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:

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)

These discussions explored:

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


  • Students (engagement, motivation, enjoyment, challenge)
  • Teachers

Being visible

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

Demonstrating respect

  • Genuine listening
  • Preparedness to take views into account

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

Demonstrating competence

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

Research that underpins relational trust

A summary of Trust in Schools: a core resource for school reform

Bryk and Schneider. (2003). 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 does relational trust look like?


  • 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.

Personal regard

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


  • 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.

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 the sense of risk associated with change.
  • Teachers feel comfortable opening up their practice to others.
  • Teachers are willing to talk honestly about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Relational trust is the glue that helps a school strive for excellence.

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