Building Trust…Purposeful Actions - Steve Barkley

Building Trust…Purposeful Actions


Noun — firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

Synonyms: confidence, belief, faith, certainty, assurance, conviction, credence; reliance

Verb — believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of.

Synonyms: rely on, depend on, bank on, count on, be sure of

Diagram of trust

Participants in my workshops and consulting raise the issue of trust quite often. Instructional coaches point out that they need to build trust before teachers will open to coaching and that as coaches they need to be able to trust their administrator to work as part of the leadership team. Teachers will state that they don’t trust their coach or at times their colleague enough to have an “open door” to their teaching. PLCs cannot work with collaborative goals without trust among its members. Principals, who don’t trust a curriculum specialist from central staff, lose valuable input as they often don’t share a problem or concern. Curriculum staffs who don’t have trust with principals often struggle to gain implementation of a program because they are not getting necessary information about “what is really happening.”

When I hear comments about trust they usually fall into these categories:

* We don’t have it and need it.

* We are blocked because it isn’t here.

* Need to wait until the right people are here and then we’ll have it.

* You can’t have trust in this school, district, state, or environment (historical fact).

These statements never move toward action….if trust is needed, what should we do to create it?

My earliest experiences with this trust issue occurred when I worked to start peer coaching programs in schools. I was often told, “It won’t work here as we have no trust.” My response, “Until you start coaching activities, you won’t get the trust.”

Consider these thoughts about trust from Mila Hakanen and Aki Soudunsaari in an article, Building Trust in High-Performing Teams

Trust building is a relatively slow and long process compared to other business processes, but it can be accelerated with open interaction and good communication skills.

 Shared experiences create trust and trust, in turn, enables deeper levels of interaction and expression between team members.

 Trust building requires openness, informing, honesty and arguments.

424 trust

  Here are a few strategies I believe can be put into action to accelerate the formation of trust: Leaders (and you can lead from any position) can:

Create opportunities for knowing and communicating. How many different ways can you arrange for staff to connect on personal and professional exchanges? Can you orchestrate that the PE department and Math department plan an event together for the next staff meeting?  Could teachers be given a values statement to answer such as, “What is important for your students to learn with you that isn’t in the curriculum?” Then create an opportunity for staff to collect those responses from several colleagues they don’t know well. These kinds of activities are often purposeful at the beginning of the school year. Consider doing them purposefully every month or more.

Define roles up front and review frequently. Defined roles can build a safety net for people to connect while trust is growing. I am currently facilitating an informal mentoring program. I have participants discussing at the beginning what role the mentor will play….a peer coach meaning they will explore only those items that the mentee raises or more mentoring role where the mentor might raise some issues he feels important. With the role defined, both will communicate more openly…. knowing what to expect. More open communication will build trust. As trust builds defined roles are less critical. Defining roles is often overlooked when schools first implement instructional coaching.

Have leaders model vulnerability early to start the trust building process. I recall a superintendent participating in a principals’ training session who immediately shared his mistakes as a principal coaching teachers. This definitely caused some participants to be vulnerable in sharing concerns which in turn built trust into the environment. Instructional coaches should be the most coached people in the building, modelling their acceptance of feedback for growth. I have suggested that members of the school leadership team handout copies of their individual professional growth plans. A key role of leaders is to take risks before trust is built which is instrumental to building trust into the relationships.

Engage in conversation around disagreement. Trust is built when teams experience differing views being explored and discussed. Leaders, who purposefully slow down and even support a conflicting view until it receives a full hearing, build trust among team members. Working through conflict, similar to being vulnerable, creates a positive spiral where trust makes the next conflict easier to examine which increases the trust.

Where would an increase in trust expand the learning and capacity of your staff to increase their impact on student achievement? What actions can you undertake to build that trust?

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