Trust is the glue of life…the foundational principle that holds all relationships. ~ Stephen Covey
Trust is a Social Contract in Schools
Trust is a multi-faceted, complex phenomenon that has the ability to strengthen schools when it is high and cripple them when it is low. To dive into this topic, let us begin with a clear definition of trust: “a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intention or behavior of another.”
Essentially, trust is a belief–it’s a social and organizational contract, built on a faith in positive regard for self and others. Trust gives us confidence that the people in our lives will do the right thing, especially in the absence of oversight or direction. And even though one of the best ways to build trust is to extend trust, most people don’t offer trust until they feel that it has been earned. That’s the biggest problem with trust. It’s paradoxical. On one hand, it must be gained over time in the creation of a bond; on the other hand, it needs to be demonstrated at the onset of a relationship.
The absence of trust in a school or on a team is detrimental. In the business world, it equates to the loss of revenue. In education, it means that relationships are torn and both achievement and wellbeing suffer for students. But in an altruistic environment like education, why do we suffer from diminished trust when we all came into this profession to help people, when all of us started with the same why. The answer lives within our leadership capacity to confront a culture of distrust and the 7 ways that leaders can build and restore trust in their schools.
The bottom line about the following 7 aspects of trust in schools is that each of them takes courage, candor, and compassion to execute well. To get good at being candid takes practice, and you can’t hesitate in an effort to begin if you want to transform your school into a place where people love to work and kids love to learn. That’s why we wrote Candid and Compassionate Feedback, because we know that leaders need a guide for being candid regarding teacher performance, shared decisions, and teacher leadership. For the following 7 trust scenarios to be at their best, you need candor and compassion.
7 Ways That School Leaders Build and Sustain Trust
1. With Self: The first, and most important, layer of trust is the trust that we place in ourselves to be effective in any given scenario. It’s the power of self-efficacy, and the strength to push yourself to meet your own and even higher expectations. When people say, “that took guts,” what they’re really saying is, “that took a ton of self-trust.” An extreme form of physical and mental self-trust is depicted in the picture below. That took guts!
2. With Others: The second place where leaders must learn to build trust is with others. This is the trust that a leader is able to garner with each individual person on the team. We earn trust with people by exhibiting an outward integrity–we mean what we say and we say what we mean. Our words and actions must be aligned for others to see us as honest and consistent. We must keep commitments–even the promises that others perceive us to make. The biggest fault of a leader who struggles to establish a trusting relationship with others is that they say one thing and then do something that doesn’t entirely match their words.
This layer of trust-building creates true team spirit. When leaders don’t have this skill, they often don’t understand why the team isn’t functioning well despite their positive rapport with each individual. The most effective way to build relationships between others is to use active affirmations. We can create collective efficacy by communicating the mastery experiences that we observe the members of our team having and verbally recognizing them in front of others (especially when they’re not around to hear our praise).
5. Restored Between Others: Disagreement, strife, and discord will inevitably occur between two or more people on your team. If it’s not addressed quickly and directly, a minor dissension can easily grow into a deep animosity and the inability to work well together. The key to rebuilding trust is by having what we call Empathy-Centered Conversations (ECCs). ECCs are facilitated by the leader when two people aren’t getting along. The basis of the argument is likely a lack of perspective so the conversation is meant for the leader to reveal to each party the other person’s outlook about the situation that occurred. Leaders are reluctant to engage in this way for fear that they’ll make the situation worse. They either hope that the situation will resolve itself or they believe it to be a function of human resources. But that’s not helpful. ECCs are designed to get at the heart of a problem for everyone involved to see and hear a point-of-view other than their own. Leaders who are skilled at ECCs and employ the tenets of C.A.L.M. are good listeners and use effective techniques to restore relationships.
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