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Building Trust – The First Step

September 3, 2013

ImageI recently had an experience in which my trust relationship with an employee was broken. The experience has been cause for a significant amount of reflection in which I’ve been asking myself what was missing in the foundation of the expectations. How could I have responded differently to the situation? The trust wasn’t just broken from my perspective. I feel comfortable that the employee feels the same way. Knowing this has led me to ask several reflective questions: How do I lead in repairing the relationship? Why is it important to repair the relationship? What was missing to start with that allowed the event to occur? The more thought I give the situation, the more I see that there is a crack in the foundation.

The Crack in the Foundation

ImageAs a principal and instructional leader, there is an inherent responsibility to provide staff with a clear understanding of the organization’s foundational values and vision. The larger vision on which our education system is built is to teach students to become independent citizens. In this case the instructional goal that supports that vision was to have students with severe handicaps participate in a general education lunch while developing skills to be able to transition to participating in this activity independently. Yet, as I reflect on the practice that was occurring, it strikes me that the goal wasn’t clearly communicated, the steps provided in the training weren’t being implemented and the materials to support the training weren’t available. There is a huge crack in this foundation.

The “glitch” in the goal was the difference in understanding that the expectation for achieving independence is expected in all activities on campus, not just the classroom. Directions have been given over a series of years that support a generalized concept of taking students to lunch which is very different from, “Use the prompting model and visual supports (training and materials provided to meet expectations) to support students in walking to the cafeteria, getting their lunch, sitting at the assigned table and taking in their meal with 100% independence by the beginning of February.” This goal than needed to be broken into clearly defined objectives to provide staff with an understanding of the process that it will take to get there. For example, an objective such as, “Support students in getting their food by using visual and gestural prompts after oral directions have been given. Provide 5 seconds of wait time in between prompts.” In clearly defining the goal and the objectives, staff would have had more knowledge on how to apply the training they have received in this specific situation. Clear expectations go a long way toward building trust.

In this particular situation, I noticed that staff didn’t have the visual prompts that have been created to support the prompting model built into the training they have received on how to support students with both receptive and expressive communication. It struck me that staff may not be clear that these materials are to be used at all times and not just during specific curricular activities. Again, clear expectations go a long way toward building trust. Staff need to understand what is expected of them at all times in order to be successful.

The situation has turned out to be blessing in disguise. We continuously look at how to improve programs and while the situation was incredibly uncomfortable, it has allowed for the realization that there are cracks in the foundation. The expectations were not as clear to staff as management thought they were. We’ll side step for a moment, fix the crack in the foundation, continue to build trust and grow strong programs for students.

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