Recent research illustrates that relational trust matters in schools. High levels of relational trust improves much of the routine work of schools and is a key resource for change. As a former principal, I know that relational trust is needed in building a productive learning organization. A principal needs faculty support to maintain a cohesive professional learning community that productively engages parents and students. Teachers’ collaborative work depends on decisions that the Instructional Leadership

Team makes about the allocation of support to their classrooms. Parents depend on both teachers and the principal to create an environment that keeps their children safe and also increases their children’s learning.

Bryk and Schneider (2003) discuss how such dependencies create a sense of mutual vulnerability for all individuals involved. Consequently, deliberate action taken by any party to reduce this sense of vulnerability in others—to make them feel safe and secure—builds trust across the community.

The Core Collaborative was working in a system recently and we discussed the concept of relational trust. The stakeholders in the room felt that it was a discussion worth having. They brainstormed the following list to help develop trust across their system. How will you build trust in your system?

  • Discuss trust issues – take a relational trust survey, talk about results and implement strategies to increase trust. Re-Assess.
  • Know what matters to the people you lead. Set meaningful goals.
  • Show people you care about them. What are some ways that would resonate with the people you work with?
  • Say what you are going to do and then do what you say. Be honest and follow through with your commitments.
  • Communicate as much as possible with your group. Open, honest, and frequent communication builds trust. Transparency is key!
  • Paint word-pictures to make something doable and purposeful. Explain and model what needs to be done.
  • Ask permission to give feedback: “Can I give you some feedback on that decision? What are the pros and cons of making that decision?”
  • Listen to learn. After listening – repeat back what was communicated to you – were you on target with what the group was saying? Do you need to adjust?
  • Value long term success more than short term success. When stakeholders visit your school are you putting on a “dog and pony show” or are you showing typical day to day learning?
  • Always do the right thing. We trust those who live, walk and work with integrity. When you don’t do the right thing, admit it and ask for forgiveness.

Works Cited:

Bryk & Schnieder (2003). Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for School Reform. Educational Leadership, Volume 60, Number 6.

Malloy, K. (1998). Building a learning community: The story of New York City Community School District #2. Pittsburgh, PA: Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh.