The Importance of Trusting Relationships for Students in Higher Education

Having regular pedagogical conversations with trusted peers or leaders can lead to a deeper understanding of their field of study, and in turn to the success of the academic program.

Key Takeaway: Trusting relationships with significant others in the academic setting are beneficial for PhD students. Having regular pedagogical conversations with trusted peers or leaders can lead to a deeper understanding of their field of study, and in turn to the success of the academic program. - Shekufeh ​​Monadjem

A trusting relationship between PhD students and a significant other, usually dissertation supervisors or course leaders, has been found to be beneficial in increasing knowledge of the subject matter being researched as well as the articulation of this knowledge. Simon and Pleschova published their findings on how these relationships (between PhD students and their significant others) contribute to the success of academic development programs.

Significant others are people “who take on importance to the individual, those whom the individual desires to impress; they might be those he or she respects, those he or she wants acceptance from, those he or she fears, or those with whom he or she identifies“ (Charon, 2001).

Those students who were in a trusting relationship were found to have regular conversations on a variety of topics starting with unavoidable subjects such as course content, assessment issues (such as exam scheduling and grading), and administrative issues, as well as more personal topics such as innovative teaching methods, syllabus design, students in their classes, and reflection on their own teaching. Simon and Pleschova found that “trust clearly had a positive influence on how often conversations took place between each participant and their significant other”.

“In cases where trust was missing from the relationship, participants did what they could to avoid certain types of conversations.” The lack of trust prevented conversations about “syllabus, reflection, and, surprisingly, administrative issues, but did not prevent conversations regarding content, assessment and students.”  The authors also discovered that when there is a lack of trust between students and their significant others, “conversations are reduced to the absolute minimum and important information is withheld, or the information conveyed during discussions is often distorted, filtered, or kept to oneself as much as possible.”

The authors posit that “the additional knowledge and skills gained while participating in the academic development program would likely influence the nature of the relationship and, with it, conversations.” It is further assumed that the students’ increased ability to have conversations about teaching matters would be noticed by their significant others, and thereby improve their trustworthiness. 

In conclusion, this study acknowledges that in an educational setting, the absence of trust “seriously limits not only the frequency of pedagogical conversations, but also the diversity of issues discussed.”

Summarized Article:

Simon, E. & Pleschová, G. (2021). PhD students, significant others, and pedagogical conversations. The importance of trusting relationships for academic development. International Journal for Academic Development. DOI:10.1080/1360144X.2021.1949324

Summary by: Shekufeh Monadjem -  Shekufeh believes that the MARIO Framework builds relationships that enables students to view the world in a positive light as well as enabling them to create plans that ultimately lead to their success.

Additional Reference:

  1. Charon, J.M., (2001). Symbolic interactionism. An introduction, an interpretation, an integration. Seventh edition. Prentice Hall.

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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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