302 Fireside Chat: Why There’s Nothing More Important for a School Leader to Build than Trust

302 Fireside Chat: Why There’s Nothing More Important for a School Leader to Build than Trust

In this episode of 302 Thoughts, Joe and T.J. take a deep dive into how school and district leaders, at all levels, can develop, build, and sustain trust in schools. The tough reality with trust is that it is easily lost and hard to gain, which is why we remember this powerful quote by Sophocles, Trust dies but mistrust blossoms


Joe emphasizes how trust is needed now more than ever, but is definitely in short supply. Not just in schools or education but throughout our country. If there is any doubt to this, just tune into any news channel and listen to the criticism, uncertainty, and mistrust espoused by the commentators. 


One thing to always remember as a leader is that we are not always the cause of the mistrust,  but we still might be the recipient of it. This is critical for leaders because we need to remain steadfast and focused on the success of our students, regardless of the perceived public perception. This means that we can’t be swayed by our emotions and worries, even though it is incredibly challenging at times. 


One way to remain focused as a school leader is to work within the four most powerful domains that yield the greatest student gains:  


  1. Leading for the capacity of the staff
  2. Ensuring quality teaching in every classroom
  3. Establishing goals & expectations through a clear vision
  4. Strategic resourcing for effective implementation 


T.J. takes the time to explain why trust is mostly counterintuitive in the workplace. Although trust is a universal need, we often work to build trust in the wrong ways in schools.  

The 3 Worst Tips about Building Trust in Schools

Trust-Building Tips (GONE WRONG)Why This Doesn’t Work
Build Friendships, First

Professional relationships are not built the same as friendships but rather on the vision, mission, and core values of the school. This eliminates any mystery on what is expected from the employee.

Don’t miss what Robyn Jackson says about trust and predictability.

Only Focus on Strengths Soaring with your strengths is powerful and sage advice. As a leader, we also need to manage people’s weaknesses and make sure that they are not hindering progress. To focus on weaknesses without falling into the trap of a “circle of nice,” learn to give better feedback.
Treat Everyone the SameSimilar to students, treating people equally does not mean the same. We need to differentiate our treatment to fully develop others. This is also a teacher retention strategy because everyone has different needs and brings value in different ways.

As we look to develop trust and lead more effectively, we need tools that can remind us of how we can continually develop trust. Joe featured, Speed of Trust Action Cards, that are great reminders of the principles associated with the best selling book, Speed of Trust. Joe keeps these cards on his desk and periodically visits them to remind himself of the crucial ideas.

T.J. took the opportunity to share our REPSS survey and the specific design regarding measuring trust. School culture thrives when trust is at the center, and the survey is built to get a pulse on how people are feeling. Think about the power of knowing how your staff is doing and feeling, particularly during these challenging times. Granted, this also requires courage. It’s easier to keep “leading” and not checking in with those on the front lines. Don’t be average, lead with greatness. 

Our 302 Thoughts are monthly recordings as part of our OneThingSeries to help school leaders lead better and grow faster. It’s like school leadership training without having to leave the comfort of your office or home. Look for our other leadership interviews and books that we recommend, all part of the same podcast series at TheSchoolHouse302. 

Let us know if there’s a topic you want us to cover by leaving a comment below or by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership newsletter every week by subscribing on the site. 


We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

This episode was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout. 

302 Thoughts Fireside Chat: ESSER Funds 101–Listen to Our Chat About How School Leaders Should Be Using ESSER Money

302 Thoughts Fireside Chat: ESSER Funds 101–Listen to Our Chat About How School Leaders Should Be Using ESSER Money

How School Leaders Should Be Thinking About ESSER Spending

Education is a people business–a community built on the premise that through excellence in teaching and learning students can and will learn. However, the road to learning is fraught with ups, downs, obstacles, and challenges. No one expected the tumult of Covid19. The path that we were on was shut down, and educators had to find a whole new route. We commend teachers, support staff, and school leaders for pivoting quickly and working tirelessly to educate students. But, we’re just getting started. 

