9 Ways to Forge Trusting Relationships with Your Staff

In an ideal world, every school would be a place of trusting relationships between the students, staff, Governors, parents and the wider school community. So often however, the opposite can be true.
Outdated models of leadership, immature staff and fractured relationships can make for tense times in the staff room. When such dynamics are in play, they can have far reaching effects on the performance of the school, the quality of teaching, and the creativity of the students!
That’s why it’s so important to make creating trusting relationships with your staff a top priority when you are in a leadership role — and here are nine tips for making it happen:

1. Get a sense of your values.

Get a sense of your values and the difference that you want to make in your school and in your community. A great question to ask yourself is, “What do I want students to remember about their time in my school?” This will act as your internal compass for everything you do in your school, which is going to give you the consistency in your behaviour, that’s the foundation of trust.

2. Develop your EI

EI still tends to be a bit of a buzzword in education, but there’s a big difference between having read Daniel Goleman’s books and actually working on your emotional self. As you’re building trust with people, you have to be prepared for some projection to go on — people are going to assign their emotions to you or assign intentions and feelings to you that actually belong to themselves or some other relationship!
You need to be able to recognise this and what your own emotional stance and triggers are, so you don’t get swept away or behave out of character, jeopardising any trust you’ve built.

3. Explore your leadership style

You need to be aware of your leadership style so that you can understand the effect it has on other people. This is especially true if you naturally tend to be more dictatorial or top-down, because then you’re going to really struggle to build trust.
It can’t hurt to grab a list or audit (there are numerous on-line) and complete a self-assessment. This will help you to identify if there are any collegial leadership styles that perhaps you are not so strong at demonstrating and steps you can take for increasing your competency with these styles.

4. Always address any elephants in the room.

This is especially important if you’re coming into a very low trust environment. If people are frustrated, resentful, and untrusting, you need to address the elephant in the room. It’s scary, but if you don’t do it, your relationships with staff may falter.  In situations where trust has really deteriorated, it’s best to bring in a facilitator who can work with the team dynamics.
Meet with him or her first yourself, so they can get a clear picture of what is going on. Then let them do some of the ‘heavy lifting’ facilitating sessions with you and your staff. Working in this way they take responsibility for the emotional wake of others, not you. Instead you are supported by the facilitator to help re-shape the culture and climate of your school.

5. Recognise that trust is a two-way street

Whether you’re leading the conversation yourself or working with a facilitator, you need to demonstrate trusting behaviour before you can expect your staff to do so.
Share your story with them, and don’t be afraid to share the good along with the bad. You have to allow for openness if you’re going to develop trust. This can be especially powerful if you have just taken up a new leadership post.
I know some Heads have shared their ‘back story’ as to why they came into teaching with all their staff, as one of their first ‘public’ statements to the school community and they have told me that it has made all the difference in terms of building trusting relationships with their staff.

6. Give people a reason to get invested

It’s very important to include your why in this conversation. What’s your vision for the school? Staff need to know it before they can get invested in following it. From there, ask your staff about their own whys — why they teach, what they love about it, how they want students to feel. When you show them that their thoughts and values are just as important as yours, it goes a long way towards developing trust.

7. Give people opportunities to live their whys

Having a great vision for your school is important, but it’s not enough just to create enthusiasm in the staff room. Once you’ve got some alignment going, you need to ground your staff’s enthusiasm into actions.
Ask them, given what your big why is, what behaviours do you need to adopt? What actions do you need to take? How are you going to follow through for this school, this community, our children?
Delegation can be a big part of this. Don’t just pass on things that you don’t want to do; take the time to find out what your teachers really love doing and what they’re great at, and let them do it!
Finally, it’s essential that you let them fail. If staff become fearful, they won’t take risks, and won’t be creative, and that will spill over to your students. Overtime, if left unchecked, the hallmark for relationships in your school, will be those which are built upon fear as opposed to mutual understanding, trust and respect.

8. Don’t just manage; truly lead

You need to be constantly working towards alignment between the staff, their whys, and your vision. This takes more than just a team-building exercise every now and then, it means that you truly need to lead them — even the ones who just don’t seem to care anymore!
If you have people that are so burned out or beaten down by the system that they don’t even remember their why, then work with them on that. Ask them why they started teaching, help them reconnect to that initial light.

9. Keep it going

Trust is something that can only really grow with time and consistency, so make sure that you keep making it a priority. If you find that you’re slipping back into old, unhelpful habits, then get help! Work with a coach or develop some coaching skills to improve yourself as a leader and to keep the atmosphere of trust that you want to create in your school alive.

In my years of working with School Leaders, I’ve learned that one of the most important skills any School Leader can have is the ability to effectively manage and nurture personalities and relationships within their school. This is because quite simply, when school relationships are positive – the outcomes tend to be more positive too.
Conversely, when relationships are strained or neglected, school teams can struggle to effectively work together and staff can find themselves increasingly becoming disconnected from what the school and their leaders are trying to achieve. In turn, leaders can find themselves spending a large amount of their time dealing with people management issues, rather than focussing on the more strategic aspects of the role.
Yet in spite of this, many leaders have not received significant training or opportunities to develop skills that could help them to deal with difficult conversations, identify how best to manage and maximise taff performance.
That’s why one of the key ways that we support School Leaders fulfil their vision is by offering a 4 Day Coaching Programme designed to provide Senior School Leaders with the knowledge, skills and confidence to apply a range of coaching skills that can help improve the performance of those they lead and manage.
Our four-day coaching programme that will equip you with the skills for:
– Managing difficult conversations
– Understanding how to get the best out of individuals with challenging behaviours
– Understanding yourself better and knowing how to draw upon your strengths to get the best out of others
– Developing your relationship management skills by helping you understand how to identify and respond to different personality types
– Nurturing a Coaching Culture in your School so that you can support members of your team

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