To trust or not to trust

Have been reading and have finished Stephen Coveys Speed of Trust recently.   I have found the book to be very interesting and very much in line with my thinking with regards having a growth mindset and focussing on solutions rather than problems plus on the need to acknowledge the humanistic side of education rather than focussing purely on data such as standardised tests.  It is my belief in the need to trust people and act with trust as a default condition as opposed to assuming distrust and acting accordingly.     The Speed of Trust focuses on this although it also goes on to discuss “Smart Trust” such that we take care on exercising trust where previous events or the situation dictate it.     The book discusses a predisposition towards either trust or distrust, which I think is the key feature of the book.  It suggests the need to encourage a predisposition towards trust.   I have found myself having to defend this position during the last six months having been told that I shouldn’t be open with how I feel to my team and colleagues.   Leaders apparently need to be totally positive even when the situation, either professionally or personally is not, or at least this is what I was told.    For me I believe, and according act, in a way as to display trust in my colleagues and staff and as such I communicate how I feel to them.   I am, after all, a human, a person like everyone else and therefore I have good days and not so good days.   This is not to say that I necessarily have negative days, more a case that I have days when I find positivity and the act of working with a growth mindset more difficult than normal.   During a period of time recently my wife had damaged ligaments in her knee which limited her ability to move, leading to time off work and myself having to take on more duties around the house and with our family as a whole.   As such my ability to remain positive while at work was more difficult than normal and in phone calls or in discussions my tone of voice and body language may have conveyed this.    I was open with people as to the prevailing situation yet I was told that my openness with my emotional status and feelings was a negative thing and something unwanted in senior managers.

Now let us consider the alternative here;   A leader consistently comes across as positive both in terms of beliefs and emotion despite the prevailing situation.    I have worked with people like this and over time you start of lose your trust in them as they repeatedly underplay the humanistic side of life and also the challenges which particular jobs, tasks or activities may present.    They also tend to underplay or fail to acknowledge the culture and climate within the organisation, department or team.   Imagine the boss who you have plainly made aware of personal or professional difficulties who makes light of it rather than engaging you as a person, looking to provide support and arrive at a solution.   “Its going to be fine, just keep at it and focus on solutions”.    I think the reason this constant positivity is stated as positive lies in the hope that positivity will rub off on those you lead and work with however this underplays trust.   Constant positivity both in belief and in emotion suggests a constant level of effort however this is not the case.    Some professional situations require more effort or, as in my situation where my wife was injured, some personal situations result in the need for more effort professionally in order to maintain the normal level of positivity.     As such a consistent “things will get better” approach to positivity may not always work as it fails to recognise the personal effort, commitment or resilience required.     If a leader fails to recognise and acknowledge how a static level of positivity may require varying levels of effort, commitment and resilience then trust may be lost as they more and more appear to be disconnected with a team members reality (Note: I am considering reality as subjective with the only reality which exists to a colleague or team member being their own reality).

Covey puts so much stake in the importance of trust and I cannot help but agree.   Education is more and more focussing on data and standardised testing while ignoring the softer data of what school leaders see and hear on a daily basis.     Trust may steadily be in process of being eroded and teachers more and more see themselves being judged based on data which very often lacks any context.  This is especially evident in terms of a focus on achievement.   Here in the UAE not all students will do Kindergarten so would it be fair to compare two teachers where one has a class of students who did not do kindergarten against a teacher of a class which did, where the later teacher benefits from a class who have two additional years of schooling despite being the same age as the students in the former class;   I would suggest not.

Data is going to continue to be an integral part of education systems as is accountability.   I believe we need to also make some room for trust.    We need to develop the predisposition towards trust as suggested by Covey.   Professional development for example should not be focussed on the needs of the weakest staff at the expense of those who have highly developed skills.    Education often talks of distributed leadership and of empowerment however both of these concepts cannot operate without a level of trust.

I write this in following one of Coveys initial points in his book which is to trust yourself and in writing this I am trusting that my beliefs and ideas are worthy of sharing and consideration.   I trust that you will feel free to share your thoughts whether they be in agreement or disagreement.


Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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