4 Ways to Build Trust In Schools

trust3Trust is the glue that holds organizations together.  Unfortunately, some leaders don’t grasp this truth and work in ways that destroy, rather than build trust in their schools. They undermine their own goals, many of which may be very worthy.  Goals can only be reached if the support exists to faithfully implement the plans to do so.  It is unlikely this will happen in a culture marked by mistrust.

In this post, I list 4 ways that school leaders can demonstrate that they are worthy of gaining the trust of those they supervise.

If you violate the norms of the school culture and come across like a bull in a china shop, it is unlikely your ideas will gain more than grudging acceptance.  You will be viewed with mistrust because the only person you listened to, was yourself.

  • Listen and learn about the organization before making any changes
  • Learn the culture and history of the school
  • Find out what programs worked and failed in the past
  • Focus on developing positive relationships with staff

If the staff believes that you are not credible in you pronouncements, why should they follow you? 

  • Involve staff in creating school priorities
  • Provide reasoned arguments for the adoption of a new program or technique
  • Demonstrate your concern for students and staff through your comments and actions
  • Demonstrate an excellent knowledge about your program, including research to support your position

Think about those people you have worked with who were and were not reliable.  Which ones gained your trust?

  • Can you be counted on to follow through on your commitments?
  • Act in ways that merit confidence in you as a person
  • Be consistent in your demeanor and approach to problems
  • Be visible; show up on time; don’t over commit

Is it possible to have trust in a leader who acts unfairly?  Why?

  • Share the credit for school successes
  • Treat all with the respect they deserve
  • When  making decisions get input from those who will be directly affected by the decision
  • Provide staff with specific recommendations for improvement and give time to implement them before taking punitive steps
  • Show that you are willing to assess ideas from others based upon their value, even if different from your own positions

A culture where trust permeates the school allows for genuine collaboration.  It is the medium through which you gain high staff morale and a commitment to excellence.  It is the only path to success for you and your school. 


Courage in Schools — 4 Examples



During my first year, in the first month of my new assignment as middle school principal, I was confronted with a choice that had the potential for derailing my career and negatively impacting my family.   It was late afternoon when I received a phone call from the Board Secretary, that she would soon bring me 500 copies of  the Board of Education’s position paper on the tense negotiations currently underway with the teacher’s association.  She told me that this was a Board decision and I had no choice but to give this information to the more than 1000 parents expected to attend Back To School Night, that evening.  I immediately understood that refusal would probably cost me my job, but handing out this provocative information in an event designed to bring the school and community closer together, was wrong.

Fortunately, this matter was resolved without my being fired or distributing the information to parents.  Someone  told me that I was courageous for taking the stand that I did.  But with two small children, a new house and  other financial obligations, was I  courageous, or foolish to do what I did?  It is said that there can’t be courage without fear.  Well, I was certainly fearful.  But now, many years later, I still have not been able to answer this question.  I guess, maybe a little bit of both.


Some teachers were scared to arrive even a little late to the art room to pick up their class.  If they were late, or in some way violated the art teachers strict code of behavior (for others, not her), they were in for a scolding; often in front of their own students.  In other words, the art teacher was a bully.  No teacher had the courage to stand up to her, until one day, a fifth grade teacher had had enough.  She came to the defense of another teacher when she told the art teacher,  “You may intimidate other teachers, but you do not intimidate me, and stop treating your colleagues this way.”  The bully had been called out and thereafter pulled in her horns.  The fifth grade teacher had summoned the courage to speak up and made working at that school better for all.

Other examples of teacher courage in schools include:

  •  Disagreeing with principal at a faculty meeting about a significant school issue
  • Informing the supervisor of another teacher who frequently screams at his students
  • Telling  a parent who is often hostile something negative about their child
  • Taking an opposing position from the group consensus


A fourth grade teacher developed an exceptional writing program, confirmed by observations and by a variety of assessments.  The principal thought that it would be a great idea to have this teacher present a workshop about her program, with the intent of possible school-wide adoption.   But schools can be places of conformity, where the following Japanese Proverb rules:

‘The nail that sticks out shall be hammered down’

The teacher overcame her fear of standing out from the faculty and presented a fantastic workshop that was praised by the staff and with some modification, became the writing program for the whole school.  Student writing improved significantly.  If it weren’t for this teacher exhibiting courage, and risking the possible alienation of some fellow staff member, this would never have occurred.  This happened a number of years ago, and my perception is that the culture of schools has improved where teachers now assume a variety of leadership roles.


  • The student who stands up to the kid bullying his friend
  • The principal who challenges the superintendent’s ideas
  • The parent who has legitimate concerns about a teacher’s practices but raises them any way
  • The secretary who tells the principal to get his own coffee

Without courage in our schools, change will not occur.  We need educators willing to challenge the status quo, which means taking risks.    We need educators to stand up to those who obstruct what is best for students.  We need COURAGE!












