Relational Trust

On my ride to the airport, out to my last round of school consultations for 2008, I listened to a radio interview with Parker Palmer on the role of relational trust. Those of you who have participated in my coaching trainings or my professional learning community workshops know that I speak about the role of building trust and relationships in supporting people and creating teams and organizations that serve students. I thought relational trust an appropriate topic for the year’s end and the setting of New Year’s resolutions.

For administrators and coaches, I often discuss the need for trust to be present in evaluation, supervision, mentoring, and coaching relationships. What creates trust in each activity is somewhat different. Therefore, it is critical that teachers know which activity they are taking part in so that they know the behaviors that communicate trust. For example, evaluators build trust by teachers knowing the criteria of evaluation and then having the evaluator work from those criteria consistently. Peer Coaches (who can be my administrator) build trust by staying on the focus that the teacher set in a pre-conference.

We build trust by saying what we are going to do and then doing it.

In PLC’s, when members make themselves vulnerable…sharing struggles…and find respect and trust with colleagues, a sense of team is formed. These PLC’s become more successful and teacher learning leads to increased student success.
In Coaching and Collegial PLC’s, trust increases vulnerability which increases learning.

Parker sites the work of Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider, two scholars at the University of Chicago, who studied school reform in Chicago through the 1990’s.[Trust in Schools: A Core Resource in Improvement]

What factors, they wondered, made the difference between schools that got better at educating children over the course of that decade—as measured by improved test scores—and schools that did not? The answer was not money, models of governance, up-to-date curricula, the latest in teaching techniques, or any other external variable. The answer was “relational trust” between teachers and administrators, teachers and parents, teachers and teachers. Schools with high relational trust, and/or leaders who cared about it, had a much better chance of serving students well than schools that ranked low on those variables.” (Center for Courage and Renewal)

Bryk and Schneider identify respect, competence, personal regard, and integrity as elements of trust.

Respect- Do we acknowledge one another’s dignity and ideas? Do we interact in a courteous way? Do we genuinely talk and listen to each other?
Competence- Do we believe in each other’s ability and willingness to fulfill our responsibilities effectively? Incompetence left unaddressed can corrode school wide trust at a devastating rate.
Personal regard- Do we care about each other both professionally and personally? Are we willing to go beyond our formal roles and responsibilities if needed to go the extra mile?
Integrity- Can we trust each other to put the interests of children first, especially when tough decisions have to be made? Do we keep our word?
The above is from The Daily KOS.

As you return to a New Year in January with a push to building student success in the remainder of the 2008-2009 school year, the questions above may make a great opening for faculty, team, or coaching meetings.
Parker Palmer says listen to the stories that people around you want to share. The more we know about each other the less likely we will distrust one another.

A great place to start the New Year…I’ll be back here January 11, 2009. Have a wonderful holiday!

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4 Responses to “ Relational Trust ”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Heard the interview myself and was truly taken by it so much so that I intent to present the concepts to my staff within days. It seems to me that a good relational trust model helps us move towards John Drewey’s model that states a good school should be more akin to a family than a factory

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I just heard the interview, also. Then I did a search on “Relational Trust” and found a research article by Jennifer Booher-Jennings called “Responding to the Texas Accountabiltiy system: The Erosion of Relational Trust”. It described how the pressure to achieve high test scores was essentially poisoning the relationships of the entire community at George W. Bush Elementary School. It was dismaying to see where my school may be headed due to similar pressure. How can the poisonous fear that NCLB engenders be stopped?

  3. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    I think the way to beat the fear of NCLB is found in open communication between administrators and teachers. Oten the messages that teachers are taking from administarors’ presentatations at a faculty meeting is NOT what the administrator believes.Conversations will uncover the common values.

  4. smf Says:

    OK, deja vu seven months later.

    I’m minding my own business, worrying about the sorry state of education in LAUSD and the sorry state of education funding here in California – forty years past Pat Brown and the Master Plan for Ed gone so terrible awry… absently listening to the radio when what I imagine is the selfsame interview described above with Parker Palmer is rerun – Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith on NPR? – 2008-12-11

    Parker Palmer’s words resonate with me, I go online and immediately repeat the actions described above – right down to the Google Search and the downloading of the .pdf’s. Then I open this link, the one to this page and see the script for all that I just did.

    There is little new in this world – but much good. Thank you Steve, and Anonymous and Krista and Parker. We must do these things, Relationally and Trustfully. If that’s a word.

    Additionally I recommend: The Human Side of School Change: Reform, Resistance, and the Real-Life Problems of Innovation by Robert Evans



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