We see a lot of values in schools now. This will always be high on my personal list. It is so powerful and can be an absolute game-changer in so many ways. I’ve already written a blog on how to build trust as a leader, but this will dig a little deeper into why it is so important.
When we are young, we trust everything. It’s born in us, it is innate. As a toddler you don’t question whether what you’re being told is true, you accept it. Many times my children have asked me all sorts of complicated questions, and when I’ve given the best answer I can they just give a nod and move on. They don’t try to see the holes in what I’ve said, they accept it. When they are high up in a tree and stuck, they ask for help. When I put my arms out for them to fall into there is absolutely no question in their mind that I am going to catch them – they have definitive blind trust in me.
As an adult, we don’t have this blind sense of trust. Things happen that can chip away at it. These might just be small things, or they might be huge, but each one of them can chip away a little more wearing it down until it is gone and we find it hard to rely on anyone or trust what they say or do. However, sometimes it can be lost in an instant. Brand loyalty can be swept away with one bad press story. A bad meal at a restaurant and you may never return. Something that is so precious and means so much can be lost in an instant.
That’s why it is so important we do all we can to cultivate an atmosphere of trust within our schools. I am a trusting person. You don;t need to earn my trust – you have it straight away. My first instinct is to give someone my trust and assume they are worthy of it, not to doubt them and have them prove themselves. This is the same for the way we run our school. My first reaction is to assume that a teacher is doing their job properly. I trust them to be working hard for the kids and doing the right thing by them. I trust them to be planning a series of lessons that follow on from each other, I trust they are marking their books. This doesn’t mean there is no accountability though, it doesn’t mean there aren’t high standards, far from it. It just means that I won’t be on someone like a ton of bricks right from day one, checking they are doing everything to the letter of our policies. We set out as staff our own definition of good teaching and what learning might look like. It’s broad, it doesn;t specify a right and wrong way of doing things, it just outlines principles to work to. How teachers fulfil those is up to them – I trust them to do it in the best way they can. It’s the same with our feedback policy. Pick the way that works best for that child, or for that lesson and do it. I trust you’ll make a good choice.
I monitor, of course, I do, but not from a position of having to check everything at once. I am visible, I walk in and out of lessons and I know what is happening in the school. I have a chat with the children, I’ll have a flick through their books while I’m in (if they’ve got them out). I will assume that everything is going well, and these little five minute visits confirm this. If I see something that causes me concern then I will dig deeper and check that my trust is still well placed. Usually, it is. This level of trust gives teachers the freedom to get on with their job and focus on that rather than having to jump through hoops to try and guess what it is I want to see. They are professionals and I trust their judgement. This builds a reciprocal trust. I trust them to do their job, they trust me to do mine. We help each other and we support each other with this as a team. I’m not a micro-manager. I’m not going to dictate what colour display’s have to be, or how many stars and wish they might want to use or insist on seeing planning every day or week, or look at books in a formal collection every half term. All of those things scream lack of trust. They just say “I don’t trust you to do these things unless I am checking up on you all the time.”. Trusting people does not lead to apathy, quite the opposite. Trusting people means they do things for the right reasons, rather than through fear of being caught out if they don’t do them.
It can go further than this though. Assume that people will do a good job. Trust people with responsibility and watch them go. Of course, they may need support, but more often than not, people rise to the challenge rather than shrinking away. Very few people want to do a bad job or deliberately set out to be lazy. If you ask someone to prepare and deliver staff meeting training on their subject – trust them to do it well. Offer to help, offer to review, offer to support but give them the trust. I have been subject to an overbearing leader who asked me to deliver something, but then rewrote every draft I submitted and checked in daily on the content. It wasn’t because the content was bad – just the need of that leader to control. One head I worked for used to re-write everyone’s reports if she didn’t agree with them. As a teacher it made me feel like there was no point in working at it, the leader in question was just going to change it to what they wanted to put anyway. My thought process was ”Why don’t they just do it themselves then?”. It was a fake trust. Have this responsibility, but I don’t actually want to give this over to you. It didn’t lead to productive or enthusiastic use of my time, it just led to frustration. Why would you want frustrated teachers in an environment? I have very rarely been let down by people I have trusted with responsibility in school – in fact, people have shown themselves to do an even better job tan might have been expected.
How we interact with each other and how we trust each other, just breeds a stronger sense of trust in the school. Once you have that, new people coming in instantly get on board – it becomes thy way things are done. It models trust for the children in our care, and that can be no bad thing.
We need to hang on to that child like trust just a little bit longer. You don’t have to make people earn your trust – it is yours to give away as you chose. Seeing the good in people rarely brings out the worst in them. Being trusted gives a sense of wellbeing, it makes you feel good, it makes you walk taller and it brings out the best in people. Why wouldn’t you give people that?