4 Significant Results from Developing Trusted School Leadership

“Trust forms the foundation for effective communication, associate retention, motivation, and contributions of discretionary energy.”[1]  – Susan M. Heathfield

Heathfield is identifying four essential results vital to the successful operation of a school:

First is Communication – A very large part of every school leader’s role is providing clear, purposeful, meaningful, timely, and transparent communication with all stakeholders. Research reveals that communication is a key factor in developing trust between the administration and the school community, as well as openness, the willingness to take risks, and integrity.[2]

Second is Retention – The Indiana State Teachers Association conducted an extensive study, demonstrating that teacher attrition results in: hindering a school’s ability to maintain a stable and effective learning environment; negatively affecting student achievement; greater levels of student misbehavior; and higher operational costs as turnover expenditures can run into the thousands of dollars per teacher.[3] The report concluded that schools exhibiting high levels of trust possess high levels of teacher retention. Trusted schools provide more stable and effective learning environments. They also experience higher levels of student achievement, lower incidents of student behavioral problems, and have a stronger financial bottom line.

Third is Motivation – According to research conducted by The Urban Institute, in motivating and keeping teachers engaged, the number one factor is school leadership, followed by facilities and resources, teacher empowerment, PD, mentoring, and time.[4] Trusted leadership makes all the difference and trumps all the other indicators. If schools want to see highly motivated teachers and students, then they must invest in developing highly trusted leaders.

The fourth essential result from high levels of trust is Contributions of discretionary energy – Many independent schools are only able to provide a broad and robust academic and extracurricular program through generous and internally motivated efforts of faculty and staff. Where trust levels are high, school employees are far more likely to contribute time and energy beyond their compensated hours.[5] Trusted leaders do not take advantage of this. Schools that expect employees to give of time and energy beyond paid hours in the name of school spirit or in the case of faith-based schools, in the name of ministry, will find their trust levels sliding. The Apostle Paul stated that “the worker is worthy of their hire.”[6] When school leaders set the expectation that workers should voluntarily contribute beyond their contractual obligations, it breeds frustration, discontent, and disloyalty – and a dispassion for school spirit or ministry.

With high levels of trust however, employees are engaged and freely give discretionary time and energy.[7]

©2016 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.


[1] Susan Heathfield, “How to Build a Teamwork Culture,” About Money, accessed 18 June 2016, http://humanresources.about.com/od/involvementteams/a/team_culture.htm.

[2] V. Chhuon, E.M. Gilkey, M. Gonzalez, A.J. Daly and J.H. Chrispeels, “The little district that could: The process of building district-school trust,” Educational Administration Quarterly 44, no. 2 (2008):  227-281. See Chapter 4 for more on building trust through clear communication.

[3] “The Importance of Teacher Retention for Improving Student Achievement,” Indiana State Teachers Association, accessed 18 June 2016, https://ista-in.org/the-importance-of-teacher-retention-for-improving-student-achievement.  See Chapter 5 for more on how high trust levels increase teacher retention rates.

[4] Helen F. Ladd, “Teachers’ Perceptions of their Working Conditions: How Predictive are Policy-Relevant Outcomes?” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 33, no. 2 (2011): 235-261. See Chapter 5 for more on how to build trust through motivation.

[5] Elinar M. Skaalvik and Sidsel Skaalvik, “Teacher self-efficacy and teacher burnout: A study of relations,” Teaching and Teacher Education 26, no. 4 (2010): 1059-1069.

[6] I Timothy 5:18 (NASB).

[7] Dan-Shang Wang and Chia-Chun Hsieh, “The effect of authentic leadership on employee trust and employee engagement,” Social Behavior and Personality 41, no. 4 (2013): 613-624.


  1. That communication also means keeping them on the same page you are on. In this era of reform it is better (actually your responsibility) to communicate your understanding of the “why.” The result just may be bringing people along as opposed to feeling like you have to “sell” something.

    As you point out under #3, School Leadership is critical. It is important for school leaders to stay out in front of the reforming landscape so the communication is clear. While I am a strong advocate for data-driven decisionmaking, NCLB did a lot of damage to mindsets as well. There is too much reliance on waiting for the data and then rather than changing what caused the outcomes, trying to manipulate the outcomes with gimmicks that put kids at risk.

    Liked by 1 person

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