Eric Twadell

Eric Twadell, PhD, is superintendent of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. He has been a social studies teacher, curriculum director, and assistant superintendent for leadership and organizational development.

Building Trust

One of the more frequent questions that we receive from teacher and administrative teams as they begin the PLC journey is this: “How can we possibly plan, implement, assess, and reflect together and move forward in this work as a team if we do not trust one another?”


While we do believe that creating a culture of shared responsibility in a PLC is essential and trust is a critical ingredient, we do not believe that the important work of collaboration must be put on hold until trust is built within and among team members.


When I first started teaching many years ago, I spent my weekends and summers working for an outdoor adventure and education program that specialized in leading adventure travel trips and facilitating specialized outdoor education programming.  We worked with Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, non-profit organizations, churches, and schools. The days we spent in team building were exciting, challenging, and fun. However, over time we found that while we could help twenty people scale a fifteen foot wall relying only on one another, and we could help participants fall into each other arms in blindfolded trust falls, we would hear from many groups that weeks later, once they were back in the workplace, all of the good feelings of the day spent in the woods were lost, and the teams fell back into negative patterns and dysfunctions.  We found that “what happed in the woods, stayed in the woods.”


Of course it did. The best time and place to build healthy teams and trust among team members is not somewhere else – out in the woods – it is in the work place, with actual teams, and actual work. Team members build trust by making commitments to one another about how they’re going to work together. Trust develops over time as team members honor those commitments. We build trust by working together in collaborative teams, by sharing resources, by planning together, by observing each other's classes, developing common assessments, examining the data, and reflecting with one another on how we might support students more effectively and improve our instructional practice. Trust is not built outside of the work of our teams, trust is built in our teams as we are doing the work.


When we are vulnerable as teachers, when we open-up, we develop high levels of trust, and then we watch as our teams become even stronger, feel empowered, and begin taking even more significant risks as teams. Patrick Lencioni (2006), puts it this way: “For a team to establish real trust, team members must be willing to take risks without a guarantee of success. They will have to be vulnerable without knowing whether that vulnerability will be respected and reciprocated.”


Trust is not a pre-requisite or requirement for us to be able to open-up and be vulnerable with one another. Trust is a result of working together, doing the hard work of becoming a professional in our learning community teams.  


Amy Hughes

Thank you for your insights into building trust in my school as we begin working in teams. We are currently struggling to focus on student learning because there is a lot of distrust and blame among the staff. Your article gave me some ideas for encouraging my staff to take risks by taking risks myself. If I open my self to criticism, I will demonstrate that I am willing to learn and grow as an educator for the sake of supporting student learning.

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