Trust is the single most important element of a healthy school culture. A true collaborative environment can only occur when warm and fuzzy conversations are replaced with conversations about student learning whereby teachers ask questions of each other and we are all accepting of constructive criticism. This type of school environment includes teachers being able to discuss differences of opinion and reaching solutions in the best interests of the students that they teach.
Leaders in the school, from department chairs to the principal, are vital to this establishment of trust. If cynicism exists from teachers towards the leadership team, then this significantly reduces any chance of building a trusting and collaborative environment whereby our students are put first.
Building trust, however, is not easy, changing culture takes years. I recall a former colleague of mine regularly asking their staff to trust them – simply asking for people’s trust indicates a serious problem, our actions must speak louder than our words. Of course, we can build trust through a variety of actions (see overcoming cynicism and distrust in your school) but one problem is difficult to overcome – the hidden side of leadership.
Teachers will see, and speak of, what they see – for some perception is reality. We know, as leaders, that teachers do not see everything that we go through: The difficult conversations, the deliberation over decisions and the exceptional circumstances that we are confronted with. This is a harsh reality. A lot of a good leader’s work may never be seen and, in some instances, it can appear that, in the eyes of some, nothing seems to be happening – no progress is being made. This is why leaders have to work on revealing what I call the hidden side of leadership – those things that others are not seeing.
Great school leaders place significant emphasis in communicating any progress that is being made. They know the right people to communicate with, so that the message is distributed through the school community. The leader does not have to call daily staff meetings to give the updates on progress, they know the teams and individuals that they must communicate with, and in turn know whether to explicitly instruct them to pass on the message or just know that the word will get out. The leader also knows what information must not be released until the time is right, they can shield teachers from things that may negatively impact them, if there is any chance that they can lessen the impact in the interim.They also know when to communicate for most positive impact on morale.
Revealing more of this hidden side of leadership is vital in building the trust. As leaders, we cannot reveal everything, some things have to remain confidential, but the question to ask ourselves is whether we are sharing and communicating enough. Greater communication can assist greatly in correcting the rumour mill, challenging those who assume the worst and busting the myths that may exist in our schools, so that a more positive, healthy school culture can prevail where everyone feels as though things are moving forward.