Now, months after the pandemic first hit, in an industry completely disrupted and upended, we find ourselves with an influx of money to help students in an accelerated fashion and to minimize the devastating impact of the pandemic. The big question looming is how best to spend our new ESSER funds?

For us at TheSchoolHouse302, we go back to where the greatest impact lies and that’s with people. Investing in our people first, developing their capacity, helping and enabling them to learn and grow so that they are better equipped, is the key to success. Below, you’ll find our model for investing in people–pay the people, get them what they need to be successful, and develop them as experts in their domain. We need to retool our thinking around money and how we use it. One tip for that is to consider that our staff are builders–builders of the future by teaching our students, supporting them socially and emotionally, and offering them unique learning experiences.

This is what we call a learning culture, and it’s why principals who want to build a learning culture need to think about all of their pots of money in these three primary buckets. This culture doesn’t just happen, though; it is a concerted effort to empower our teachers–as expert builders–for a sustainable and productive future. The alternative is to spend the money–new and old–on contractors, shiny new programs, and other stuff that simply goes away when the money runs out. 



Using ESSER Funds to Invest in Your School’s Future

Administrators must ask, what investments will yield the highest returns? When considering staff members, be sure to have a 360° view, including administrators, instructional staff, support staff, and non-Instructional personnel. Schools need an all hands-on-deck approach, which we describe in great detail in our book, Passionate Leadership

Professional learning should be dynamic, not only focused on equipping the educator with skills, but also diving deep into self-care and ways they can fill their own cup each day. There should also be a clear distinction between training and professional learning. There are incredible products that can definitely help students learn and assist teachers in the classroom. But, consider services and products that help staff to learn beyond training them to use a new tool–a new way to rejuvenate and get better at the work, now and into the future. We think highly of the following purchases that school leaders might make with ESSER funds because we believe that they can be impactful as we ask ourselves this critical question: what investments will yield the most sustainable returns? 

    • Great educators are lifelong learners, but that doesn’t mean that they have had access to some of the most impactful experiences for lifelong learning, including a mastermind group designed to lead better. Check out Danny Bauer’s mastermind, Better Leaders Better Schools, and join a group. Also, get his new book and don’t miss our review of it
    • An investment that we find captivating since it solves so many common problems in the classroom is Organized Binder. Organization, goal setting, productivity, and more are all skills, and as we seek to address unfinished learning, we need our students to be organized and ready for what we put in front of them. 
    • We also dug into what is called the fitbit of education, TeachFX. Great teachers design lessons where the learners are the ones who are working the hardest within the classroom, not the teacher. Put simply, TeachFX measures teacher talk versus student talk. Check it out. 
    • It wouldn’t be an episode of 302 Thoughts without a book recommendation or two. We simply can’t ignore the expansive research found in neuroscience and how that impacts the classroom. As much as Joe tried not to mention a particular book, three titles were dropped quick:

One thing we learned after No Child Left Behind is that money is not the answer for sustainable outcomes if not used wisely. In fact, hiring more personnel and filling voids can lead to unwanted vacancies in just a couple short years. Invest in your people, help them develop and grow by asking them what they need and want. They are the professionals in the classroom and can provide tremendous insight. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

PS — If you have a topic you want us to cover or need recommendations on books to read in a particular area of leadership, just send us a tweet or an email. 

This episode was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout. 



Dear DE School Leaders, 

We hope all is well with you. 

This week, our friends at TheSchoolHouse302 are hosting a live event, much like their FocusED podcast, where they’ll be live for a conversation about school funding. They will be available for questions after about a 20 minute recorded chat. The topics covered this month: funding 101 for principals, including a framework for thinking about spending, how ESSER money should support capacity, and a product review of some of their favorite services and solutions right now. 

