Trust: The Winning Leadership Quality for Successful School Reform

High levels of trust in school leaders are quite easy to recognize. However, defining — let alone developing — that trust is complex. It’s like the construction of a large suspension bridge. While simple in concept (a structure to connect one place to another), it remains complex and substantial in the building and maintenance.

The varied and complex components of leadership must be in place to ensure high levels of trust. If a school leader or leadership team lacks any one of these components, trust levels will be diminished or non-existent. As a result, the bridge to school improvement will be difficult to cross at best and impossible to navigate at worst.

For example, a school leader may be skilled in establishing efficient and meaningful systems to support excellence throughout the school. But, if they don’t value collaboration and faculty input, this leader won’t be trusted.

The essential element for ensuring school improvement is via the development of trusted leaders. High levels of trust in educational institutions and their leaders result in many benefits, including:

  • Greater financial stability
  • Fewer behavior management issues
  • Healthier parent and community relations
  • Increased rates of faculty and staff retention
  • Higher levels of student achievement

Conversely, research shows that low levels of trust in educational institutions and their leaders result in adverse effects — including:

  • Waning support of parents and the broader community
  • Increased operational costs
  • Adversarial attitudes and behavior by students, teachers, parents, and community members
  • Lower retention rates of qualified and committed faculty and staff
  • Diminished achievement levels of students in both academic and co-curricular pursuits

Despite the known outcomes related to the level of trust with school leaders, few schools intentionally invest time, energy, focus, and resources to develop trust in their leaders. Yet, trust is the winning leadership quality for successful school reform.

Consider these four essential qualities that school leaders must possess to gain high levels of trust.

  1. Adheres to beliefs and values

A school leader’s public reputation is based on the leader’s integrity and moral fiber. Likewise, a school’s reputation is based on the character and quality of the totality of individuals who make up the school. The human element of the school (teachers, coaches, administrators, students, staff, and parents) defines the school’s integrity. Over time and with intentionality, a few school leaders can shape a school’s reputation (Doorley and Garcia, 2015).

When leadership decisions are public, positive, and grounded in the core values of the school’s mission, reputation is enhanced. Conversely, reputation is diminished when decisions and actions are made behind closed doors, are negative, and are motivated by priorities other than those born out of the school’s primary focus (mission fulfillment).

A stable, positive, healthy, and progressive reputation is essential to sustained school success and fulfilling the mission and vision of the school (Moore, 2009). School leaders must ensure that decisions on every level are processed and operated through the core beliefs and values of the school. A school’s public reputation and leadership are defined by the principles seen and experienced by the school community… [Continue Reading on The Knowledge Review]


TrustED: The Bridge to School Improvement