SOESD / News
The Case for Relationship Trust in Schools
I am thrilled to have been selected as the new superintendent of the Southern Oregon Education Service District. Southern Oregon schools, and the Southern Oregon ESD have a reputation for excellence that extends throughout the state. In contemplating my move here, I thought long and hard about what I might be able to offer as a leader to the ESD and the schools in this region. I believe that the greatest contribution I can make is to share my enthusiasm and solid belief in concepts articulated by thinkers much greater than I. Beliefs about the critical importance of developing cultures of high trust and communication, coupled with highly accountable cultures where the “brutal facts” are consistently reviewed and data used to drive educational decisions.
At first glance it may seem difficult to have a high trust/high communication culture co-exist with a school culture filled with strong accountability and the often difficult conversations that go along with accountability. Some may think that hard conversations and trust just don’t go well together. However, as Steven M.R. Covey articulates in his recent book “The Speed of Trust,” organizational and leadership habits of "talking straight" are essential to creating a culture of trust. He goes on to cite twelve other key trust building behaviors that need to be present, especially in organization leaders including demonstrating respect, creating transparency, righting wrongs, showing loyalty, delivering results, consistently “getting better,” confronting reality, clarifying expectations, practicing accountability as a leader, listening first, keeping commitments and extending trust.
Here was the clincher for me in Covey’s book: He argues very convincingly that trust is not just a social nicety or “touchy feely” value. Issues of trust, whether in business or social service entities like schools, have a profound impact on the bottom line. High trust results in greater efficiency, greater enthusiasm for goal attainment, greater job satisfaction, and in the case of schools, greater outcomes for kids. Covey makes the case that low trust among adults in a system slows down the communication as people try to work in an atmosphere of suspicion and a certain degree of fear. As interaction speed slows down, less is accomplished and costs go up. As trust increases, interaction speed increases, costs come down and synergy between people increases.
I believe a culture of high trust and high accountability can be achieved in schools and in organizations like Southern Oregon ESD. As I have told my staff, I am far from perfect in applying these principles, but I have become convinced of the power of their application. May we all develop school cultures where our efforts at teaching and learning have maximum impact and the absolute best use is made of our very stretched education resources.