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5 Ways to Build Sustainable Relationships Within Your School


Note: Alan Blankstein, president and founder of the HOPE Foundation, shares some of the work he has been doing to transform public schools with a guest post today.


Building relational trust with school staff is a precursor to sustainable success. In the HOPE Foundation's work in thousands of schools and districts, this trust has been built by the leader using the following approaches:

1. Listen First. The new-leader syndrome, however, often entails changing things quickly to establish authority. Many veteran leaders, on the other hand, may feel they already know what is best and may move forward without building consensus. In both cases, the "slow" part of going fast- listening- is cut out of the process and initiatives are short-lived.

2. Over communicate. As stated in number 1, it is best to do a lot of listening in the relationship-building process and checking in with people to align their perceptions and your intentions as a leader is also critical. To that end, it helps to clearly communicate one's own perspective or point of view- and to do it often. If this is vague for people, or if there is a void of communication, it is often filled in with others' fears, worst-case scenarios, and rumors.

3. Confront inappropriate behaviors. There is little that will undermine a leader more than to ignore inappropriate behaviors. While it enables people to avoid a short-term conflict, it also erodes trust in the leader. The outcome is that respect for the leader and confidence in the school community's ability to succeed is diminished among those who are adhering to the agreed-upon norms.

4. Create fail-free zones. While confronting behaviors is necessary, so is indicating in advance the rules by which people will be judged. Failing in a pilot project or doing poorly in a new instructional practice, for example, should be off limits. Refusing to be coached, to collaborate, or to modify one's instruction when data reveals the need to do so, by contrast, may be among the areas in which a learning community might agree would require intervention.

5. Engage staff on a voluntary basis initially to gain support and build capacity. One school's leadership team successfully introduced learning walks in a non-threatening manner beginning with volunteers, calling it peer-to-peer, and avoiding any formal evaluations initially. Another example of going slow to later go fast is to develop the staff's capacity for making the change by creating a common language and knowledge base.

This article is an excerpt from the book Failure Is NOT an Option: 6 Principles for Making Student Success the ONLY Option (Corwin Press) written by Alan Blankstein, founder of the HOPE Foundation. For more information regarding Relational Trust as Foundation for the Learning Community refer to chapter 4.

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