Falling Forward: Trust Fall Fails 

By Liz Ligawa

So, I’m chuckling as I begin writing this piece.  I am not sure if you have seen it, but a few months ago, a video clip offered some very necessary comic relief for me after a particularly difficult time finding the salve of sleep.  The clip was “Trust Fall Fail”.  If you are familiar with the team building activity of the Trust Fall, then you probably know where this is going.  However, if your experience is not like mine, (filled with an abundance of Ropes Courses, or team building activities), I’ll briefly explain. 

The Trust Fall is designed to strengthen teams by building trust among its members.  In this activity, trust is demonstrated by choosing to fall into the supportive strength of team members.  In the “Trust Fall Fail” video, however, this particular team member does not fall backward into the support of her team, but rather falls in the direction where her team is not: forward.  You can imagine how this ends, and also maybe why it’s kind of funny.  But I wonder if we exhibit this same misunderstanding sometimes- fall in the wrong direction.  Do we believe the solutions to the challenges we face exist in the “next big thing” in front of us, or do we recognize the truth of the solution being among us? 

One program coordinator who has tapped into the truth of solutions being among us is André Watkins.  Mr. Watkins is 6’1”, and holds up a 300lb frame.  He also holds up the Restorative Justice program at Waco High School.  By simply observing his stature, it may be an easy assumption to think he uses his brawn to achieve results, or at the least, compliance.  However, in observation of his steady demeanor, and measured approach, I discovered that neither intimidation, nor any other misuses of power, make it into his strategic toolkit.  The asset Mr. Watkins and his team focus on is strong relationships.  The tool he uses to promote strong relationships is trust. 

Trust is an interesting tool, right?  It is understandably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about ways to strengthen schools, or organizations, but don’t let its low profile fool you.  Relational trust is a strong indicator of health in organizations, and teams (Costa, Roe, & Taillieu, 2001).  A 10-year study of more than 400 Chicago area elementary schools explored the relationship between trust and student achievement, and was able to “establish a connection between the level of trust in a school and student learning,” (Bryk & Schneider, 2003).  The Restorative Justice model of discipline is suitably positioned to contribute to strong relationships in learning environments because it employs practices which engender trust.

So, why is trust so important? Liz’s simple answer would be, “Because trust is a barometer for an organization’s climate, and it governs how we interact with one another.”  However, the researchers’ response will do just fine: “Trust fosters a set of organizational conditions…that make it more conducive for individuals to initiate and sustain the kinds of activities necessary to affect productivity….While trust alone does not guarantee success, schools with little or no trust have almost no chance of improving,” (Bryk & Schneider, 2003). 

The Restorative Justice model of discipline is in its third year at Waco High School.  You might be wondering about the effectiveness of André Watkins and his Restorative Justice team, or at least if having this program on campus has contributed to improvement.  Has this approach affected attendance, behavior, or academic scores in Waco High?  Is there a measurable reduction in discipline referrals, suspensions, or alternative education placements?  Has there been an increase in family engagement?  To all of these, I answer, “Absolutely!  And the supporting numbers are incredible.”  So, why am I not satisfying your need for numbers?  Well, because people are not numbers.  Those involved with this program are the ones to offer the truest sense of its efficacy. 

I hope I have encouraged enough curiosity in you to see how strong relationships promote strong schools, and organizations.  My favorite part about this research, and the efforts of Restorative Justice is that it cuts through the limiting ways we think about poverty: “A positive climate mediates the relationship between student and school SES background characteristics,” (Berkowitz, Moore, Astor, & Benbenishty, 2016).  But of course, André, and his team, have already figured this out.  How is your climate? 

liz ligawa - 2Elizabeth Ligawa is a recent graduate from Truett Theological Seminary, and the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, earning both her Master of Divinity, and Master of Social Work.  Though her prized role is being a mother to her dear son, Elijah, Liz has a love for encouraging people to come together in ways that engender healthy communities.  Her role as the Director of Community Engagement at Prosper Waco allows her the room to work in and among the many faces of her beloved Waco community. She may be reached at [email protected].

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these Aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.


Berkowitz, R., Moore, H., Astor, R.A., & Benbenishty, R. (2016). A research synthesis of the associations      between socio-economic background, inequality, school climate, and academic achievement.   Review of Educational Research, 20(10), 1-45.

Bryk, A.S., & Schneider, B. (2003). Trust in schools: A core resource for school reform. Educational       Leadership, 60(6), 40–45.

Costa, A.C., Roe, R.A., & Taillieu, T., (2001). Trust within teams: The relation with performance          effectiveness. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 10(3).

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