Administrator-Teacher Relationships: Building Trust

W. Stephen Parker
W. Stephen Parker
Middle and High School Principal; MA in Educational Leadership
Male principal smiling with arms crossed in front of a group of teachers talking.

A trusting relationship between school administration and teachers is a crucial component of the educational process. A school climate without trust is an unhealthy climate and ultimately affects the students’ opportunity to grow. However, a climate with trust gives opportunity for everyone in the school to grow and thrive. The responsibility of building trust and healthy professional relationships between all parties usually begins at the top with the administrator.

From Contract to Departure

It is the responsibility of an administrator to ensure that once a teacher is brought on board that they feel it is a journey together with student excellence as the ultimate goal. Administrators must show teachers they support them and they genuinely care about the teachers’ growth and development.

This support process is essential in building trust with those an administrator hires. Teachers should never feel like the “courtship” is over as soon as the contract is signed. From a personal standpoint, I want my teachers to literally feel like they are part of an “educational family” from the day they walk in the door until they depart for other opportunities or retirement. This is also key to ensuring staff morale stays high.

Professionally Personal

Administrators must engage their teachers on a personal level from time to time. How we do that can go a long way in determining how much trust is built. Teachers, like everyone else, have personal lives and sometimes personal situations that demand a response from the administrator. When the situation is dire or traumatic, it is imperative that we show empathy and immediately take measures to help in any way we can.

A caring administrator can and should make sure that they support their teacher through tough times. There is nothing wrong with asking a teacher how a sick child or close family member is doing. Also, it can go a long way toward building trust to attend the funeral of a loved one of a teacher. Likewise, celebrating personal or family accomplishments with a teacher is also a great and easy way to build trust. The main gist of being professionally personal is simply showing that you care.

Empowerment Builds Trust

The administrator that listens to their teachers and empowers them to try new and innovative approaches in the classroom builds trust and confidence. When a teacher comes forward with an idea, we should listen to them and, through collaboration, allow teachers to “go for it”. When an administrator refuses or doesn’t have time to listen to their teachers’ ideas, they are telling them their ideas and desires to enhance student achievement are not important.

On the other hand, when we empower teachers to be innovative in their classrooms, we are telling them we value their opinions and, yes, their ideas. After all, who has a better feel for how to help students achieve than those we have put in charge of their achievement in the classroom?

We must guard ourselves, though, that we don’t “pull the plug” on their new ventures if they hit stumbling blocks along the way. If the idea the teacher had in the beginning was good enough to pursue, it is important to support them as they tweak the idea along the way. No innovative ideas or new accomplishments ever just started on their own. Someone had an idea which they thought through to a concept and ultimately a functioning way to do something productive.

We must allow our teachers to think for themselves and, within the context of our overall vision, seek new and innovative ways to teach. Allowing this kind of freedom will build a spirit of collegiality with you and your individual teachers and hopefully your entire staff.

The Evaluation Process

The evaluation process is probably one of the most dreaded procedures we go through each year with teachers and administrators. Let’s face it, nobody enjoys being evaluated and, ultimately, having their shortcomings brought to the forefront. Through excellent communication between administrator and teacher, the evaluation process can be an excellent teaching tool for truly motivated, inspired teachers.

As we build trust through the other ways we have discussed, proper preparation for evaluation time can actually be a mutually satisfying tool for everyone. We must convince our teachers that evaluations are a tool to help them become better teachers. We must make evaluations positive and meaningful. We must give feedback immediately, and always use any shortcomings as a means for teacher growth. We must strive to never give the impression that the evaluation process is a “gotcha” time to use as justification not to renew a teacher’s contract.

As administrators, we should be sure that teachers know exactly what is expected of them throughout the school year, and then the evaluation process is “just another day at the office”. By using the evaluation process as a way to celebrate great teaching and to help teachers in areas that need improvement, we can build the trust needed to continue growing as a teaching community within our school.

Why We Do What We Do

Finally, we must show that we are all in this thing called education for the same reason. We all want our students to grow and excel and ultimately be productive citizens in their respective communities. Trust building with teachers is best shown when they see we care for the same thing they care about. And what is that? The kids we serve!

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