The importance of building a trusting school environment
Monday, June 19, 2017
Trust is such a small word, yet so complicated. The word trust has only five letters, but has a multitude of interpretations. Throughout one’s professional and personal careers, many will be asked to "trust" or believe.
Some will do so without hesitation; others will be apprehensive. Why is there such a wide response to such a small word? Stephen M.R. Covey believes trust is based upon consistent behavior.
Relationship trust is all about consistent behavior. People judge us on behavior, not intent. People can’t see our heart, but they can see our behavior, wrote Covey in the 2006 book, "The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything." When asked to trust, many will look to the past, and your prior actions to make their decision.
Can you be trusted; will you keep your word and follow through? The answers to these questions will build trust and credibility in the future. An individual’s credibility is crucial in today’s volatile climate.
The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reports trust in a crisis mode around the world. The general population’s trust of business, government, and the media are at all-time lows. Sadly, this negative outlook has extended to education.
School leaders and teachers who were once looked upon as community leaders and knowledge-bearers, are now looked upon in a negative light. Many educational leaders claim this is a result of state and federal legislation focused on student assessment and accountability, while others proclaim the negativity is based on school accessibility and employment contracts.
Regardless of the reasons, a void has risen that must be overcome. To rebuild trust and restore faith, institutions must step outside of their traditional roles and work toward a new, more integrated operating model that puts people and the addressing of their fears at the center of everything that they do.
The ability to rebuild trust and restore faith is paramount to a school’s success. Without trust between the student and the teacher, the teacher and the parent, the parent and the school, the teacher and the principal or the principal and the central office, an environment for successful student growth cannot be cultivated.
A study conducted by Bryk & Schneider (2003) concluded that important consequences play out in the day to day social exchanges within a school community. The social trust among teachers, parents and school leaders not only improves the day-to-day routine work in a school environment, but also is a key resource for school reform.
It is the little things that make the difference. Actions such as how a parent is greeted at the door in the morning, if a staff member was permitted to leave early to assist an ailing child, or if a principal is permitted to make employment recommendations based on the dynamics unique to their building all impact the ability to cultivate trust.
As a person’s trust grows, so does their credibility. Regardless of the position, if an individual has developed strong credibility, others will be more open to trusting them in future endeavors.
Many school reform leaders at the state and federal level have stressed the importance of trust. The state of Ohio has developed a program titled the Ohio Improvement Process. The Ohio Improvement Process was developed to improve student achievement on state assessments and foster positive school climate.
For this initiative to be successful, school leaders must create a trusting school environment where all ideas are accepted and valued. All stakeholders (students, parents, teachers and administrators) must be willing to implement new programs to improve student achievement and school climate.
Unfortunately, many stakeholders are apprehensive because a trusting environment has yet to be developed. This has forced school leaders to refocus their efforts on building trust and credibility among staff members in the district and throughout the community. The school leaders who have developed a trusting environment have witnessed student growth when implementing the Ohio Improvement Process.
Trust is vital to any endeavor, and without trust one is destine to fail. Trust is the one thing that, if missing, will "destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character and the deepest love."
Trust does not develop overnight; it will take time. It is something that must grow, it must blossom. If one truly wishes to create a trusting environment and build their credibility, they must let their actions speak for them.
A leader may possess impressive credentials, but if they cannot communicate their plans through consistent, supportive actions, they will not be successful.
Jason Ellingson concurred by stating, "I have long believed that leadership is about finding and fostering relationships with people. Financial shrewdness and curriculum expertise are nothing if you cannot work with people. I never wanted to be a dictator, to have ultimate power. I always have preferred influence. Influence is harder to obtain than power. It requires people to believe in you, to respect you and to trust you."
Building trust and one’s credibility in the eyes of their colleagues will take time and effort. It is not an activity that will happen overnight, or an exact science. Sometimes the best of intentions may not work out as planned, but, over time, those who remain steadfast and consistent will reap the benefits of their hard work and dedication.
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