I sat with a group of other heads earlier this week, the main aim was to explore ‘Marking and Feedback’ in our schools and to looking to see what really works. We were all agreed that feedback in lessons was the most effective. The other heads then went onto discuss how this was evidenced. The jist was that any feedback given would be evidenced by something written in the book to show that they had done it. To me the lack of trust was tangible. ‘If I can’t see it they’ve not done it’ was essentially the thrust of the discussion. I pointed out that evidence of feedback was obvious, if you could see in a child’s work that they could do something they couldn’t before then obviously there had been some kind of teacher intervention. The question came back ‘How do we know?’
As I drove home I couldn’t get the idea of trust out of my head. This prompted me to google the word “trust.” It was a sobering experience, apart from a definition nothing talked about the value of trust. I was more than 20 pages into the results before meeting a single instance of trust in the sense of belief in something or someone.
Trust is fundamental to life. If you cannot trust in anything, life becomes impossible—a constant battle against paranoia and looming disaster. Just watching half an hour of Jeremy Kyle to see the impact of a lack of trust can have. You can’t have relationships without trust, let alone good ones. Intimacy depends on it. I suspect more marriages are wrecked by lack of trust than by actual infidelity. The partner who can’t trust the other not to betray him or her will either drive them away or force them into some real or assumed act of faithlessness.
In the workplace too, trust is essential. A school without trust will be full of backstabbing, fear and paranoid suspicion. The lack of trust can be prevalent in many schools. Twitter is rife with stories of SLT’s asking for this and that, micro-managing to the nth degree. I know a school where staff are not allowed to leave the building till all their books are marked, I know another where reams of planning has to be handed in every Friday. Schools where performance management is about checking whether staff are doing their job rather than looking to help them move become better at it.
Lack of trust does many things, one is it stops things moving forward, it creates an inertia. My school started to move forward when the staff started to trust me but equally when I started to trust them. Belief stands alongside trust, if someone shows trust in you, you try to live up to that expectation. I have had first hand experience of this, one headteacher who placed trust in me made me fly, another who didn’t made me step out of teaching for a while. I couldn’t work for someone who didn’t believe in me. It also nearly broke me.
Lack of trust demotivates, it creates the grind, it damages morale. To go into a place where nobody believes in you is immensely harmful. The impact on staff well-being is immense. Trust makes things happen, no trust puts on the brakes.
Lack of trust of also creates extra work. The checking, following through, doing things ourselves because we don’t believe others will do them properly— or at all. If you took all that way, how much extra time would you suddenly find in your day? How much of your work pressure would disappear?
I’m constantly amazed when heads claim to be overworked and under constant pressure, yet fail to do the one thing most likely to ease their burdens: trust other people more. They don’t delegate, because they don’t trust people to do what they’ve been asked to do; so they have to take on every significant task themselves. It’s not the pressure of actual work that’s driving them towards some stress-related illness, it’s their lack of trust in anyone and anything. Is it any wonder they’re close to total burnout?
With the pressures and challenges we face I appreciate it’s not easy. As a new head stepping into my school two and a half years ago creating a climate of trust has been my biggest challenge.
A key part of any heads role is to build the capacity you have in school. Without letting go and trusting you won’t move those people forward. A wise old owl of a head I worked with used to talk about ‘passing the monkey back.’ She was so right. Trust will only happen if your culture is right, expectation is vital, but also the guiding hand when it all goes a ‘bit Pete Tong’, which inevitably at some point it will.
I get that it isn’t always easy. Trust takes time and is reciprocal in its nature. To make it happen we have to take a leap. If we want to reduce workloads, we have to look at trusting and believing our staff more. Someone has to begin the cycle of trust by an act of faith. It’s no use waiting for the other person to make the first move. They’re waiting for you. It takes a conscious act of unconditional belief in that other person’s good sense, ability, honesty or sense of commitment to set the ball rolling. Will your trust sometimes be misplaced? Of course. Life isn’t perfect and some people aren’t trustworthy. But will increasing your willingness to trust produce, on balance, a positive benefit? Will it make your life more pleasant and less stressful? I believe so. You have little to lose by trying.
Trust has to start somewhere. Why not with you? Why not today? Why not right now?