Trust – The Cornerstone of Relationships

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It may be hard to define, but it’s at the heart of every relationship, Trust. The way we speak, act, respond to or ignore someone or some situation, creates the perception of whether or not we are trustworthy.

Establishing trust in our buildings is a critical skill for school leaders. Trust has been found to be an essential element in school success. A study by Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider (2002) presented compelling evidence that “trust in schools is a strong predictor of student achievement, even stronger than socioeconomic status.”Teachers perceive leaders who are competent, reliable, and caring as trustworthy. When staff members trust you as a school leader there is an understanding that they will be supported both personally and professionally. There is a feeling in the building that allows them the freedom to take risks, to be creative, and to take ownership of their work.

We all know that as school leaders, we need to be all things to all people and nothing is more upsetting than hearing “the staff” doesn’t trust you. So how do we build trust and create that positive, engaged school community we have envisioned and strive for?

the-trust-factorIn the book, The Trust Factor: Strategies for School Leaders, (2013) authors Julie Peterson Combs, Stacey Edmonson, & Sandra Harris describe four qualities of trust: competence; care; character; and communication.

School leaders need to demonstrate competence, which includes having the knowledge and skill to lead a building, manage its resources and maintain a safe, healthy and welcoming environment.

Showing appreciation, attention and kindness to others is another essential quality of trustworthiness. Individuals respond to being appreciated, listened to and considered when making decisions. However, they also respond to a leader who has the strength, conviction and character to stand up for what is right for students when making those decisions.

Finally, “studies show that employees have a high level of satisfaction in organizations that communicates frequently regarding policies, decisions, and goals as opposed to those that provide limited information.” (Hamilton 2001).

Combs, Edmonson & Harris provide us with a great resource as school leaders to assess the level of trust in our building. The Trust Factor: Strategies for School Leaders is divided into three sections, Trust Busters, Trust Builders and Trust Boosters. Each section describes actions and words that can either build or erode trust. Each chapter ends with a short list of questions for self-reflection and, at the end of each section, is a tool for school leaders to assess how often they exhibit trust building, trust-busting or trust boosting behaviors.

Trust Builders such as active listening, consistency, monitoring your own reactions to situations, having empathy, being transparent and showing appreciation can build an environment where everyone is working hard toward the school’s goals and mission.

Trust Busters such as asking people for their input but not using it, ignoring incompetence, reprimanding the group for individual infractions, and being inconsiderate produces an environment where people are fractionalized, fearful of making mistakes or being criticized, and hence give minimal effort to get the job done.

As a school leader we all want to have relationships with our staff that lead them to be successful practitioners.   Talking about trust, recognizing the strengths and talents of others, nurturing leadership within the staff, and being a life-long learner can boost trust in the building. Taking note of the level of trust in your building is a good investment.


Mentoring Tip: Invest in a copy of The Trust Factor: Strategies for School Leaders. Give your staff the short Leadership Actions Assessment (p. 149) to determine how your staff perceives the level of trust in the building.   Use the self-reflective questions at the end of each chapter as a starting point for developing the communication skills that will create and enhance trust between you and your staff. Remember, trust is the cornerstone of all relationships.


Bryk, A.S. & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Combs, J.P., Edmonson, S. & Harris S. (2013) The Trust Factor: Strategies for School Leaders. New York, London: Routledge.

Hamilton, C. (2001). Communicating for results (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.


Debra Buszko