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Effective Strategies for the Instructional Leader: Generating Trust

By Deron Marvin
Effective Strategies for the Instructional Leader: Generating Trust

Trust is an especially fragile but necessary entity in our work. For the conscientious leader, it takes deliberate planning and devotion to successfully realize it within their team. Once a leader has trust, it is difficult to retain without regular maintenance—Instructional leaders often fretfully appreciate this delicate condition.
For example, one rash or negligent decision can pervade the outer core of trust, thus beginning a rapid dissolve. Once trust is lost, it is tricky to develop again. Successfully accomplishing shared goals will rely upon the unyielding trust you have built with your team. As Douglas Reeves states in his book, The Learning Leader: How to Focus School Improvement for Better Results, “There are many things one needs to know about successful management, leadership, and individual success. Among the most important things is that we cannot do it alone.”
As an instructional leader, it is wise that you have a plan to help you generate and sustain trust so that you can thrive as an organization and accomplish remarkable feats together.
Employ the following five steps to help build and maintain trust within your team:
Step #1 – Implement a regular evaluative tool for yourself
One of the first approaches to building trust is ensuring the leader puts him/herself out there for evaluation. It is important to indicate to all that you are a fallible but capable learner and leader. Have your team of teachers evaluate you on an annual (or even bi-annual) basis. After each administration, share the results with your team and highlight those areas you are going to concentrate on for the year. The process of the evaluation should be standard practice and consistent. Use the same evaluation tool each year so that you can focus on trends. Administering an evaluation does two things: 1) it indicates that you are interested in learning and willing to grow as a learner; and 2) it shows that you value feedback. For the past five years, I have used an evaluation based on the McRel’s 21 Leadership Responsibilities.
Step #2 – Do what you say you are going to do
“Trust is not the same as faith in the reliability of a person or system,” says British sociologist Anthony Giddens. “It is what derives from that faith. Trust is precisely the link between faith and confidence.” To build the confidence within the team, a leader must demonstrate trustworthy behavior. Reliable leaders follow through with what they say they are going to do. They keep track of those items in which they have promised. Never let those promised items fade away with no word or action. If you cannot follow through on something you said you would do, then explain why and move on. If you forgot something and one of your team members reminds you of it, apologize for the mistake in overlooking the item and then take care of it in an expeditious fashion.
Step #3 – Be clear about how you will make decisions
Decisions are part of your daily routine as an instructional leader. For those bigger decisions, clearly state how you will be making the determination before you launch into the process. I consistently utilize one of these four decision-making methods: 1) consensus; 2) majority; 3) with input; or 4) without input. Fall into a regular habit of stating which method you will use before making a big decision. Employing this tactic demonstrates to your faculty that you are measured in your approach to big decisions, and that you will see the results through.
Step #4 – Model the behavior you expect in your team
As leaders, we know the faculty is watching us carefully; thus, we must always maintain our professionalism and ethical behavior. Ensure you have read and understood your school’s policies and guidelines. Moreover, make certain you follow the rules exactingly. True leaders do not take advantage of a system simply based on their position in the school. If your faculty is observing you abusing your power for your own good, then the faculty’s trust in you will weaken.
Further aspects of your job in which you should be modeling:
1) Writing professionally
2) Staying on top of the latest research
3) Speaking kindly and positively of others
4) Dressing professionally
Step #5 – Do not treat everything as an emergency
Working in the age of electronic communication has had a profound effect on how we deal with our daily interactions. The ease of email and text has allowed stakeholders and faculty to communicate hastily (and sometimes emotionally) about ostensible catastrophes. Improbable speedy replies are expected to immediately mitigate someone else’s perceived crisis. If a leader responds immediately to each email, the implication to faculty becomes; I react to most items and do not have the wherewithal to make decisions in a measured and thoughtful manner.
Slow down the hasty approach to those professed crises by remembering that timing is less important than simply responding. A standard response time to an email should be between 24-48 hours. Replying immediately will only set you up as someone who will react to whatever “crisis” one may possess. Additionally, hiding behind email all day responding to those “calamities” quickly paints you as a recluse and an untrustworthy leader. Replace your electronic communication with face-to-face communication as much as possible. And take time to ask, is this an emergency?
If you are new to your leadership position, consider spending the first year with trust as a priority. Make the most of the five steps to help facilitate your understanding of the magnitude of trust. Be measured and thoughtful in your approach with faculty. Listen more than you speak. Read, hone those writing skills, and build your wardrobe. Above all, faculty need to know that you will not overreact to issues and that you will be prudent and pragmatic in your decisions.
References: Reeves, Douglas B., The Learning Leader, ASCD, 2006.
Giddens, A., The Consequences of Modernity, Stanford University Press, 1990, p.33.

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11/24/2021 - Ken
Did you teach at Bachrodt Elementary School, if yes I was your student.
04/03/2016 - Jim
Very well written, Deron. You developed a lot of trust among our faculty when you were our Middle School Principal here in Addis, and I can imagine you've done the same in Myanmar.



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