Louise Anaru – Building relational trust

Louise Anaru describes how she went about building relational trust following her appointment as principal at Flaxmere College, Hastings.



When I first started, I deliberately went about building relational trust. I actually had an action plan for it, because I realised it’s so essential to have those relationships and to build that trust to engage people so that we can develop our shared vision and all be paddling in the same direction on our waka.

So I did that in a number of ways: meeting with all our staff one-on-one, face-to-face, kanohi-ki-te-kanohi; asking them about what they saw as the successes in this school; what were the values that we needed to carry on; what were the aspirations; and also suggestions for improvement or how they wanted to see their career developing. So it was having that conversation (and that was all staff) cleaners, admin staff, teachers.

Also really getting out there to be visible, I suppose, every interval and lunchtime - walking around, talking to the students, asking them what their hopes were, what they hope to achieve, what they’d like us to do in terms of changes within the school, attending all their sports games, culture events and really trying to raise the profile and build on that culture of success. Part of that, as well, was visiting parents and attending community events to build those relationships and to really get to know and understand my community.


Louise used these strategies to build relational trust:

1. Face-to-face discussions to identify priorities and what matters most with:

  • Teachers
  • Administrative staff, teacher aides, ground staff, caretaker
  • Board of trustees
  • Students
  • Parents (home visits, informal chats)

Discussions explored:

  • Why are we here?
  • What are our school successes?
  • What do we value?
  • What are our aspirations?
  • What are our suggestions for improvement?

2. Surveys

  • Students (engagement, motivation, enjoyment, challenge)

Me and My School – a student engagement survey

  • Teachers

 Teacher workplace survey

3. Being visible

  • In school grounds
  • Morning and afternoons at school gate
  • Attending sports and cultural events

 4. Demonstrating respect

  • Genuine listening
  • Preparedness to take views into account

 5. Demonstrating personal integrity

  • Commitment to what’s best for student success
  • Belief in student capability and potential
  • Willingness to walk the talk. For example, take responsibility for teaching a class

 6. Demonstrating competence

  • Accessing and interpreting evidence of student achievement
  • Ability to lead change


Research that underpins relational trust

Summary of Trust in Schools: a core resource for school reform

Bryk and Schneider (2003) discuss the concept of relational trust, and how fostering relational trust is central to effective leadership. Read a summary of the article: Trust in schools: a core resource for school reform. Educational Leadership, Volume 60, Number 6, pp 40-45.

Bryk’s and Schneider’s 10-year study of more than 400 Chicago primary schools demonstrates that trust in schools isn’t something that is merely “nice to have”. Principals with the ability to build trust among teachers, parents, school leaders (and students) foster improvements in the day-to-day school working environment and can impact on student achievement.

The researchers tracked changes in relational dynamics and changes in individual student achievement over time and showed a clear link between relationships and student achievement. By the end of the study schools that had improved scores on standardised achievement tests had higher levels of relational trust compared with schools that had not improved.

“In schools in which relational trust was improving over time, teachers increasingly characterised their colleagues as committed and loyal to the school and more eager to engage in new practices that might help students learn better”

What is relational trust?

The day-to-day interactions that teachers have with other teachers, with their school leaders, with parents and the school community, and with students’ impact on how well everyone is able to promote the best possible outcomes for students. The principal cannot meet this challenge alone — s/he needs the support of staff to build a cohesive professional learning community. Teachers need school leaders to provide the working conditions that allow them to do a good job — they need the right resources and structured time and opportunities to learn from others. Teachers need to know how to get alongside parents to support them to assist their children to do well at school. Ultimately, good student outcomes are significantly more likely to be achieved when there are supportive and trusting relationships between teachers, school leaders, parents and students.

What does relational trust look like?

1. Respect

Genuinely listening to each person.

Taking other’s views into account when making decisions.

When people feel that they are not being treated with respect, they are likely to lose enthusiasm and commitment, and to avoid interacting and participating.

  • How might school leaders assist teachers to communicate in respectful ways with parents that encourage them to support their children with their learning?

 2. Personal regard

Showing that people are valued and trusted.

When people feel valued and trusted they are prepared to go the extra mile.

  •  What are some tangible ways that demonstrate to teachers that their work and well-being are valued by school leaders?

3. Competence

  • Parents rely on the professional ethics and skills of school staff.
  • Teachers depend on school leaders to provide supportive conditions for them to be effective in the classroom.
  • Competent school leaders are able to effectively manage day-to-day school affairs.
  • Competent school leaders are skilled at relating to students and the school community.
  • Competent school leaders understand teaching and learning and ways to improve them.

4. Personal integrity

  • Consistency between words and action.
  • Trust to keep their word.
  • Moral-ethical perspective to guide work.
  • Keeping student needs at forefront.
  • Being prepared to challenge things that need to be changed.

Benefits of relational trust

  • Creates patterns of doing things that build organisational capability.
  • Reduces sense of risk associated with change.
  • Teachers feel comfortable opening up their practice to others.
  • Teachers are prepared to talk honestly about what works, what doesn’t work.
  • Relational trust is the “glue” that helps a school strive for excellence.

Open-to-learning conversations

High levels of trust in schools promote students' social and academic progress. In this video Professor Viviane Robinson explains how to build trust through open-to-learning conversations.

View video

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