Trusting relationships are a key factor of successful schools. Building a positive professional level of trust forms the foundation that allows staff, students, and communities to take risks, succeed, fail, and find success again. All staff need to be vested in building positive trusting relationships, especially the school’s administration. Recently a friend of mine, who is a teacher in another school district, shared that at a recent staff meeting her new Principal announced that due to budget issues, several staff members may lose their positions. Then the principal asked the staff to trust her, and said by the same token she was trusting them, as they move through this process. It was quite an emotional time for her school.
I asked her if she did trust her principal, and this led to a discussion about what it takes for a new administrator to earn the trust of their staff. While we thought there were probably as many ways to earn trust as there are schools, there were a few common things that most school administrators could do when it came to earning trust. Here are our top 5 (in no particular order):
- Sincerity and believability are paramount. You have to show that you honestly care about your staff, and this takes time, and has to be genuine. You don’t do this by the occasional one minute flash of “good morning, how was your weekend?” but by repeatedly trying to understand the lives of your teachers and community. Certainly greeting teachers can be part of it, but do it in an organic fashion, one that doesn’t feel like you have scheduled time to walk around the school and say good morning. You can however, create times to have those conversations with staff and still make them feel organic: use the first 10 minutes of a staff meeting to have snacks and conversation, have lunch with staff on a semi-regular basis, talk about life during “duty”, or attend a ball game or event with staff and strike up a conversation. Share of yourself honestly.
- I was once told (by a Superintendent I respect) that when it comes to administration, “visibility is credibility”. I believe there is truth in that, however credibility is definitely also measured by the type of visibility. For example, 1 minute classroom walk-throughs do little to build credibility and can even serve to annoy teachers rather than support them. However, 10 – 15 minute walk-throughs are beneficial and can serve to inform instruction and send a message that you care to know what is going on in the classroom. The shorter walk-throughs are not bad if they’re done in conjunction with a 10 – 15 minute walk through program (one designed to provide feedback), but 1 minute walkthroughs alone say you’re doing it just to be seen, not to see.
- If you want to build trust you have to be willing to take a risk. Create an opportunity that demonstrates you understand trust and are willing to trust your staff. Perhaps it’s letting your staff decide on something that is historically the principal’s decision, or sending out a performance survey (it doesn’t have to go to your supervisor but will give you honest input that you can then use to set goals and improve your practice) or trying to learn something new alongside your staff, such as taking an in-house class or workshop about a new technology or initiative. The key is you have to “unhinge” the positional authority that comes with the title of “boss” and open the door of vulnerability.
- In order to build a team you can trust to go into battle with you, and will trust you to lead them, you need to be on the front lines with them. Valuing their time by attending meetings, being on time, conducting meaningful staff meetings (PLCs?), and attending in-services with your staff to model learning and shared experiences, are vital. This last one can be hard to do, but if you expect your teachers to participate in an in-service then you need to be there learning right alongside of them, and no matter what you think that may seem more important, to your staff, it’s not.
- One of the best things you can do to build trust is to solicit feedback from your staff and utilize it. It is the utilizing of the information that is key. It is not enough to take the feedback or collect the data, you need to actually show that it means something. It is when you, in a transparent fashion, base your decisions on that data, that gives your decision making process credibility and builds trust. Otherwise if you’re just asking for input and not using it, you will soon have people deciding not to engage in feedback, or giving you what they think you want to hear, rather than the truth.