Build Trust or Become Toast

Many studies and articles promoting trust as a social lubricant in organizations creates innovative ideas and positive solutions to problems. This is extremely important in educational settings for staff and students. Research by Bryk and Schneider (2002) identifies trust between colleagues as the most important relationships for positively affecting student learning. Trust between teachers and administration and trust between teachers and parents were also positively correlated to increase student learning.

Kupersmith and Hoy (1984) said: “faculty trust in both colleagues and the principal has been linked to school effectiveness as well as to positive school climate and principal authenticity.” Leaders have a responsibility to create a trusting environment to get the intellectual and social intelligence released to create a positive culture. If the leader cannot establish trust, he or she might end up being toast.

Leaders can be in the classroom as teachers, school or district administrators, parent groups, community leaders, etc. We need leaders at every level. One group that is left out many times are students. I have found student leadership as a critical element to positive school cultures.

I attended a workshop by Costa and Garmston, over thirty years ago. They spoke about ways to establish trust. I think they attributed the first three to Kupersmith and Hoy, although I am not certain of the citation. (just being honest). Here are the Killer “Bs” for Building Trust:

1. Be a person first, a role second. Staff, students, and community want to know they are dealing with a person. I have said a leader needs a soul and a role. Keep in mind that trust is determined by your stakeholders and community. You don’t get to choose who thinks you are a leader. Others choose you by your actions.

2. Be Responsible. Don’t Blame Others for your actions or the results of those actions. I ask the following question in workshops. ‘If all the problems exist because of those who report to you and the solutions are in the hands of those you report to, who needs you?’ Be a player and make a contribution. Rich Sheridan in a workshop August 13, 2019, at Menlo Innovations, recently quoted from a book titled Vital Smarts, “the world is perfectly organized to create the world you are complaining about.” So, look at the design first rather than automatically blaming or shaming people. W. Edwards Deming also has written, and I paraphrase, that you are getting 100% of the results you are designed to do.

3. Be Honest. Don’t manipulate people. Most people know about the bad news sandwich. I say something good, then something bad, and then something good again. The message that is remembered is the middle. Bad news has more power than good news.

4. Be Patient. Trust Takes Time – (TTT). Colleagues hear the words AND want to see the actions that are aligned with the words. The more separation between words and deeds, trust diminishes.

5. Be Consistent and Change when necessary. When organizational values are part of the culture, most want adherence and commitment to those values. At the same times things change. When conditions change values will help guide how to respond to those changes. Nobody would go to a doctor who got a medical degree in 1960 and has never read a journal or accessed new information on the internet. Think of handbooks for students that were written before the increase in technology. It has forced us to rewrite policies and procedures.

Building trust is really about increasing psychological safety. (see Fearless Organization book summary at Edgar Schein, OD expert, and author is quoted: Schein later noted that psychological safety was vital for helping people overcome the defensiveness and “learning anxiety” they face at work, especially when something doesn’t go as they’d hoped or expected. Psychological safety, he argued, allows people to focus on achieving shared goals rather than on self-protection. WE WANT THIS IN SCHOOLS FOR STAFF AND STUDENTS.

You might try the following exercise in your workgroups or in classrooms to get clear about trust. This exercise was demonstrated to me by Marilyn Tabor, educational consultant, Have people, in small groups, complete this prompt:
1. When trust exists, I ………. Then ask the group to complete the second prompt:
2. What do I do to establish, encourage, and sustain trust?

Once the groups finish, create a chart with the data from the groups. Make sure you have one item from each team as you move around the groups. Keep going around until you have all the ideas down for each prompt.

You now have a list of behaviors that can be seen when trust exists. And, you have a list of behaviors that people can do to increase trust in the organization or workgroup. Post it in your classroom, lounges, administration offices, etc. TRUST INCREASES LEARNING. So, start building trust before you, and the organization, become the burnt toast


Bryk, A. & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools. New York: Russell Sage Foundation

Edmondson, Amy. (2019). The Fearless Organization. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons

Hoy, Wayne & Kupersmith, William. (1984). Principal Authenticity and Faculty Trust: Key Elements in Organizational Behavior. Planning and Changing, v15 n2 p80-88 Sum 1984

Tschannen-Moran, M. (2004). Trust matters: leadership for successful schools.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!