4 Steps to Create Trusting Relationships

Topics: Early Career Principals

As a principal, when you earn the trust of teachers and show respect, there’s not much they won’t do for you. As I have always said, when you have their backs, you will have their hearts as well.

That makes building relationships priority No. 1, but how much time do you have? The average time a principal serves in a school is three to five years. There are many reasons for this quick turnover, including school districts reassigning principals to keep them fresh.

It’s a tough situation for principals to wade into. If you don’t connect quickly with teachers, they know they can wait you out. Take this four-step, focused approach to instill the kind of trust that jumpstarts collective action toward shared goals. These strategies help you develop the positive relationships you desire with your staff to be successful from day one.

  1. Meet with every teacher, asking questions meant to elicit actionable information: What does this school do well? What are you successful at? What do you see other schools do well? What are areas where you could do better, or I could help you and the school improve?
  2. Lead development of a shared vision: Every school has a mission statement, but nobody can tell you what it is. Effective teams share an understanding of the vision and mission, so seek staff input to create “our vision.” With a clear vision, the principal and the team know what they’re striving for and can assess progress.
  3. Embrace servant leadership: Demonstrate that you are there to serve teachers and staff. Provide resources and help them be their best. Assign responsibilities based on teachers’ strengths and the things they enjoy (remember those conversations you had at the beginning?) Always let them know what is expected of them. Connect on a personal level, just like teachers do with students. It means the world to a teacher when you simply ask, “How’s your mom?”
  4. Hone your leadership style: Understand your strengths, but don’t gloss over major weaknesses. Know what you don’t know. Make time to read about leadership and glean the tips that suit your style. Don’t feel like you have to know it all or be perfect. Find a mentor. And finally, solicit feedback, because how can you improve if you don’t know where to focus your time and effort? Besides, it models for teachers how to handle feedback and use it for professional growth.

While such things as planning, curriculum, technology, and budgets are important aspects of being a successful principal, few things are as important as building strong, positive relationships with your teachers and staff. After all, the teacher is more important to the success of their students than curriculum or technology, so they should be your focus as a leader.

Remember that you can’t administrate a school to excellence, but you can lead a school to excellence. Still, excellence requires everyone functioning together as a team with common goals. Then, as a team, you can set the professional tone for your school by instilling these core beliefs:

  • Be world class. Whatever your role, be your best!
  • No surprises. If something is wrong, you want to hear it directly from the teacher, not the grapevine.
  • We support each other. We are united!

Finally, remember that if you support, encourage, and appreciate your staff, you will create a high-performing school culture where teachers feel valued and will give their best every day!

Brad Johnson is author of Principal Bootcamp.