As research reveals that relational trust leads to engagement and success, we are reminded that teachers hold our students’ stories and hopes—and here’s how school leaders can lay the foundation for relational trust so that school communities flourish.
In school environments, intellectual growth and community are treasured as exciting pieces of the work that teachers build. Relationships are critical to everyone in an institution. Working with people—in addition to working with the technology or materials or curriculum—means that cooperative interactions occur daily.
Because administrators, policy-makers, students, parents, and community members all play key roles in how society values the work of teachers, positive interactions become critical. For this reason, relational trust is a key factor within the learning environment to have engagement and success (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Bryk et al., 2009). Relationships are unique and take time to build. The impact of healthy environments can empower each individual into making authentic efforts, putting in the rigor/practice, and achieving goals. Keeping teachers engaged and valued, indeed, becomes the most critical aspect of society in order to develop the next generation of educated citizens.
How can administration and leaders help the education profession be enhanced and valued, and why does this matter?
Insights About Teachers’ Work
1. Use respectful language when talking with and about teachers. Whether you are an administrator or active community member, how you speak, write, and/or communicate towards educators will shape the culture. The word “respectful” means showing appreciation and giving grace, honoring the noble work that teachers commit themselves to every day. The words that we use reflect your level of respect for the job of a teacher. Most importantly, adults model how others should be treated. Therefore, a language that shows thoughtful regard for educators’ work—that is, the important job of shaping citizens to be engaged and building caring communities—cannot be underestimated.
Sensitivity is an important skill to emphasize as administrators work with diverse faculty and staff, and teachers benefit from being given grace, as well as avoiding assumptions. Energy spreads, so focus on the ripple effect of respectful communications—and encourage others to build self-awareness and proactive strategies about compassionate conversations, which open the door to relational trust. Remember to reach out and offer resources for struggling or novice teachers. Ask questions and encourage authenticity without judgment. Indeed, teachers are working in a school culture where verbal communication means much more than only using considerate language. Community members must consider how their non-verbal cues convey respect to the teaching profession.
2. Make the effort to support teachers’ decision-making and professional growth for others to see—and be inspired. After all, our effective teachers know that there is clear evidence and data that support their methods. Rubrics are, for example, a helpful tool in coursework and professional growth that convey levels of mastery (with clear descriptions), showing criteria for learners, as well as for everyone to understand the expectations. Point out that pedagogical approaches can be the “how” a teacher uses certain skills or strategies to support learning objective(s). The goals can be viewed as the “what” for educational aims. None of this is arbitrary.
That being said, one size does not fit all. Consider the idea that the greater community has a vital role in “recognizing” the efforts and hard work, in addition and with support to their teachers’ work, of all school community members: students, bus drivers, custodians, school resource officers, counselors, administrators, student teachers, parents, and volunteers. Encouragement matters. In turn, communities and schools are often reflections of the well-being of each other. Administrators play a significant role to build relationships of trust for direct mentoring; however, these relationships can also be about connecting others for growth. Traditional (i.e. one-on-one interactions) or non-traditional mentoring (i.e. via a board, reverse-mentoring, mastermind groups) build relationships and friendships with people who can provide feedback or counsel, so teachers are moving towards progress and growth. Moreover, every member of the community can find ways to contribute, to discover empowerment, and to offer authentic ways of caring for all people to reach their fullest potential.
3. Model and uphold emotionally safe spaces for teachers. Teachers work at schools, where many children—and even adults—will find and thus remember a plethora of emotions in these spaces. New friendships are made and the magnificent joy of learning new concepts is discovered. Administrators have a responsibility of maintaining and protecting safe spaces. Although it can be thought that no space is truly a safe space as one word, one incident, one act can dismantle safety. Listen to this: our teachers hold our students’ stories and hopes, which transcend way beyond classroom walls.
In particular, a teacher has the special ability and space of planting seeds, from which dreams grow in children’s minds and hearts. If we want to change the world, we need to protect and care for the people right here around us. Therefore, community leaders have an ethical responsibility in helping teachers to keep educative spaces safe.
Now that we have come full circle to where we started, this leads us to a final question: why should we consider and act in ways to keep school teachers engaged and valued? Certainly, teachers have many daily tasks to accomplish in preparing students to become autonomous and active citizens. It takes multiple people to have a well-functioning society. American schools are the foundation where many people learn to think and speak as informed citizens, and teachers build these infrastructures and relationships. Put simply, people need to know—and feel—more than how to navigate our busy and complex world as we also need to know how to transform it, which is often learned from watching, interacting, and loving our school teachers.