The Importance of Trust

Trust is a crucial factor for the success of any relationship.  Moreover, the trust that has been built up and nurtured over a long period of time can be lost in a flash.  It is for this reason that we, as administrators, have to ensure that we are absolutely trustworthy in all that we do.  I don’t think that being trustworthy is innately difficult; however, building trust requires hard work and consistency.  To maintain trust in my relationships, I try to demonstrate my trustworthiness to others over the long-term.

I think it was Phil Boyte who said that to build trust a leader must have a high “say/do” ratio.  In other words, people must feel comfortable knowing that I will do what I say I am going to do.  This form of operational trust is a prerequisite to a deeper level of trust.  Once people see that I keep my word, they will feel more comfortable trusting me.  Each subsequent trustworthy act serves to solidify the trust gained.

To further cement trusting relationships, a leader should be willing to do the hard work first before asking the same of his/her staff.  Whether it be working hard at school or being a life-long learner, I endeavor to model these attributes before I ask them of my staff.  Moreover, I would never ask my staff to do something that I’m not willing to do myself.  For example, when I ask them to take risks, I put myself out there first.

Leaders also have to show that they value their staff by genuinely listening to them.  How much do you trust a person with whom you’re having a conversation when you can tell that they’re not really paying attention to what you’re saying?  When people show up at my office it’s because they feel that they have something important to tell me.  The best way I can honour them and gain their trust is to stop what I’m doing and give them the attention they deserve.  Taking the time to know their story is important to me.  By doing so, I can show that I care and this further helps to establish trust.

Another way that a leader can demonstrate care about his/her staff is to acknowledge their contributions to the school community.  Doing so doesn’t need to involve pomp and circumstance; I find that a simple thank you to a hard-working teacher, or a kind note left in a mailbox will go a long way toward strengthening positive relationships between me and my staff.  This demonstration of caring by showing appreciation for good work done is, I believe, a stepping-stone toward developing trust.

Leaders should be open and honest about themselves; people should know where you stand.  It is only after being upfront about my core beliefs, that people can see my actions are indeed consistent with my value system.  It is then that people are likely to trust me.  They may disagree with my point of view, but they won’t distrust me as a result.

Leaders should also be open about their school community and one way in which they can demonstrate their transparency is through using social media.  Last year, I started to share publicly with our parents what we do at school using Facebook and Twitter.  I think by showing parents what we do at school in this manner will only serve to facilitate the building of trusting relationships.  If nothing else, it’s a great conversation starter when a parent approaches me to talk about a photo they saw of their child working in class.  These types of conversations can be the beginning of building trusting relationships.

In my opinion, school communities thrive when positive relationships abound.  In order to foster these relationships, trust must be at the root.  When I start at a new school, ways I can establish trust are by being open and upfront right from the start, demonstrating appreciation of my school community members, being a good listener, and ensuring that I do what I say I’m going to do.

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My Vision

When people walk into my school I want them to notice the positive feeling of community right away.  As intangible as this seems, I really do sense the difference between the schools that have the “vibe” and those that don’t.  It’s like when you’re invited to someone’s home and the warmth and happiness of its occupants is so strong that it spreads to you.  That warmth comes from the positive relationships within the family.

How do we go about establishing this kind of culture within our schools?  In the same way; that is, I believe that positive relationships formed within the school community are the building blocks for creating the kind of culture to which I am referring.  Thus, my vision for my school begins with and depends on forging positive relationships.  Building trusting connections where community members feel valued and cared for is essential.

My fundamental belief is that students learn best when they are immersed in a positive culture where relationship building forms the cornerstone of learning. Martin Krovetz sums it up well for me in his book, “Fostering Resiliency” when he writes:

Human relationships are at the heart of schooling.  The interactions that take place between students and teachers and among students are more central to student success than any method of teaching literacy, or science, or math.

It has been my experience that a teacher’s greatest tool is his/her ability to establish a trusting relationship with the student.  Students often will try harder to achieve for teachers with whom they have a positive relationship.  I also firmly believe that, generally, the more connected a student is to his/her school community, the more successful and motivated the student will be.  In the same way, teachers who feel connected to the community and have positive relationships at school will also be more motivated and will often go the extra mile, striving towards excellence.  Students, teachers, staff and parents will be engaged and inspired as a result of these caring relationships.  Success naturally follows.

Once people taste success in an environment where they feel safe and valued, they will be more willing to take risks.  This risk-taking will enable the community to strive towards continuous improvement.

As the community is working together to improve, the positive culture is reinforced which also serves to further strengthen the bonds and relationships already established.  The caring connected culture feeds upon itself.

When these caring relationships are established, it becomes increasingly possible for everyone (students, teachers, and parents) in the building to feel a sense of belonging and ownership.  It’s like the “Cheers” effect – you want to go to a place where everybody knows your name (as well as your story).  To be a part of something is a fundamental human urge, and school is a great place to nurture this sense of belonging.  My vision is that the stakeholders all feel that it’s their school and their community; each member feels valued and wants to contribute to nurturing the warm and inclusive culture of excellence within the school.