The Building Block of Successful Schools: Trust

For Parents, Leadership, Possip, Principal / /

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It can be difficult as a principal to prioritize tasks and focus on the most important building blocks that lead to school success. According to Payne and Kaba (2001), the level of social trust, the quality of staff-to-staff and staff-to-parent relationships at a school, can predict the quality of a school. This is BIG.

It means that if trust is not present in a school, it leads to fragmentation, disagreements, and a lack of overall success. Not only trust between staff members, but from parents too.

In “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen Covey, he says that “Trust always affects two measurable outcomes: speed and cost. When trust goes down in a relationship, speed decreases with it. Everything takes longer.” In the context of a school where there is only one year to set up our students for success, sense of urgency and speed are crucial. 

Trust allows for strong community building, feelings of safety, and productive collaboration. In high trust schools, there is a 3.5 times greater probability of improving test scores for students when compared to low-trust schools ( 

You can start thinking about building trust by having two vital components present: competence and character. Character includes how people view your integrity, morals, and intent. Competence is seen as your abilities, skillset, and results. Stephen Covey’s book goes through 13 key behaviors to build trust in an organization. We have consolidated some of those behaviors within the context of a school to begin building high societal trust. 

Here are tips to build trust in your school: 

Try to be a YES Principal:

Being able to give teachers, staff members, and parents the freedom to be innovative and extending trust when they have a new idea or initiative builds trust in schools. If you can say “yes” right away, agree to a pilot program before giving a full “yes,” or set up a brainstorm session that could lead to a “yes,” this will demonstrate respect and create a culture of distributive leadership. Of course, a “no” must be given at times. In that case, make sure teachers and staff still feel heard and there is an honest rationale as to why the answer is “no.”

An important part to this is if the idea from another stakeholder becomes a success and leads to great things happening in the classroom, school, or community. Make sure to give that teacher all the credit to ensure your character and the relationship are both kept intact. 

Invite People into Decision Making:

By inviting teachers, staff members, and parents into decision-making processes, this not only builds relationships and confidence in your community but also creates transparency.  Everyone feels trusted and valued when decisions are made jointly with all information on the table.

If you are inviting people into decision making, there must be an element of psychological safety present. Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished, humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes ( Trust grows when the community feels they can speak and be heard, collaborate to make decisions together, and be supportive if a failure occurs. Whenever possible, bring others to the table when making school-wide decisions to increase trust.  

Stay Focused on Your Priorities:

As a leader, what do you value and prioritize when leading a school? Are you consistent with what you care about? Are your responses and rationale for tough questions aligned to beliefs? Do your daily actions tie to your priorities? Leaders who are consistent, keep important commitments, and are predictable in their beliefs allow others to trust them. Think about the ways that your priorities come up daily for you. Does your community know your priorities? Do you truly have priorities that are most important to you? How can you always match your actions to your priorities? These reflections will go a long way in building trust in your community. 

Always Model a Growth Mindset:

A growth mindset was coined by Carol Dweck ( and refers to the idea that people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Modeling a mindset as a principal where you can always grow, learn, and improve positively impacts your entire community. The community members will feel comfortable coming to you with areas of growth for the school, confront tough issues that may impact student achievement, and work to improve as parents or teachers.

One way to demonstrate your growth mindset is to provide opportunities for parents and teachers to give feedback. Parents appreciate being heard and valued through the feedback they give Possip in our weekly pulse checks.  Teachers are able to regularly hear, value, and act on feedback by the surveys around school climate. By confronting reality, practicing accountability, and focusing on improvement, trust in you as a leader will grow exponentially.

Build Genuine Relationships:

Relationships are crucial to having high levels of societal trust. As a principal, think about ways you can informally build relationships with teachers and staff members. Use active listening skills, get to know what others care about, and follow through on commitments made. Strong relational trust builds societal trust in a school. Finding ways to connect in small groups or with your community will go a long way toward building trust.

If you need more tips on this topic, email us at