Although earning and giving trust can be quite challenging for some people, the bottom line is that no relationship will be successful without trust at the core. We need to trust that our friends and family have our best interest at heart. We need to trust that our significant others accept and support us. We need to trust that our children will make good decisions when we aren't around. Trust is a difficult thing to establish and build because on some levels it require a degree of blind faith until that other person has proven to be trustworthy. Yet, without trust, there will be no progress. No success. No growth. Trust is most definitely a foundational building block.
There is nowhere else this is more true than within an educational community. As the Lead Learner of Cantiague Elementary my primary goal was earning and maintaining the trust of all members of the community. I knew if we were going to be successful as an organization we needed trust at the core. I wanted the students to trust that I would advocate for them regardless of their needs. I wanted the staff to trust that I had their back and would consider their perspectives when making decisions. I wanted the families to know that I would love and take care of their children as if they were my own - our children are our lives. I knew that if we were going to move forward as a community we needed trust at the core. Research shows that social trust amongst all constituent groups in the educational community improves the routine daily work and is a key resource for reform, growth and success.
Although I still have a lot to learn about earning the trust of others, these are some of the things I did to build and earn the respect of each constituent group in our community...
1) I learned everyone's name. The names of each staff members. The names of the people who were important to our staff members (their spouses, children, etc.). The names of each child in our building. The names of as many family members as possible. Knowing someone's name isn't the biggest deal but it allowed me to establish a personal connection with every member of the organization and personal connections are critical to the building of trust. When I am able to greet someone by their first name or inquire about them by using their first name, the complexion of the exchange changes, in an incredibly positive way.
2) I am transparent with every member of our community. Our community knows about my family, my doctoral studies, my taste in music and television shows (Yes, I do watch the Real Housewives of NJ - don't judge me), my passion for technology, Mets and Jets. Our community knows who I am as a person and how I am wired and that is critical because those are the things that shape me as a leader (NOT the Real Housewives - don't worry!). Who we are outside of school influences who we are inside of school and the more people understand about the two the more likely they are to give trust.
3) I use social media and my blog to flatten the walls of our school and let the community in. They see pictures of children working in their book clubs, using manipulatives to solve math problems, playing handball at recess, participating in science experiments and generally having a blast in school. The community sees pictures of our staff engaged during faculty gatherings, classroom activities and various other interactions. The community reads my blog and knows my stance on high stakes testing, my opinion of the current evaluation process in NYS and my thoughts on what makes us a Blue Ribbon School. I use social media and technology to be transparent because without transparency there can be no trust.
4) I try to be fair and consistent every day with every member of the community. I want everyone to know that although I value each individual tremendously, I will deal with situations in a fair way without making them personal. This is key because it lets everyone know that there are no favorites - everyone will be treated fairly and with respect. This has seriously helped me gain the trust of our families because they know that my priority are the children and no one child or family gets special treatment.
5) I lead with my heart because I love what I do and I am incredibly passionate about my work as the Lead Learner of Cantiague. So, I realize that not everyone can or should lead with their heart but what I have found is that people in our community have been giving of their trust to me because they know my heart is invested in our students; my heart is invested in our staff; my heart is invested in our community; my heart is invested in our collective success.
Although I have not done any formal research on the success of my five steps to building trust as outlined above, I do believe that there is trust at the core of most of my relationships at Cantiague. How do I know you ask? Well, you may not know this if you haven't been in our building but there is a sense of pride that permeates our space – we are, collectively, proud of the work we do for children and we will try anything and everything to affect our students and the community in a positive way. How did we make that happen? With trust, which is at the foundation of our success.