You know those schools where the moment you walk in you can feel the teamwork vibe? The staff here like each other. The teachers trust each other and the front office. They are on the same page. Other schools, well, the first thing you notice is the t-e-n-s-i-o-n in the air.
Sure not everyone is going to be besties all the time. But long-standing grudges, factions who won’t speak to each other? Most educators can tell you stories of coworker dysfunction in schools that went on for years—even decades. It doesn’t have to be this way.
The keys to solving this uncomfortable problem are high expectations and trust. Trust doesn’t just happen, you (yes, you!) have to work to build it. First, you need to set the expectation that you expect everyone in your school to treat each other with respect. And then—and this is the hard part— you and your staff have to consistently work at being better teammates, at collaborating for real, at trusting each other as valuable colleagues.
Here are three ways you can work to intentionally build trust relationship among your staff.
1. You CAN sit with us
Do your teachers sit with the same people for every staff meeting? It is natural and beneficial for teachers to gravitate toward trusted colleagues, but when the group becomes exclusive, your school culture is promoting cliques instead of true collaboration.
You might ask a few confident teachers to intentionally sit with different groups at each staff meeting. This way everyone will get to know new or different teachers.
TRY THIS: Change the protocol to you ‘can’ sit with us. Ask one or two teachers to greet new teachers when they enter the room, and make sure they’ve reserved a space for them.
2. Hear all the voices
There is always that one staff member who stays silent. Maybe this teacher is shy, maybe she had a bad experience in group discussions, or it could simply be disenchantment with teaching. Allowing a teacher to be silent is equal to giving permission for no participation.
Now, you may be thinking, “It’s not my job to teach them how to participate.” The best thing a school leader can do is lead a teacher into positive school culture. It can be as simple as saying, “We haven’t heard from you yet. What is your thinking around the proposal?”
TRY THIS: Make sure all the voices at the table get a chance to speak before you move on to something else.
3. Include the newbies
Being new to a school can feel a bit like base camp acclimation at Mt. Everest. Maybe you are the newbie at base camp, but you just climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, so you’ve got some experience with mountains and other hikers. On the other hand, maybe you are the brand-new newbie. You can see your reflection in your hiking boots and your backpack still has its sales tag dangling from the zipper.
Be the administrator you needed when you were the newbie. Did you have a mentor who helped acclimate you to the school culture? Or were you left to fend for yourself on top of that mountain? The trust you build at this stage will have lasting positive effects on your school culture. It is so important for your new staff to feel like they are part of the team right away. Show them you value their expertise by purposely pulling them into the conversations. Do not let them become isolated. Do you have staff functions outside of school? Make sure the newbies are on the invite list. Finally, pop into the newbie’s classroom just to say hello. Nothing builds trust more than being included. You will build trust with the newbie and model how to be a better colleague to others at the same time.
TRY THIS: Create a Pineapple Chart like the one here. Creating a way for teachers to come and go from each other’s classrooms can really build a welcoming school culture. Stop by a newbie’s classroom to let them know that a group of teachers is meeting for lunch. Let him or her in on some little things that took you years to figure out.
Are you ready to step up and help your teachers navigate the changes next year is sure to bring? It requires being mindful of how your behavior inhibits or builds trust. By committing to building trust, you will have a lasting impact on your school culture.
Join our Facebook group Principal Life for more ideas on how to transform your school community.