Cultivating Trust between Administration and Faculty

EDgility Practice: Cultivating Trust

I was reminded again recently of how important trust is.

We’ve been working for more than a few years now to move from a traditional A-F, 100-0 percent American grading system to a 1-7 standards based system. There are still a few kinks in the system, from how the grade reporting software works to how we as teachers understand and use the new system.

Our point person for assessment is very aware of the need for trust. He included this reminder in a recent document listing the status of issues we have left to finalize:

“A word about trust: In order to deal with the issues all faculty will need to be involved. One key ongoing point that can be a barrier to progress is the fear of hurt feelings - issues are not raised at appropriate times leading to greater problems down the line. The general feeling is that people would rather be told there is an issue and be given the support to correct it than to be protected by the bubble, unsure if the issues they here discussed are actually because of them. In order to progress we need a system of support that is just that - supportive and not punitive. Staff should feel that making mistakes is not a criticism, it is just something that has happened and the sooner it is addressed the better. This applies across every single area of the school, in every department and at every level. Nobody wants to be ‘that one person who…’ but neither do they want to work day to day with the nagging feeling that they don’t get it.”

To get better, to improve, we need to trust each other. We have to be okay with a bit of vulnerability. We have to ask questions about what we don’t understand. We’re well served by nodding yes only when we really get it. All of this comes from working on culture and relationships.

Because you can’t simply tell people they need to trust more. It doesn’t work.

People - the work group, the school, the community - need to experience trust, feel trust, and believe in trust because trust is there. This is culture - and it is why agilists stress people and relationships, and why they remind each other and those they train that it is about creating a culture.

We suppose if there’s a need to remind folks about trust, like our assessment leader did, there is probably room to work on the level of trust in the school culture. We also suppose that there is always a need to work on trust in the school culture. This is what Bill understood long before the rest of us, and why EDgility presents its principles in terms of practices. A practice is something you get better at by doing it. So you have to constantly do it, increasing your ability over time. You strive to shift a little in the direction you want to be more like.

A phenomenal teacher trainer I worked with at the University of Minnesota used to remind us that teachers won’t likely change their practices until they see results they believe in … as a result of their changed practices! This is of course a Catch 22.

With that thought in mind, we can imagine just how fragile trust is. It comes in little, uncoordinated events, through shared experiences, by noticing its positive effects. And it can be damaged very quickly. Hence it is a practice which requires constant attention, whether through a gentle reminder to everyone, like our example above, or the shared awareness of a community of people who value trust, and therefore cultivate it.

As the desire to cultivate trust becomes part of the culture, teachers can more easily share that trust with their students by allowing self-regulation over carrot and stick control. In other words, when there is a chance, encourage a bit more self-regulation. Model it and make it a practice of yours.

Paul Magnuson
Paul Magnuson
Educational Thought Leader

We can do school better by supporting authentic learning.