Trust. Without it any organization fails to reach its full efficiency potential. Employees avoid risk taking for fear of ridicule. Managers fail to delegate tasks because they fear others will not rise to the occasion. Supervisors micromanage because they fear employees are not being productive. Change moves slowly or not at all because all decisions are passed through an information bottleneck. Through these examples we can clearly see the antithesis of trust: fear. And as we all know fear paralyzes. It destroys motivation to try new things. It fogs the mind, hindering creative thought. It halts all movement for growth.
Like many schools, we have talked the game of growth mindset and constantly have reminded our teachers that we as administrators are here to help, to support, to coach, and to guide, but such good intentioned speeches often fall on uncultivated soil, and for good reasons. Many teachers have had experiences with administrators that have done nothing but break trust, creating in them walls that defend their heart from ridicule and embarrassment. Simply put, teaching is a personal experience into which the heart and soul is poured quite liberally, exposing a vulnerable display of self, leaving one’s identity in range of criticism. Without trust these walls can never be penetrated, no matter how well intentioned the feedback, transforming constructive comments into painful jabs.
As of the 2016-17 school year the implementation of the new Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (TTESS) throughout our state has created more stringent evaluations with the potential of further revealing teacher weaknesses in and out of the classroom. On top of the new TTESS expectations, we also began to use the Swivl robot to record our teachers to allow more in depth reflective opportunities. In fact, every teacher would be expected to record themselves at least once throughout the year. Needless to say, such an expectation resulted in quite the anxiety in our teachers. Nearly each teacher suddenly experienced a fear of failure, of being exposed, of being less than expected. I can say this with confidence because I too experienced the same fear. Why? Because Todd Nesloney, Melissa Boenker, and I developed an insane plan to also record ourselves teaching a class. And not only that, but to show those recordings to our teachers at our next staff meeting. But wait, we also asked our teachers to rate us using the same TTESS rubric that we would also be using with them on their evaluations and share their ratings with us anonymously through a google spreadsheet.
Needless to say, the thought filled me with dread of losing credibility with my teachers, of being labeled an incompetent assistant principal, of being exposed as a fraud. Each of us experienced similar fears, but nonetheless persevered and carried through with our plan, knowing that such a demonstration of transparency and vulnerability would develop in our teachers a sense of trust and a strong message that we are serious about having a growth mindset. Our teachers completed the following recordings and subsequent reflection meetings without complaint and with complete fidelity. I am very proud of our teachers and the courage they too demonstrated in the name of growth and doing what is best for kids.
Each day my principal, Todd Nesloney, begins our morning with the same exhortation: “Be brave.” As the leaders on our campus, we not only have to speak these all important words, but also live them out. I’m reminded of the quote, “Life begins at the end of our comfort zones.” I now exhort you to be brave, to do what it takes to build trust within those that follow you, even if it means demonstrating wild trust in them.