Building Trust as a Leader

For me this is the most important part of leadership. If you don’t get trust and buy in from your team you aren’t going to achieve much. I’ve written in the past about the fact that people will never be completely satisified with what you can deliver. I know for a fact that I had issues with a number of things that heads I worked for did and I didn’t completely agree with them. You can never please everyone and you shouldn’t assume that you will be able to, but I did trust those headteachers enough to know they were making the decision in the best interests of the school, even if it didn’t suit me perfectly. There was a gap between what I wanted and what was delivered. However, the important thing is what fills that gap. There are two choices here – trust or suspicion. If I fill it with trust then I can accept what is going on and know that the decisions made have come from a good place, if I fill it with suspsicon then the liklihood is that this suspicion will start to permeate other areas of my working life, and then potentially my relationship with that person. I’ve seen it happen between teachers and leaders and I’ve seen it lead to some really toxic environments. The question is, how do you make that people’s default position is to trust you when they disagree rather than doubt you and start to question you decisions in a different way to being professionally challenging? It starts with you putting trust in them rather than the other way round.

This is a tone that you have to set on day one. Trust takes a long time to build and is easy to destroy so a good first impression is key. Of course, you are not there to be all things to all people, you are not a sycophant who is there is appease teachers and give them what they want, but trust isnt about that. Trust is about bringing people along for the ride – them giving you their trust and buying into what it is you want to achieve. The first step of establishing this is giving your trust to the people you are working with. On my very first day as headteacher I spoke to all of my staff. After the usual ideas about an exciting future for the school and lots of new opportunities we got on to more of the nitty gritty. I told them my first thought is to trust them. I will trust them to do a good job. I will trust them to be doing their planning in a way that we have agreed, I will trust they will be marking their books and feedback to children in the ways we have agreed. I won’t be scrutinising everything all of the time, I won’t be checking planning folders each week, I won’t be doing formal learning walks. In short – you are professionals and I will trust you to do the job you have trained and are expert in. This doesn’t make me a pushover, it makes me human. I made it clear that trust can be broken, but that I don’t expect that will happen. We all want to same thing, the best for the children so lets work in our agreed way towards that. Placing trust in teachers doesn’t mean they won’t do the work. It empowers them, ot gives them freedom it always them space to work and breathe giving the potential for better eperiences for the children in the school.

Next I trusted them with my inadequancies. I was honest and up front that there will be things that I do that wll annoy and irritate. There will be decisions made they don’t agree with. There are areas that I am not an expert in (EYFS for a start!). I am not the best teacher in the school, I will not get it right all of the time. By being up front and honest about these areas where I can improve it reassures and again brings in the human aspect of leadership. THe personal connection is so key in schools, primarily between teachers and pupils but the connections between taff are just as key. They are the models the children follow. They pick up on everything so a behind the back comment here and there between adults is soon shared. In a atmoshere of trust and where people rely on and respect each other this is minimalised. By trusting them with my inadequancies I hope they will trust me with theirs – not as a sign of weakness but as a shared experience we can work through together. We can trust each other enough to learn from each other.

The next thing comes down to honesty and transparancy. If we want people to assume trust when there are things we don’t like we have to give them the facts. If you are making a decision, get input. Make staff feel valued and listen to what they say. Don’t guarantee it will all come into affect but show how it has inputted into your final decision. Tell your staff what you considered and what thought went into whatever it is your introducing. Changes to the behaviour policy? Explain what the problem is with the old one. What has led you to this decision? What input do you want from them as staff? If it transpires that the majority of staff feel there is no need to change and it is effective as it is then maybe that needs listening to? There is nothing wrong with changing your mind. Of course, there are timese where this isn’t applicable, but often it is absolutely the right thing to do – otherwise, what was the point in asking them?

What happens when you go into lessons? Is is judgemental? Is it with a critical eye? Does it focus on little things that aren’t that important to the learning of the children, or on the flip side is it so general that nothing can be analysed in depth? In these circumstances lesson visits can become resented and feared, and at worst seen pointless to the staff who have them. By working to build trust between a leader and a team then they can be approached in collaborative and non-threatening way. They know, from your previous actions, that you are doing it for the right reasons and the feedback they receive from it will be rationale and developmental rather than judgemental.

The longer you are in post and the longer you can give consistency in your actions, the more any doubts about what you are doing will be filled with trust rather than suspicion. This is almost certainly better for everyone. You get a better reaction from teachers when they are tasked with something new because they trust in yuor decision making process. It is easier for ou to make decisions as you have more imformation and the capacity of a collective rather than the ignorance of an individual.

Trust takes time to build, but your actions speak louder than your words. Begin by putting your trust in the people in your team, trust their knowledge, their experience and their expertise and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve together. Leadership is not about dragging people to an endpoint, it’s about enabling people to work together to achieve something amazing. Trust throughout the team is the only way you can get there.

Published by @secretHT1

Primary HT. Using this as a space to write honestly and freely about the state of education currently.

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