3 July 2016

What does Trust Taste Like?


The title of this post is attributed to the book I am currently reading by William Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell. A timely read at the end of a term that has been contemplating relationships, trust and assumptions... 

I am reading this "Teacher Self-Supervision" as a recommended text to help me evaluate where we are at with our teacher appraisal model. However, I have got stuck on the section that delves into "Trust"...  About 4 weeks ago (inadvertently, before things got busy) I asked a random selection of colleagues how much trust they had in me. The response included "unconditional trust" at the upper end. I included this in the measurement as I hoped to stretch people's thinking and understanding around trust. 
The responses supported me in my leadership role and I felt somewhat affirmed in my role as a trusted leader. The comments were especially helpful and gave me feedback to think about and next steps to act upon.  

Needless to say, the wee outlier caused initial wondering followed by genuine curiosity... I would like to have a coffee with that person as their perspective could help me no end. 

Typically, we do not normally address "trust" unless something has broken it. It is not something that is given a great deal of attention until it is lost... Powell and Powell suggest that the absence of trust, particularly over  and extended period of time can lead to "toxic organisational cultures". I have been trying to decide what this means for us as a new little school that is focussed on building our own culture...  

  • Is trust present enough for us as a staff? 
  • Will we spot any emerging toxicity? 
  • What are we doing as a collective to grow a trusting working environment?
Powell and Powell talk to the fact that schools easily establish themselves as an "habitual culture of praise" which is obviously nicer than a culture of criticism and negativity. Having said that, the authors point out that both a culture of praise and a culture of judgement.

It is often easier to see how criticism can contribute to a culture of mistrust but I now realise that this can also come from a culture that is dependant on praise. Both forms of feedback are evaluative and subsequently suggest some sort of hierarchical response. 

So, what does trust taste like? Trust is something we feel intuitively. Conversations can reflect trust especially when individuals disagree.... Their conversations are animated, reflective and cognitive. There are assertive words but no signs of aggression... People are prepared to be transparent and open with their thoughts, knowing that their colleagues are there to support/ challenge their growth. 

Powell and Powell refer to this kind of environment as "psychologically safe". My question (I'd love feedback on this one... ) Do each of us feel psychologically safe enough to venture out of our cognitive and emotional comfort zones on a daily basis?

My feedback survey elicited some interesting discussion around trust. Many of my colleagues felt that this was something you bring to the table and only when the trust is damaged or broken do you not trust. Others on my team felt that trust takes time... 

I was interested to read (Bryk and Schneider, 2002) that there are three types of social trust. These resonated with me because the discussions we have had around trust in our pockets could be classified into each of these "trust" criterion:
  1. Organic Trust: this trust does not come from prior experience. It is 'felt' rather than based on experience or reason. 
  2. Contractual Trust: the kind of trust you need in an 'expert' as in a builder or a plumber to get the job done that you can't. 
  3. Relational Trust: this trust recognises our dependence on each other. 
The latter can lead to a sense of vulnerability and feelings of anxiety... The trust really unfolds when we remain vulnerable but do not feel anxious. 

Trust at Shotover will grow from respect, personal regard, competence and integrity..

My 'to do' items for term 3 that I think directly relate to developing and maintaining 'trust' in our school include:
  • asking myself daily, how I can contribute towards building the culture of trust?
  • ensuring that 'trust' does not get lost in the 'busyness' of the school day.