We hope you can join us on Wednesday at 7:30PM EST. The registration information is below. Bring a friend. 

302 Thoughts Fireside Chat — School Funding for Principals — Live Event — July 14th @ 7:30PM EST

July — Spending/budgeting/ESER funds — Danny Bauer


Organized Binder 

August — Post-pandemic student engagement 

Differentiation is the king — Dwight Carter 

Each one is a bit redefined for users, like differentiation is really about outcomes


Sept. — The 10 surefire ways to build an SEL-focused school culture — 

Taking Social-Emotional Learning Schoolwide: The Formative Five Success Skills for Students and Staff

by Thomas R. Hoerr

Oct — Richard Shell — 5 tips for amplifying your ambitious goals so that they are unstoppable 

Conscious Code: Lead with Your Values. Advance Your Career 



Feedback for Impact

As the late Grant Wiggins wrote, “less teaching plus more feedback is the key to achieving greater learning.” This is as true for educators as it is for the students we work with. In this issue, we will explore the key characteristics of effective, actionable feedback—whether provided in the classroom, following a teacher observation, or during a coaching conversation—and how schools can create cultures of effective feedback and make the most of feedback for growth. Articles will look at feedback protocols and routines; evidence-based formative assessment strategies; best practices for differentiating and delivering feedback; and how to make feedback stick.

Submit a manuscript for this issue.

Deadline: November 1, 2021

Support, Opportunities, and Engagement: 3 Claims that John Dewey Would Make About Learning During the Covid-19, 2020-2021 School Year

Support, Opportunities, and Engagement: 3 Claims that John Dewey Would Make About Learning During the Covid-19, 2020-2021 School Year

Looking at Learning through A John Dewey Lens 

Such happiness as life is capable of comes from the full participation of all our powers in the endeavor to wrest from each changing situation of experience its own full and unique meaning. ~ John Dewey

When many educators hear the words: reformer, progressive, whole child, etc. their minds are immediately drawn to the profound work of John Dewey, Columbia University Philosophy Professor. A cofounder of pragmatism, a philosophy that embraced utility and action, Dewey’s thoughts on education centered on engagement and interaction for both the teacher and the student. This post focuses on what we believe Dewey would glean from this incredible school year to advance teaching and learning in a post-pandemic era. 

Our Favorite John Dewey Quote 

The quote above centers on the happiness that is found when we uncover “unique meaning” in what we experience, no matter how challenging. His claim is that if we are fully invested in what is occurring and we “wrest” from the changes and challenges, we will learn and grow. In fact, we will be happy. It is actually our struggle during times of change and the outcomes thereafter that lead to our contentment. The paradox is that many believe that happiness is a derivative of comfort, and the opposite is true. 

Can We Find Happiness Because of What We Learned During Covid19?

Over the past school year, two words that we have not often heard associated with one another are Covid and happiness. And, although we won’t follow Alice down the rabbit hole regarding the meaning and history of happiness, we do want to identify that happiness, in this context, is a state of being that occurs when someone experiences meaningfulness and worthy contribution. 

For more on the concept of happiness, visit the Greater Good Magazine for tons of information and resources.

Now that we are emerging from Covid19 in a post-vaccinated society, we wanted to reflect on the past school year through the lens of a renowned education reformer, John Dewey. Our hope is that we can find happiness and success from what we’ve learned. If we can, then we will make significant strides in education. 

Forced Change Due to a Crisis 

This year was challenging on many levels. Covid19 either disrupted your life, or worse yet, imposed devastating outcomes. As for the educational workforce, everyone within the system experienced significant challenges through forced change. At TheSchoolHouse302, we consider forced change to be beyond the realm of our control and something that we must respond to  accordingly using resilience and flexibility. 

