Families & the Community Opinion

Trusted Leaders: An Indispensable Resource for Teachers

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — July 21, 2015 4 min read
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We recently wrote a post on shared values and the important way those shared values, when lived in practice, can help the organization. This is especially true when parents and students trust the invitation to join teachers and school leaders to contribute to student success. Trust is essential in an efficacious and healthy organization. Stephen Covey described it as the bank account leaders needed to successfully lead the organization. Thinking of it as a bank account or a bucket filling one drop of water at a time, the trust account is filled by daily actions and decisions. You can withdraw from it...an important feature since some of a leader’s work involves confidentiality...as long as it gets replenished. Sometimes decisions need to be made that are not easily accepted by those who must carry them out or live with them.

Change Requires Trust
Without the trust of and between the members of the organization, no leader can successfully plan and implement any sustainable change.

School systems have been reluctant to spend public funds to prepare faculty and leaders for a work environment that requires trust and collaboration. There seems to be some underlying belief operating that all adults come hardwired with these propensities and skills and they emerge when called upon (Myers & Berkowicz, 2015).

Trust is Essential
Few professional development offerings are designed to help leaders and teachers develop their trustworthiness and to develop their ability to trust each other. It is not something that may come across one’s desk, in email, or catalogues or conference announcements. It may not be something that feels as urgent as scheduling standardized tests, analyzing data, or preparing for a meeting. However, trust remains an accelerator of change, and the foundation of healthy relationships.

...leaders must trust the people and, in turn, must be trustworthy....Creating a trusting environment means a workplace in which people are part of the decisions about the goals to be accomplished, then are trusted to do their work without constant supervision...(Autry p.33).

Change is Demanding Trust
Presently, change is a constant, and we welcome it. No matter where anyone stands on whether schools are successful or not, who among us can defend a system designed for a century now past? Programs have been tried and tinkering has resulted as changes on the edges but the system must open up or break apart in order to create the space for innovation to take hold. The demands for change that come from outside the system are received as burdens and are implemented with debilitating weight. Surely, it is the responsibility of the leader to be sure they are implemented with fidelity. These can become withdrawals from the hard earned trust account.

... trust is the first fatality of imposed reform. Centuries ago, Confucius said that a government needs three things: weapons, food, and trust. If any of these have to be sacrificed, he said, the last of them should be trust..Trust is an indispensable resource for improvement (Hargreaves & Fink, p. 212).

Teachers Need the Support Trust Provides
But, even in this environment, there are some who choose and lead locally designed changes. Schools need to be refreshed or reimagined. Time and structure, active partnerships, and teaching and learning methods are all on the changing table. Each of them will ultimately take place in classrooms and be led by teachers. Practices and methods will be examined, and some, let go. Experimenting with new curricula, teaching in tandem with others, learning new methods, becoming more facile with technology, and engaging students in new and different ways leaves teachers vulnerable. Expecting these changes requires not only creating an environment of trust, it requires that teachers can trust the leader AND his or her colleagues. That environment is developed and maintained through integrity of the leader.

Teachers are on the front line for learning, changing practice, and stepping into new territory. They seek the safety that can only be provided by the school leader, in an environment free from fear of failure or judgment or loss of job. Each time a teacher experiences a failure and is met with encouragement and appreciation for his or her effort, the environment grows as one in which risk-taking is safe. Each time one’s word is kept, trust is built, a deposit in the account. There will be times when withdrawals will be made. Some will happen intentionally and some by another’s choice or a policy without flexibility. It is, therefore, important to make deposits often, every time there are opportunities to act with integrity and keep one’s word. And remember, trust is a two way relationship. The teachers need to contribute also. When trust becomes a shared and lived value, the people within the organization can remain invested in their chosen work, take risks, move forward, creatively meet and engage the students and the issues they bring.That is what the children need and we can provide it for them.

Autry, James A. (2001). The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance.New York: Crown Publishing

Hargreaves, A. & Fink, D. (2006) Sustainable Leadership. San Francisco: Josssey-Bass

Myers, A. & Berkowicz, J. (2015) The STEM Shift: A Guide for School Leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

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