Cars must have gasoline to run, and in a similar way, school teams must have trust to operate effectively. In both cases, any momentum will come to a screeching halt if the “fuel” that drives the system isn’t present.
Why does trust matter so much in schools? The answer is complex. Teachers tend to operate in their own classrooms to teach finite sets of students. We know that this isn’t always best for student learning, but it is the defacto manner in which most schools operate. School leaders know that collaboration between teachers helps to improve outcomes. When best practices are shared from classroom to classroom, teachers improve and so does student learning. But this isn’t natural for most teachers—and this is why trust is so critical.
Any school-wide initiative or grade-level team project needs trust in order to work. If teachers don’t trust one another or even the process that is being proposed, they will nod, smile, and close their door without changing a thing. It is okay for teachers to have autonomy, but with much of what we do in schools, collaboration is essential to best help students.
Build Trust Early On
At the onset of a new teacher entering a building or team, trusting relationships are usually easy to form. If a school or workplace has a solid culture, most people will probably trust a newcomer right from the start. This isn’t the case 100% of the time, but I have found it is typically true.
It is important to try to intentionally build trust early with the people you work with. Here are some steps to help build trust right from the start:
- Listen: This is probably the most important part of any relationship. Being quiet while someone talks is not necessarily listening. To build trust, teachers should try to paraphrase, restate, and seek to understand the comments and questions from their teammates.
- Ask Questions: It helps to clarify understanding if questions are asked; it also shows that listening is taking place (see the bullet above!). Many educators have deep-seeded beliefs about teaching, learning, behavior, and students. In order to build trust and understanding as a team, good probing questions should take place.
- Create Credibility: This can be a tricky one because new teachers don’t want to come off as a “know it all” or connect all situations back to previous experience. With that said, there is a degree of credibility that needs to be earned in order to build trust. As a new member of a team, it helps to show the team that you can be trusted and know what you are doing— even if you don’t know the right answer.
- Stay Humble: None of us have all the answers in education and we also know that we can be humbled very quickly by our students. Being humble is important for building trust. The balance between being credible and being humble can be a little precarious at times, but as relationships become more trusting, the credibility will come and the humbleness can increase.
- Respect Everyone at All Times: Teachers and students alike will look to a new teacher early on to see how they treat others. Hopefully, the new teacher has respectful relationships with the people closest to them: other teachers and their students. But being trustworthy means that everyone can trust us, not just those we are close to. By treating the custodian with respect in the lunchroom, we model for our students what being a person of character is all about. If we preach it to our students in the classroom, we must be willing to live it in our lives around the school.
Because trust is so vitally important, I would encourage overkill in each of these areas at the onset of the school year. The results from a lack of trust at the beginning can do great harm to a team. Damage to trust in any relationship can take a long time to overcome, so it is best to err on the side of being the best listener you can be.
Teachers should be diligent to maintain a good working rapport with everyone in the school building. In order to do so, they should listen, stay humble, and treat everyone with respect.
Be sure to subscribe to our Educator blog so you don’t miss part two of this series, where we will focus on how to maintain these trusting relationships over time, which can also be tricky.