Forced change is beyond the realm of our control; we must respond and adapt to it in order to continue to effectively teach and learn. ~ TheSchoolHouse302 @TSH302 Click To Tweet

Change happens all the time. It can be foreseeable or not, welcome or forced. Changes in education often come from the Federal Government or from an outside interest group. But a change due to a pandemic is something that no one expects or sees coming. The bottom line is that regardless of where the change comes from, schools and school personnel must change to the degree equivalent to the strength and potency of the change itself. The problem with Covid and the educational community is the degree of change that is required. The difficulty of this school year wasn’t due to another change initiative but to the dominance that Covid possessed. We aren’t talking about new standards or legislation on high quality early learning services, we were, and still are, dealing with a complete upheaval to how we traditionally operate schooling. 

Educators worked hard through the end of the 2019/2020 school year in the best possible way to educate students to the best of our ability given the unprecedented worldwide reaction to the virus. But, once teachers and leaders realized that there was a strong possibility of not returning to in-person learning in 2020/2021, mindsets had to shift to embrace the virtual learning reality.

As the primary place where students learn became off limits because of social distancing, whether completely, partially, or intermittently, school buildings were no longer the center of where learning needed to take place. This forced change had incredible ramifications, many of which were cause for absenteeism, increased rates of failure, and learning loss. However, amid the challenges of the forced change, there exists the triumph of a year whereby many of the educational values that John Dewey espoused were put into place and embraced faster than had we not experienced a crisis.  

Let’s be clear, we could all easily fall back into our traditional way of doing things if we are not intentional or if we fail to reflect on what we’ve learned during these trying times. We look to the educational vision of a man who was born in 1859, but that vision, albeit more than a century old, is often absent from today’s student experience. We are now able to ask ourselves: what are the claims that John Dewey would make about the post-pandemic educational system that we should embrace for the advancement of teaching and learning? 

3 Claims that John Dewey Would Likely Make About Teaching and Learning as the Result of Covid19

John Dewey Claim #1: 21st Century Schools are the Central Hubs of Our Community

One glaring truth that emerged from Covid19 is that schools are the centers of our communities. We could argue that churches and other organizations were once a central space to reach the community, but, throughout Covid19, schools were the community institutions that were used to reach, communicate, support, feed, and aid our students and families. 

This is primarily due to the simple ease of connection that schools have with every child. The incredible community centers and outreach programs throughout Covid often needed a place to reach the greater community, and one way to quickly get in touch with people was through school communication systems all the way down to teacher rosters and district pupil services.  

Dewey claimed that a critical responsibility of education is to provide a social service that will lead to social progress. During Covid, schools shifted quickly to include social and emotional learning, prioritized standards, mental health centers, medical resources, and more. Faster than ever, schools realized Dewey’s vision for re-imagining what a classroom looks like and provides for students. 

Next Steps From What we’ve Learned from Covid19: 

Similar to the efforts of 211, which combines and harnesses community resources, schools can also be a conduit of resources and services within the community. The stark reality is that many students are suffering both mentally and emotionally and have very specific needs that the school itself is not necessarily equipped to handle. Schools are fundamentally places of learning and any responsibilities beyond that need extensive support. This is not to say that schools cannot serve these students, actually it’s just the opposite. 

Schools can curate the potential services within the community and create a system to connect families to services as needed. With a synthesized list of community services, counselors and other support staff will know where to send families for the help they need. Anything from flu shots to food drives, schools that know the available resources become the hub that Dewey intended the school to be. 

John Dewey Claim #2: Meaningful Student Engagement and Learning Must Take on Many Forms and be Evaluated Routinely and Often 

The amount of problem solving and concerted effort to educate students throughout Covid was simply amazing. It’s important to note that these weren’t necessarily new efforts but that the intensity of the efforts were significantly elevated. This is also not to say that it was all a success but the level of experimentation and risk-taking taught us what to do and not do faster than ever before. The review of student performance data and other sources of information to evaluate what works, what doesn’t, and what to try next is an outcome of the pandemic that we hope educators will stick to for the future of schooling.

