Adam Grant conducted an interview around how trust works and how it can be built, with Daniel Coyle, the author of “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.“
Grant posed an initial view of trust building that educators frequently share with me when I am exploring implementing coaching or teaming efforts.
“I’ve always thought about trust as the willingness to be vulnerable and take a risk together, but you convinced me that I had it backward. I always thought, “Once we trust each other, then I can go out on a limb, because I don’t have to worry about you harming me or taking advantage of me or letting me down. You said, “Actually, you take risks together first, and that’s how you build trust.”
Some strategies for building group vulnerability leading to trust are shared in this summary of Coyle’s, “The Culture Code.”
The Leader is Vulnerable First and Often
“I screwed that up” is among the most important things a leader can say. Sharing of vulnerability makes the team feel it’s safe to be honest in this group.” I have continually suggested to administrators that the role of teacher leaders is to be vulnerable before trust has been built. The leaders vulnerability encourages teammates to step forward.
Deliver Clear Signals:
The best teams send repeated signals that set expectations for sharing vulnerability and align language and roles to achieve this. I worked with a school district that moved it’s biweekly principals’ meeting to a different school for each meeting. When your school was up, the principal had the first 5 minutes of the meeting to brag about their school and the next ten minutes to ask for help. Being vulnerable was communicated as a part of the culture.
Deliver the smallest of negative feedback in-person: This avoids misunderstandings and reinforces clarity and connection. I continually recommend this to administrators and coaches. It’s a reason that I am generally opposed to written feedback from walkthroughs, beyond a short positive compliment or positive observation of student actions or words: Something to celebrate. Even on formal observations, I believe “the report” written after a conference serves a greater likelihood of the teacher being vulnerable and open to gaining from the process.
Focus on Two Critical Moments: The two most critical moments in group formation are the first vulnerability and the first disagreement. The way these moments are handled sets a clear template that privileges either competition or collaboration. Coyle describes a vulnerability loop. When a colleague shares a moment of vulnerability, it needs to be recognized by someone and then a vulnerable signal sent back in response. Consider consciously looking to catch and respond to those vulnerable signals during coaching or when facilitating a PLC conversation.
Practice Engaged Listening: The best listeners add energy to the conversation by responding actively and asking questions from multiple angles. They avoid the temptation to jump in with suggestions until “a scaffold of thoughtfulness” is established. I love that phrase…a scaffold of thoughtfulness. This is a big reminder for our coaching practices.
If a teacher told me that she believes reading aloud is an important component of reading workshop time, but she doesn’t use it often because the students don’t listen during the reading. They fidget and are seldom able to respond to questions she asks, I might respond with these questions:
- What benefits do you believe reading aloud offers?
- Which of these benefits is most important to your students?
- Are these benefits important to all your students or more important to some?
- How much do you want to invest in making read- aloud lessons work effectively? Why?
A coach moving too quickly to offer suggestions or to ask specific questions that suggest problem solving (What are your reading? When do you do read-a-louds?) is missing the thoughtfulness scaffold response to the teacher’s vulnerability.
Use Flash Mentoring: Members pick a person they wish to learn from and shadow them for a few hours. This breaks down barriers and builds relationships. This activity fits my description of peer observation as a strategy that differs from peer coaching. (Podcast) This could be a great PD experience to offer a staff. Consider providing teachers a covered period or two for these observations after they selected a topic and colleague. A starting point might be teachers providing topics that they’d be open to mentoring and then posting that list for the staff’s consideration.
Make Leaders Disappear: The best leaders occasionally leave their team alone at crucial moments to enable them to make key decisions themselves. I see this being important in building empowered PLCs. In some ways, this illustrates the leader’s vulnerability and encourages the trust needed for continuous growth of educators and thus their students.