls in developing countries are denied an education, despite the fact that a 10% increase in girls attending school would raise the country’s GDP an average of 3%. The reason behind why girls are denied an education is complex and context driven, but Plan Canada’s 2012 report, Learning for Life, has identified three main factors for girls who are not able to go to school and/or stay there: they are often from poor families, tend to live in a rural areas and from ethnic groups that are discriminated or excluded in their society. These identified factors of poverty, accessibility to education and discrimination are universal issues that all countries and local communities around the world are working to overcome.

So What About the Boys?

This can be the common reframe echoed any time girls or women’s issues are brought to the forefront. I cannot stress how truly important working for the rights of girls is really about human rights for all. This is because the views on gender that prevent girls from an education are also the very same viewpoints that negatively affect the lives of boys. The following excerpt from Plan Canada’s 2011 report, So, What About Boys?, provides clarity on why boys and men should care about gender equality:

“1. Girls’ and women’s rights are human rights. If men and boys believe in justice and fairness, they will be able to see that their mothers, sisters and girlfriends are often not treated the same way as they are, do not enjoy the same level of respect in the community, and do not have the same opportunities to make choices about their lives.

2. Greater gender equality will help boys to succeed in school, to be comfortable with their own identity, to be confident in expressing emotions and to be equipped with the skills to build positive relationships of mutual trust and respect.

3. Gender equality has often meant more freedom for girls and women to define themselves in new ways, but little corresponding change for boys and men. A new perspective on gender is about a more productive way of viewing power relationships to the benefit of both sexes ” (Plan Canada 3).

If we truly believe we live in an interconnected society, one based on the power of the human spirit to create change, then we cannot afford to ignore these issues.

The Voices of Girls and Women

Last week I had the opportunity to see a powerful documentary, Girl Rising, that speaks to the importance of educating girls and the challenges faced by girls around the world. The film features the stories of girls and young women told through a writer from that girl’s country. The film touched me deeply, enraged me and provided me with great hope all at the same time. It is a powerful and must- see film for all.

Malala Yousafzai demonstrates the courage, resilience and hope that is characteristic of many girls and advocates that are fighting for change. Her inspirational speech to the United Nations from July of this year can be found here (via The New York Times)and is a reminder of why this fight for girls’ education is so important.

Kakenya Ntaiya, founder of a primary school for girls in the Maasai region of Kenya , articulates in her blog post at National Geographic the power of education for girls.

From the start, every girl should have the opportunities and chance at life that she so rightly deserves. She should no longer have to fight for the basic rights that so many girls and women have fought for before us and continue to do today. In the future, she will not need an International Day of the Girl because all children will have basic human rights, the ability to make their own decisions, create their own life paths, as well as to equally sit at the tables of change when making decisions about their communities. The International Day of the Girl is one day and it will take recognition and work of what is important every day for these dreams to be realized.

Works Cited:

Plan Canada. “Because I am a Girl The State of the World’s Girls     2012: Learning for Life, Executive Summary.”  2012. Web.  11 October 2013. <>.

Plan Canada. “Because I am a Girl The State of the World’s Girls 2011: So, What About Boys?, Executive Summary.” 2011. Web. 11 October 2013. <>.