As the principal of Del Norte Heights Elementary (El Paso, Texas), I have learned that trust is always an issue when creating a strong professional learning community. Books such as You Can’t Lead With Your Feet On The Desk by Ed Fuller (2011) and It’s Your Ship written by D. Michael Abrashoff (2012) reflect on building trust by being supportive and accepting responsibility instead of pointing fingers. Both of these authors make excellent points about how leaders and team members can create trust within their organizations by being a visible example, being supportive, and showing others how to build trust themselves.
Be a visible example
For me, building trust by being more visible means making sure we as education leaders are in the trenches with our teachers at all times. It’s about leading by example, and when tough times hit, the leader is the first one in and the last one out. If principals are asking that teachers work on Saturdays, then the trusted principal should be at the school on Saturdays to open up the school, perhaps even provide breakfast for the staff, and be the last one out of the building. The principal works alongside his or her team, not above them.
A principal who expects staff to be life-long learners, yet never participates in trainings herself, will not earn the respect or the trust of the staff. If a principal demands that all cell phones be turned off, and then sits in the back and sends texts, then that principal is not leading by example. If the principal doesn’t like the gossip in the teacher’s lounge, then it should not be acceptable to discuss it in the office, either. Principals must always lead by example.
Teachers need to know that their leaders are supportive and willing to provide them with the resources they need to further their learning. The teachers must trust that the leadership is committed to helping them be successful at their craft.
Trusted principals stand by their teachers and staff, in good times and in bad. Leaders should be holding their staff’s hands during emotional moments such as when test scores drop and the workload begins to weigh down on them. Trusted leaders will support teachers when expectations seem out of reach.
Teachers should see the principal walking the halls to assist them during parent conferences, covering classes so the teachers can step out of the class for a moment, and sitting in on their learning communities to support them with resources to improve their instruction.
Show others how to build trust
Trust within teams develops when everyone on the team holds each other accountable and refuses to let their teammates down. If a member is not pulling their weight on the team, trust begins to break down and resentment begins to grow. Trusting teams celebrate everyone’s success and are comfortable holding each other’s feet to the fire when one of them fails to complete a task or is not fully prepared to contribute to the team.
As we ask more and more from our teachers, it’s time for us as educational leaders to start building trust. Think about how often they are in meetings and we are not there beside them. While we can’t be everywhere all the time, we can still commit to building a culture of trust together.
Principal, Del Norte Heights Elementary
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.