Healthy relationships: the foundation of a positive school climate

by Megan Tschannen-Moran


Read the article online. Scroll to the title under "In Conversation".

Dr Megan Tschannen-Moran argues that principals can accomplish very little without trust and self-efficacy underpinning their leadership. 

In this interview-cum-article she discusses relationships of trust in school settings and how these relationships are related to important outcomes such as the collective-efficacy beliefs of a school staff, teacher professionalism, and student achievement.

She offers these insights:

  • a trusting relationship should be one of authentic, shared decision-making
  • a trusting leader demonstrates optimism that things can work, and focuses on people’s strengths
  • trust can influence student outcomes outstripping socio-economic status as a predictor of success
  • trust builds a positive school climate among staff and students, getting rid of worry about what might happen
  • building relational trust is important with parents too, so that there is proper connection between school leaders and parents or whānau.

She advises new leaders in their first weeks and months in their role to actively work to establish trust. This is the time when the staff and the students are very attentive and working out whether you are someone they can extend trust to. “It’s a time of opportunity to demonstrate genuine caring and a sense of benevolence about people as human beings, not just as functionaries." (p. 7)

As part of her conversation on trust Tschannen-Moran also talks about coaching leaders. Here the emphasis should be on strengths, and how building on strengths helps us become even better. Even in schools with great difficulties there are things to celebrate, she says, that provide a platform from which we can build. She points out that this is not about putting on blinkers, but about taking a “strength-based approach” which does not generate defensiveness. How do you want to grow/improve things, she ask. Try opening people up to designing experiments rather that setting goals, she suggests.

Building trust takes the fear of failure out of the dynamic in the school or in the coaching of leadership. She argues that using empathy, not sympathy, is a respectful understanding of another person’s experience, and that is why it helps people move forward in a process of continual professional learning.

Reflective questions

These questions might guide you in the reading of this article:

  • What can you and the leadership team do to help teachers realise the impact of their relational trust with students? How can you all work together to make students feel as though it's OK to take risks with learning as they go along?
  • What do you need to do to build trust with parents/whānau/caregivers? What differences in approach will you look for in your school as a whole, as a result?
  • Think about your attitudes about and approaches to mentoring and coaching others. How might adopting a coaching approach as part of professional learning in your school become something that helps your staff reach their different potentials?


Interview with Megan Tschannen-Moran, 2013. In Conversation: Healthy Relationships – the foundation of a positive school climate. Fall 2013 – Volume 1V, Issue 3. ISSN 1922-2394 (PDF). Accessed from:

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