The Most Important Relationship Word

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational 
principle that holds all relationships.” 
Stephen Covey

Almost every time I speak to a group of educators, I ask the question, “What is the most important relationship word?” Although several viable answers are offered, almost immediately, someone will suggest the word, “Trust.” Like most things in our noble profession, I am not sure there is a right answer, but I am sure that “Trust” is my answer. Whether we are talking about superintendent-principal, principal-teacher, teacher-student, husband-wife, parent-child, or friend-friend, the “essential ingredient” in the relationship, as Covey suggests, is trust. The people I have most admired and respected in my personal and professional lives have been people in whom I have complete trust.

This trust comes in many forms, but at its core is a calm and confident response of, “Yes” to the question, “Can I trust you?” This broad question can be broken down further, of course, when deciding whether we trust our colleagues. Here are but a few examples:
  • Can I trust you to do what you say you will do?
  • Can I trust that the decision you are making is based on what is best for kids?
  • Can I trust you when you say something will or will not work?
  • Can I trust you when you recommend someone to me for a position in our school or district?
  • Can I trust the feedback you are providing me?
  • Can I trust that the answer you are giving me is the same answer you are giving someone else?
  • Can I trust that you have the knowledge, skills, and capabilities to do what is needed in your role?
  • Can I trust your work ethic?
As educators, we are in the trust business. Our parents send us their most precious gifts and trust us to do what is right by them. Our students, in turn, trust that we have their best interests at heart. Our school culture is strengthened or weakened by the level of trust each staff member has in each other. What are some things we can do to create and maintain a community of trust? Many years ago, in our book, The 4 CORE Factors for School Success, Todd Whitaker and I shared the “Top 10 Trust Traits.” When teachers and administrators engage in these behaviors, those with whom we interact will more likely place their trust in us:

1. Be There

2. Show You Care

3. Provide Resources

4. Communicate Regularly

5. Involve Others

6. Celebrate Success

7. Value Diversity and Dissent

8. Support Innovation

9. Address Underperformance

10. Demonstrate Personal Integrity

I believe these traits hold true whether you are a classroom teacher or a school or district administrator. Which of the ten resonate most with you? Obviously, I consider each of these to be critically, and perhaps equally, important, but one of the ten seems a just a bit different than the other nine. Many of these seem like positive and even “fun” things to do. Number 9, however, is not so fun, yet if we fail to do it, the students and staff we lead will no longer trust that what we said was important was really all that important. We must hold everyone--starting with ourselves--accountable for doing what we said we would do.

Many years ago at a small church I attended, I was charged with leading the children’s message each Sunday morning during the early service. There were typically only a few children at this service, one of whom was always my daughter, who was 3 or 4 years old at the time. One Sunday, in trying to drive home the point that we should trust in God, I told my daughter we would start the message with me throwing her through the air about 6 or 7 feet to Danny, a high school student I had taught and coached for several years, who would then catch her. Then and now, there is no one I love as dearly as I love my daughter, and I would never do anything to place her in harm’s way. Although this feat was not exactly a dangerous act, Danny was probably the only student I knew who I would have trusted to catch her. Everything I knew about him from years of working with him told me I could trust him to do the right thing in any instance--including catching my daughter when I tossed her his way. My daughter, however, had no such trust in Danny. When I told her what we were going to do, she was a bit nervous, but she agreed--not because she trusted Danny, but because she trusted me when I told her not to worry and assured her that Danny would catch her. Our little performance went off without a hitch, leading to the larger message we were trying to convey during the children’s message.

In our schools, trust can be contagious in a similar way. When principals trust superintendents, they, in turn, behave in ways that lead teachers to trust in them. When teachers trust their building administrators, they behave in ways that lead students to trust in them. Trust is indeed “the glue of life.” When we truly believe in each other, we ignite a culture of trust in our school communities, and nothing can stop us then. Behaving in ways that make others trust us and, in turn, trusting in others to do the same, is another way we Teach, Learn, and Lead with Passion!

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