To Trust or Not to Trust: That is NOT the Question

TrustOne thing we know for sure is that rarely do high levels of performance exist without high levels of trust!  Additionally, the research of Bryk and Schnieder reported in Trust in Schools offers the eye-opening correlate that low achievement always includes low levels of TRUST.

Thus, the question of whether to trust or not to trust is irrelevant. We MUST develop high levels of trust if we want peak performance of everyone in the school environment. And, the standard or expectation begins with us – the school leader.

Megan Tschannen-Moran gives us this definition of trust, “. . . one’s willingness to be vulnerable to another based on the confidence that the other is benevolent, honest, open, reliable, and competent.”

Let’s consider a deeper understanding of the origin and make up of trust.  Draw a Venn Diagram of two overlapping circles.  Label one circle as “trustworthiness” and the other as “trusting.”

Complete this sentence by naming three words that are synonymous with being trustworthy. “For me, trustworthiness is the same as being __________, ___________, and ___________.”

Perhaps you named synonyms such as dependable, reliable, or one who is able to hold a confidence.  Other possibilities might include responsible, honest, or truthful.

Now, do the same for trusting.  “When one is trusting, she is __________, ___________, and ____________.”

Hopeful, believing, and naïve may have come to mind. This is where the notion of vulnerability expressed in Tschannen-Moran’s definition emerges.  One must have faith, confidence, and even a degree of gullibility to be truly trusting of others.

Where these two circles intersect is where TRUST resides. The goal is to continue to increase this area so that there is more and more overlap. This happens as equal amounts of trustworthiness and trusting grow within a school or organization.

Almost without fail, educators report that one of these concepts is easier to demonstrate than the other. Consider this for yourself.  Of “trustworthiness” or “trusting” which is easier for you to do?”  My hunch is that you said what most say;  “trustworthiness” is easier because it’s about greater control and less vulnerability. There is less risk when being trustworthy over being trusting.

The bottom line, however, is regardless of which is easier, both must be evident for high levels of trust to be present.  Knowing this compels us to take the risk to be more vulnerable and to model what we want by trusting others.  What are your strategies for increasing the degree of trust in your school? . . . with your teachers? . . . with your students?

By Karen Anderson, PCC
Coaching for Results Global

Karen is the co-authored of the  book, RESULTS Coaching: The New Essential for School Leaders

Byrk, A. & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools:  A Core Resource for Improvement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Pub.

Tschannen-Moran, M. (2004) Trust matters: Leadership for Successful Schools. San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

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Karen Anderson, PCC, M. Ed.

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2 thoughts on “To Trust or Not to Trust: That is NOT the Question

  1. I find that in organizations where both “trustworthiness” and “trust” exist, trust is not talked about very much. Instead, it is modeled in all interactions through what is said and done. When leaders continually talk the high level of trust in their organization, trust is often not modeled in the day-to-day, moment-to-moment interactions.

  2. I have found that it takes about 2 years to turn around a school or district to be a trusting organization when there was a leader prior who was not believed to be trustworthy or trusting.

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