School Climate & Safety Opinion

Trust in Our Schools Requires Honesty and Good Communication

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 14, 2017 3 min read
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Some aspire to leadership positions believing they will have latitude and power to make decisions greater than the ones in whatever role they currently have. To a certain degree that may be true. For sure, the expansive of those decisions will be greater. But, successful leaders will tell anyone that their results relate to being skilled collaborators and communicators. Surely, people still look to them for wisdom, decisions and answers but few of them are as autonomous as they used to be.

Now, they build the coalitions required for the work to be done to construct 21st century learning environments. Leaders’ skills to collaborate with those in agreement and those who oppose are crucial. Their ability to create an expanding common ground upon which trust can grow is essential. Without a community built upon trust, little change with endurance will occur.

Building Coalitions Requires Honest Communication

How do school leaders and teachers explain why something is being done? For example, openly can the value and amount of homework be debated? Or are the mindsets of ‘we’ve always done it that way’ and we have a reputation of success operating against change? There is no doubt that teachers and their leaders have a great deal to accomplish under conditions that are challenging. Certainty and the ability to communicate well about why something is being done or changed may seem elusive, but it is important. Believing in what you do and being able to explain it well makes a difference in how the public receives it. Using edu-speak is one sure way to push parents away and does nothing to develop or nurture trusting relationships.

Diminishing Trust

The political atmosphere in which we are leading reinforces a destructive belief... that there is one truth or alternative truths but there is no such thing a truth. How can that be? As sides polarize, heels are dug in, differences are heightened, and common ground becomes the treacherous ground that causes everyone to lose identity. As this occurs, belief in the honesty of the ‘other’ diminishes. For the work of educators in some areas there are absolute truths, in mathematics and science there are some. Yet, we cannot be certain that what we do and believe is the only truth. There is a vulnerability we must be able to hold gently and accompany it with the best language and explanation that we can.

Building Trust

If we are to gain momentum and gather a community of support, trust is the essential element. Trust building depends upon things like keeping your word, taking time when making decisions,valuing others, honesty, being authentic, doing what is right and a most important attribute to develop in concert with these others is to be good communicators. (Several years ago the hot description would have been transparent).

Communication has to be clear, understandable, and timely. The message must be consistent among other leaders and faculty and staff in the district. The answer for why homework is assigned or how much homework is assigned, the answer for why cooperative learning, or integrating subjects is being done, must not be steeped in edu-speak or be different from one person to another. The effect upon the listeners when the messages are varied can create mistrust in the organization. We are seeing that now on the national stage.

If the leadership is gearing up for a change in schedule, or course offerings, or teaching methods, or bus routes, gathering a coalition of support is our work. It is never a matter of only getting 51% of a vote. A school community doesn’t flourish with a 49% disaffected and oppositional force. Perhaps a look at our country that is split in that way can serve as an example. The way to develop, nurture, and maintain trust includes quality communication. Honesty helps. Check in with faculty and other leaders to find the messages being given to students and parents and work toward a common set of beliefs and common language. Be sure that explanations make sense and are true. Some of them are old and worn. Honesty is everything.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Illustration by Ivelin Radkov courtesy of 123rf.jpg

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.