Trust is a firm belief in the reliability of a person and is displayed in practice by people being authentic and showing care and concern for others. It is the confident expectation that a person will do what they say and that there will be a benefit. Fink (2005) asserts that the “starting point for any relationship is trust. In fact the very foundation of human society is trust” (p45).
Questions for reflection on Trust:
1 What do you understand by “trust” and its significance in your school?
2 How do you think trust is related to well being and achievement?
3 How would you find out the views of the following in relation to their trust in the leadership of your school?
4 What sort of things might be done to increase trust of the leadership of your school among:
Schools need to be social institutions that develop trust. Trust in schools and school leadership is increasingly seen by researchers and practitioners as a crucial influence on how well schools work for students (Bryk & Schneider 2002). It is like the magic glue that binds school communities together.
Trust is a necessary condition if leadership is to nurture learning that is deep and impacts significantly on behaviours in a sustained way in order to succeed in a complex, uncertain world – that is transformational learning. Such deep and profound learning by staff and students involves processes that are risky. A customised curriculum emerges to match the needs of participants. For this to happen successfully, people need to trust the leaders and each other. A critical posture involves students and staff being able to voice and hear other perspectives and sometimes this can be unsettling as well as beneficial. Without trust between all involved in the learning that comes from this, honest helpful dialogue will not happen. Questioning, enquiry, challenge, problem-solving, structured reflection and analysis are all more effective when people operate in a community of learners co-constructing knowledge underpinned by peer support and collaboration. This requires respect for self and others, confidentiality and trust. The meta-cognition (learning about learning) that can encourage individuals to higher levels of learning is also helped by a climate of trust for honest critical reflection.
Thus, it seems clear that trust is a necessary condition for effective transformational leadership for learning. Trust in schools can stimulate and nurture loyalty, development, retention and recruitment of staff, successful management of change, creativity, satisfaction and happiness for staff and students alike. Bryk and Schneider state that it “constitutes a moral resource for school improvement” (p34). How then can such a vital moral resource be developed in and by leaders?
If trust is so important in successful organisations, how can leadership development programmes embrace and grow it so that participants can develop it in their own schools?
Bottery (2004) argues that leaders of organisations need to do five things to develop trust:.
- we need to act on the dynamics of trust. We know that trust develops, in a simplistic way, through at least four stages. At first there may be calculative trust with those involved making probability judgements on the reliability of the relationship (what Bottery calls the “the logician”). Next might come the role trust stage where trust is based on greater understanding of the role of the professional. Following this might be the practice trust stage where, rather like a gardener, deeper trust is based on witnessed results over time. Last and deepest is the identificatory trust stage as with a talented group of jazz musicians who trust each other implicitly as time and success in the relationship goes on. Leaders of learning need to know how to identify and encourage trust in the group through these stages and to make this overt and articulated for the others to apply in their own practice;
- we need to understand and deal with the “foundation arenas” (Bottery 2004 p118).These three arenas are the agreement on values and value priorities, people who wish to be trusted doing what they say they will do and lastly displaying the competence to do this effectively. All of this is called integrity – a quality highly valued in leaders that needs to be modelled and facilitated in others;
- we need to appreciate the mechanisms by which meso-level trust i.e. institutional trust, works as well as,
- recognising that trust is a multi-level concept operating at the micro (personal) and macro (society) also.
- effective leadership development also entails understanding and developing the understanding of others in relation of thick and thin trust and the appropriateness in cultivating different thickness for different purposes and situations. .
Furthermore, trust is cumulatively dynamic. “Nothing is as fast as the speed of trust” states Covey (2006 p3). It certainly seems true that in schools, trust can grow upwards and outwards developing social capital.
Fig 1: The dynamics of trust
However both within groups and within schools mis(dis) trust can spiral downwards and outwards as its corrosive effect takes hold destroying social capital:
lack of confidence
lack of self-esteem
Fig 2: The dynamics of mis(dis)trust
Sir William Burroughs School, inner London, England
Stanley Park High School, Carshalton, suburban London, England
The audit tool below is to help you deepen your understanding of Trust and must be used with sensitivity and in a spirit of gaining deeper understanding with a view to personal development.
Rate the following for a person e.g. the leader in your school or get others, who will be honest, to rate you on a scale of:
Strongly disagree Disagree Neither agree nor disagree Agree Strongly agree
1 2 3 4 5
The person behaves in accordance with her/his values and principles.
- The person shows courage and willingness to take a stand.
- The person is genuinely open to rethinking ideas.
- The person acts in everyone's best interest.
- The person genuinely cares about people.
- The person praises others
- The person provides opportunities for everyone.
- The person is highly competent in her/his job and gets things done
- The person has a clear sense of direction for the school.
- The person is very reliable
- The person is honest
- The person treats everyone with respect
- The person openly acknowledges their mistakes and takes responsibility.
- The person constantly works to improve her/his abilities.
- The person confronts reality and takes tough issues "head on."
- The person frequently clarifies their expectations.
- The person takes responsibility for results, good or bad.
- The person actively listens and tries to understand others.
- I want to stay at my school next year.
72-90 – they/you are unbelievably trustworthy
54-72 – you/they are doing really well in terms of trust
36-54 – pretty good with areas for significant improvement
18-36 – quite a lot needs to be worked on here to improve trust
From the responses and scores, work out an action plan to raise levels of trust in you or that other person.
Remember: there are always things we could all do better
- Bottery, M. (2004) The Challenges of Educational Leadership. Paul Chapman
- Bryk, A.S. and Schneider, B. (2002) Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement. London: Russell Sage
- Covey M R (2006) The Speed of Trust Free Press
- Fink D (2005) Leadership for Mortals Sage