Building Trusting Schools

Jun 11, 2017 by

Building trust leads to better schools.

A school leader cannot do it all alone. They need to build a team of educators that will help the students to achieve their goals and to fulfill their realized potential.  People can only work together in any walk of life if they trust one another. Good principals understand that by trusting each other will staff work together as a team. When studying the characteristics of struggling schools that have made important progress, researchers found what we already know to be true: the quality of the relationships within a school community makes a difference. That is where we are at today. So what does that look like in a school setting? An effective school leader needs to value those that are around you and then create personal relationships.

It is very important that a school leader has organizational skills and can get the most out of their staff. This is a very important capacity for any leader in the field of education. However, it can be very challenging to organize people. Unless they trust you as a leader they can become difficult and even unhelpful. On the other hand, if the staff believe in a leader and think that he is someone that can be relied upon and then this can make a dramatic difference.  A school leader needs to have a good professional relationship with their staff if their school is going to make a difference to students and increase student achievement.  It is now recognized that the ability to earn the trust of others is a very important characteristic of a leader. Successful school leaders need to build trust- but how can this be done? The following is a discussion of how a school leader can display the leadership behaviors that built trust with the staff in their school or district.

Valuing Staff

The key to building trust is for a leader to value their staff. All too often in the past a leader would simply give an order and expect it to get done. They would develop a plan and implement it by telling people what to do. This was the case in the field of education. This is now seen as poor practice and it can lead to problems. If a leader simply tells people what to do then how are they able to build trust? Faculty and staff will simply regard this leader as someone who is only interested in getting things done their way. More importantly they will not feel valued and this has a major impact on how they perceive the school principal or superintendent. This means that there will be a distance between the teacher and the prinicipal and that does not lead to the building of trust. One of the key ways to help build trust is to get staff members more involved in the making of decisions and with the implementation of policies.  Teachers and other members of the school staff are all highly qualified and talented people. They have all great ideas and they have experience in education. A proven way to build trust is by getting teachers and others more involved in the decision-making process. School principals can demonstrate that they value their knowledge and expertise in each area. The other members of staff should be stakeholders with something to say and who can make a real contribution.  A leader will to be afraid to hear the opinions of others and to take their views on board.  One way of getting the trust of the staff is by giving them a ‘voice’.  That is the ability to contribute their own ideas and viewpoints. School principals should ensure that this isn’t a meaningless exercise and that they will act on the views of others if they believe that they have made a valid point. To be a trusted school leader you will acknowledge that you have a talented team of people who are mature and responsible. School principals aren’t afraid to delegate and let others take responsibility for implementing policies and decisions.  This will demonstrate that the principal trusts all of those in the building and, wait a second, the community. Because sometimes community members, see things from the outside in. They know what you know it. If this is a suggestion for a school to move forward in increasing inclusion or student achievement, then school leaders should seriously consider the policy, procedure or practice that is being suggested. It has been shown time and time again that the best way to win the trust of others is to show them that you trust them.  Another great way to building trust is by simply recognizing the capabilities and the contributions of others. Teachers and others expected to be recognized and valued and if they are then they will have more trust in the leadership of a school.

Building Relationships

A crucial part in becoming a trusted school leader is developing a good relationship with other members of the school and community. It is now widely accepted that organizational ability is not enough and that a leader needs the capacity to develop a relationship with members of the school. In this way the principal can motivate and persuade a group to work towards a common mission and improving student achievement for all students.  If a member of a team sees that a leader is willing to take the time to get to know them and to empathize with them this helps build the necessary trusts. If a principal or a school superintendent is to become a trusted leader, then they will have to empathize with others and understand them. Consistent, open, communication is very important in trust building. There are several ways of opening communication with all stakeholders. It can be done informally by simply asking a teacher their opinion. A leader may wish to have an ‘open door’ policy and encourage staff members to come to their office and discuss any issues or points that they believe are significant. An important way of building trust is showing compassion. A leader needs to try to understand the challenges of others in their life.  A compassionate leader is one that can quickly gain the trust of others, and it is a quality that others admire and respect.  There is now an expectation of what a leader should be and the types of leadership behavior that needs to be show. Compassion and understanding are expected and if those in a leadership role can display these then they are more likely to build trust and this makes them more effective in their role and in the long run help their students perform better. The question is when will the principal start engaging in trust. It is a matter of time.

Keywords: School leader, trust, trust building, compassion, decision-making, team

Comment Below: Why is it important for school leaders to build trust in your community?


Bemak, F. (2000). Transforming the role of the counselor to provide leadership in education reform through collaboration. Professional School Counseling, 3(5), 323. Retrieved from:

Brewster, C. & Railsback, J. (2009). Building Trusting Relationships for School Improvement. Implications for Principals and Teachers. Northwest Regional Educational Trust. Retrieved from:

Hozien, W. (2016). Increasing Collaboration in Your School.  Retrieved from:

Lee, P., Gillespie, N., Mann, L., & Wearing, A. (2010). Leadership and trust: Their effect on knowledge sharing and team performance. Management Learning. Retrieved from:

Lunenburg, F. (2010). The Principal and the School: What Do Principals Do? National Forum of Educational Administration and Supervision Journal. Vol. 27, No. 4. Retrieved from:

Toby, T.  (2017) School Leaders Build Trust when they Value the Expertise of Others. Retrieved from:

Wahlstrom, K. L., & Louis, K. S. (2008). How teachers experience principal leadership: The roles of professional community, trust, efficacy, and shared responsibility. Educational administration quarterly, 44(4), 458-495. Retrieved from:×08321502

Wallace Foundation. (2017). Successful School and District Leadership – How Leadership Influences Student Learning. New York: Wallace Foundation. Retrieved from:

Wolpow, R., Johnson, M., Hertel, R., & Kincaid, S. (2016). The Heart of Learning and Teaching: Compassion, Resiliency, and Academic Success. Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Retrieved from:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.