Does your school have a vision statement? Do all the people in your school community know the school’s vision? Does your school have a mission statement? Do all the members of your school community know their role in realising the vision? Are they aware of how they can contribute to the shared vision? In this article, we will look into the first of the steps towards a shared vision.
A while ago, I was lucky enough to be inspired by Peter Senge’s ideas about learning organisations and I made this diagram adapted from his work.
As you can see, if we start at the top and follow the arrows around, there are three steps before we get to a shared vision:
It’s not that you can’t have a vision without these three steps, but without high levels of trust, good, appropriate communication and effective collaboration, it’s unlikely that your vision will be shared, or your community enabled to realise it.
Basically, when members of a community have high levels of trust between them, they are more likely to be able to communicate well. When they can communicate well, then they are more likely to collaborate effectively.
What attention do you pay to the levels of trust in your school community? Do you take effective communication for granted? Is your school the sort of school where all the help young people receive in learning to collaborate either happens outside the class or consists of just asking them to get into groups and handing them a problem to solve or project to do? If so then there’s a lot more you can do.
So, how are the levels of trust in your school community? Firstly, where are the lines of trust in a school community?
There are a lot of blue arrows – a lot of places for trust to be developed or lost. There is no room for me to go through them all here (but I suggest you do take time to reflect on each yourself, for your own organisation, because missing one can have damaging consequences). So, let’s just take a quick look at some of these blue arrows of trust.
Some will be obvious to you. For example, if within one group in the school (e.g. learners or teachers or non-teaching staff, etc) there aren’t reasonably high levels of trust between individuals, then school is not going to be a very nice place to be - for them or for those they have to deal with.
Or, if levels of trust are low between members of two groups, the same applies. For example, if the levels of trust are low between learners and teachers - then learning in class will be seriously affected as distrust forms a barrier to healthy learning.
of trust are low between learners and teachers - then learning in class will be seriously affected as distrust forms a barrier to healthy learning What is not so obvious perhaps (but, I believe, easily understandable) are trust relationships between parents, or between non-teaching staff and learners or between outsiders. Let’s briefly look at each of these.
Parents: If parents don’t have high levels of trust between each other, then your Parent Association or community activities will surely be problematic – or at least not go as well as one might hope.
Learners: If trust levels between learners and non-teaching staff are low – what might be the outcome? What do you think happens when your non-teaching staff don’t trust the young people in your school? One thing is that a wealth of learning opportunities are lost. Imagine your secretaries, janitors, cleaners, assistants, technicians, not trusting the young people in their community enough with opportunities for responsibility (adults often underestimate the capacity of young people to take responsibility). As responsibility only grows through opportunity to take it, the opportunities are lost through distrust.
Finally, how could those outside the school community being distrustful of each other affect the school community? I think you can imagine the negative impacts of outsiders being distrustful of the school community, but the members of your school community often come from the outside community. That’s where they come from bringing distrust into school and that’s where they are going back to knowing they have to face it.
So, how do you know if your school community is connected through high levels of trust?
Why not ask? In schools with high levels of trust, you will hear people talking of others positively and about learning opportunities with them – ‘I like the cleaners because they are always so friendly and helpful’; ‘it is always good to see the other mothers in my class because they have such fun together’; ‘I don’t like making mistakes but I feel safe because the teachers/leaders in our school never blame, they just help me fix things’, and so on. Is that what you would hear?
In schools with low levels of trust, their answers will sound more like a litany of complaints, blaming each other and criticism. I think I don’t need to give examples here – we all know them.
What does trust look like in your school? Collect a few colleagues together or a few of your staff and discuss. Don’t accept the first few answers and don’t let anyone get away with trying to tell you what they think you want to hear. Dig deep, then have a break. Come back to it the next day – get people to think. And they will. Then they will start to see where the trust is and where it is not, and perhaps they will begin to see how to fix it where it needs fixing.
What can you do to develop higher levels of trust in your school community and beyond? Here are a few ideas, what can your community add?