Whether it was making sure that students attended classes by reviewing work samples or trying new and dynamic virtual tools, educators increased the frequency and review of data to determine if students were learning and engaged. One key realization during Covid that Dewey would agree with is that schools cannot take for granted that a student’s “presence” equals engagement and learning. New products and features of in-person and virtual learning need to include evidence and subsequent data analysis.  

Next Steps from What We’ve Learned from Covid19: 

Student engagement was a central aspect of Dewey’s work. Students need to be meaningfully engaged in learning and the meaning of the lesson. The challenge is in separating the activity from the teacher–the practicality of instruction and the task of the student. At the end of the day, marking period, semester, and year, it really comes down to whether or not the students learned and progressed through a series of tasks to get there. 

Because Covid19 was so bizarre and the obstacles were so high, we witnessed teachers repeatedly trying new things until they settled into what made sense for students. Learning was the primary objective and teachers embraced this idea due to a setting that was so different. This effort to learn and take risks on the part of the teacher as well as the demonstration of grace as it pertains to grades are two key ingredients for success moving forward.  

John Dewey Claim #3: Teachers Deserve and Need Robust Support and Learning Opportunities

In a short amount of time, teachers’ knowledge and expertise regarding technology and various platforms skyrocketed. Pre-covid, many schools were doing great work in regard to providing technology to staff and students, capitalizing on various learning tools, and supporting the technology with a solid infrastructure. But schools were very patient with staff and willingly measured progress slowly with no real rush. Early adopters soared, while school administrators supported and approved our instructors who needed more time.

Covid eliminated the freedom of a casual timeline, and teachers were forced to learn the tools and do so fast. Granted, it was frustrating and unrelenting, but the growth was amazing. From tools like Seesaw for interactive learning to various Google platforms, teachers revolutionized their classroom in zero time flat. Much of what we saw was that our early adopters and subject matter experts pumped out learning opportunities to catch others up.  

Next Steps from What We’ve Learned from Covid19:

Differentiate professional learning (PL) is not a new concept but one that needs to take hold in every school and district. Teachers’ skill sets vary and PL needs to be offered in a variety of different formats and times. Every school should be equipped with one room dedicated to learning new technologies. Handing over tech to teachers and expecting transformational teaching in the classroom without support is an unacceptable practice. Teachers should have the opportunity to identify the challenges and struggles they are facing from classroom management to engaging instructional practices and receive PL in real time. We wrote about this concept, comparing a learning culture to a teaching culture, in Passionate Leadership. What we learned from Covid19 that Dewey would love to know is that we can speed up not only the learning of our students but that of our teachers. 

We herald John Dewey’s prgressive ideas and his thoughts on teaching and learning. The notion of learning as a process that requires active participation is not anything new as we type these words, but the question in front of us today is how well are we doing it across every system? Dewey professed that we can find happiness amid every situation, and we believe that we can transform education through the challenges overcome throughout Covid19. The spirit of reaching every child and transforming our practices to bend toward the needs of every student will guide us and serve us well for centuries to come. A forced change may be exactly what education needed and now we must move forward with what we’ve learned.  

Stay tuned for more nuggets of wisdom, podcasts, books to read, and the best resources for leading better and growing faster in schools. Follow us at theschoolhouse302.com to join thousands of leaders who get our content each month. Send this to a friend. 

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCould. And, again, if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J. 
This episode was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout.

Claim Your FREE Copy to Our Praise Practice- Practical Praise Giving Tips for Principals

Claim Your FREE Copy to Our Praise Practice- Practical Praise Giving Tips for Principals

Learn how you can give practical praise each day as you lead your school to develop a better and more positive culture through this complimentary eBook we use in our workshops to help principals all over the nation and subscribe for more resources like this one delivered to your inbox. 

Congratulations on claiming your copy - you may download it here: https://theschoolhouse302.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Technical-Tip-Praise-Practice-A-Model-for-Specific-Praise.pdf