This is a precis of case study findings we published on cultivating relational trust in online doctoral student-supervisory relationships.

Friesen, S., Becker, S., & Jacobsen, M. (2022). Online doctoral student-supervisory relationships: Exploring relational trust. In Jacobsen, M. & Smith, C. (Eds.) Online Learning and Teaching from Kindergarten to Graduate School (pp. 282-306). Canadian Association for Teacher Education.[direct:]

Doctoral education & supervision are core teaching responsibilities in research intensive universities and faculties of education in Canada. Taking steps to establish & maintain productive mentoring relationships is vital to a successful graduate experience for students. Given the spike in online supervision, we carried out a case study to explore how relational trust is developed in online doctoral supervisory relationships. We talked to 5 EdD graduates & 5 supervisors in our School of Education.

Four key findings are shared in this chapter. Finding 1: the strong interrelationship between four discerning elements of relational trust (respect, personal regard, integrity, competence) indicates students & supervisors need to cultivate all four to develop strong relationships.  Reciprocal respect includes genuine listening, recognition of the role that each person plays in a doctoral student’s education and the mutual dependencies that exist among team members who support students (peers, advisors, instructors, committee members, examiners).  Personal regard involves people realizing others care about them and are willing to extend themselves beyond their specific role in any given situation. Personal regard is built on recognition of mutual dependence & personal vulnerabilities that characterize social exchanges in student-supervisor relationships. Integrity is enlivened in supervisor-student relationships by the shared belief and value that both sides will consistently follow through on commitments and do what is necessary to ensure the progress and the quality of the research. Competence in role responsibilities connected to supervisor’s ability, disposition, & expertise to guide & support student research & student’s ability to achieve desired outcomes: coursework, research proposal, candidacy exam, academic writing, analysis, interpretation of data, final oral exam preparation.

Finding 2 was that respect and personal regard for others were two of four elements of relational trust that surfaced most strongly for supervisors and students. Supervisors extended themselves beyond defined boundaries of their role by finding additional times to meet; providing emotional as well as intellectual support; and/or being sensitive, flexible, and adaptable based on events impacting the student in their professional or personal lives. Supervisors extended themselves beyond defined boundaries of their role by finding extra times to meet; providing emotional & intellectual support; and/or being sensitive, flexible, adaptable based on events impacting the student in their professional or personal lives. Supervisor Competence & integrity establishes conditions for reciprocal respect & personal regard in interactions; active listening + commitment to shared belief & value supervisor & student will do what is necessary to ensure quality work & the well-being of each other.

Finding 3 indicated that establishing relationships and developing shared expectations needed to begin early in the relationship to build relational trust. Supervisors committed to transcending own experience being supervised in developing mentoring approach and working closely w EdD students. Learning to supervise is not a one-time event. Supervisors indicate their practice evolves in response to unique & diverse student needs.

Finding 4: trust is maintained thru EdD student’s education via frequent, flexible, and responsive online communication & collaboration. Supervisors set the tone for meetings by demonstrating genuine interest in the student as a whole person. Building trust is an ongoing process versus a one-time event.

We offer four recommendations for practice. First, supervisors must incorporate all 4 elements (respect, personal regard, competence, integrity) to build effective online relationships, personalize learning, support EdDs as learners, serve as academic role model, & set respectful boundaries.

Second, institutions must invest in online supervisory development beyond typical orientations on regs to include the ethics of care & relational aspects of supervision, so quality supervision is not relegated to individual trial and error or sporadic workshops.

Third, programs & institutions must invest in supervisory development and doctoral student retention efforts that highlight the supervisor’s role and responsibility for relationship building, starting from recruitment to admissions to orientation and the initiation of a student’s program.

Fourth, institutions need to provide ready access to robust and reliable online technologies and timely support for supervisors and students to thrive with online communication, collaboration, and ongoing engagements.

Our chapter summarizes findings from case study research with 5 supervisors & 5 EdD graduates that extends Bryk and Schneider’s (2002) theory of relational trust to the examination of relationship building for online supervision in teacher education. Thank you to the amazing supervisors and doctoral graduates who shared their experiences, insights and perspectives with us in this case study research. [direct link to chapter:].

This Supervision Blog is part of the Quality Graduate Supervision project website.