How to Fix the Mess with Teacher Evaluation



Using student test scores to evaluate teachers is harmful to them and to their students.  It’s a simplistic approach to a complex, but not insurmountable problem.  The knowledge we need to improve teaching is readily available.  We can find it in successful schools and from teachers, as well as from research.  What is lacking, is the will and commitment to seek this knowledge.

In 2009, there were 15 states that required test results as one component of teacher evaluation.  By 2015, that number jumped to 43 states. So what is the rationale for this?  The intent is to pressure teachers whose students are not performing well to improve their teaching, or failing to do so, be forced from the classroom.  But the assumptions behind this approach are false:

ASSUMPTION #1  —  We know how to link teacher performance, student learning and test scores.

Actually, we don’t know how to do this.  About 95% of educational researchers dispute this assumption.  They believe the approach of value added models or VAM, is not reliable or valid.  How can a system be valid when teachers who score high one year, score low the following year?  Might not other factors contribute to test results, such as: student characteristics, a new curriculum or the validity of the tests?


  1.  Insure that students are assigned to teachers using a randomized approach that allows a fair comparison between teachers whenever that need arises.

  2. Analyze test scores over a 3 year period, rather than yearly; searching for patterns in performance.

  3. Teachers who are identified as falling below the average of their grade level, receive assistance in the form of: professional development, coaching and opportunities to watch other teachers’ lessons.

ASSUMPTION 2 — Using test scores to motivate teachers to improve their teaching is a valid approach.

A consensus of studies appears to agree with the following statement; “There is also little or no evidence for the claim that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.” ERIC: ED516803

The above assumption is based upon Theory X of human motivation discussed in my last post.

A number of national polls reveal that teachers feel that they are under unprecedented stress by the focus placed upon them by policy makers. Network for Public Education’s Survey


  1. Create a school culture focused on strong teacher collaboration.

  2. Provide frequent opportunities for teachers to learn from each other.

  3.  Establish a teacher evaluation system based on current standards for effective teaching.

ASSUMPTION 3 — Students will benefit from VAM.

Some of the negative consequences when teachers believe that their job may depend upon test scores are:

  • testing becomes the main focus of instruction to the neglect of other subjects and activities

  • stress on students as well as teachers when test are given paramount importance

  •  temptation to cheat


  1. Stop using test results to measure teacher performance.

  2. Fully engage teachers in the design and implementation of the evaluation process using the best research available.

ASSUMPTION 4 — Teachers not meeting expectations will be removed from teaching

From the limited evidence we have so far, using test results has not made much of a difference. One recent quote undermines this assumption: “The vast majority of teachers — almost all — are identified as effective or highly effective.National Council on Teacher Quality.


1.  Teachers identified as in need of assistance receive a jointly created improvement plan.

2. Failure to achieve the objectives in the plan may lead to removal from teaching.

3.  Expectations and supervisor recommendations need to be clear and specific.

I hope that this post serves as a springboard for discussion to reduce teacher and administrator stress under the current system for teacher and principal evaluations.

How to Fix Teacher Dissatisfaction


70% of teachers in a 2014 Gallup study reported that they felt disengaged from their schools.  That is an astounding figure.  In this post, I explore one reason and offer suggestions for fixing this condition. This is the first in a series of  posts on this topic.  I  invite you to follow this blog and offer your comments on this urgent topic.   


$620 billion dollars was spent on education in the U.S. during the 2012-13 school year.  Politicians want to know what the public is getting in return for this spending.  This makes sense.  But if the strategies employed to insure accountability are based upon a theory of worker motivation that says teachers,

  • Have to be controlled and threatened to deliver what’s needed.

  • Need to be supervised at every step, with controls put in place.

then we may face unintended consequences that will lead to results contrary to the goals being sought.

Question for Reader

How does the above approach to accountability impact teachers?;  Students?
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  • Identify for the public the specific qualities that effective teachers possess.

  • Identify for the public the instructional philosophy that all teachers are to exhibit in their classrooms.

  • Identify for the public the specific skills and knowledge that students must master.

  • Require frequent contact with parents about their child’s strengths and needs.

  • Hold superintendents and principals accountable for monitoring the above.

  • Board of Education reports progress on the above bi-annually to the public.

The above suggestions are aligned with a theory of worker motivation that believes teachers:

  • Take responsibility and are motivated to fulfill the goals they are given.

  • Seek and accept responsibility and do not need prescriptive instructions.

Under which approach to accountability is it more likely that we will  attract and retain highly intelligent and creative people to join the profession of teaching?

The question answers itself.

 Further Reading

Theory X and Theory Y