3 Elements of Building Connection

In this article, we consider three elements of intentionally building connection, which TrustED school leaders regularly model:

1. Demonstrate Awareness of Others & Their Needs

A school leader exemplifies trust when he or she “demonstrates an awareness of the personal aspects of teachers and staff.”[1] We read in the book of Genesis that in the beginning God created man and declared that His creation was good. The original meaning of the Hebrew word good, as used in Genesis, communicates that God’s creation had value.[2] So, even after the Fall and introduction of sin into the world, God’s creation was still good because it had value.

Every individual is good in the sense of possessing value.

It does not mean that they are necessarily moral people all of the time – but they always have value and worth. Leaders, who understand this, treat and manage all in their care as individuals – always recognizing each person as unique and valuable, no matter their behavior.

Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart is quoted as saying, “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”[3] If there is one overarching principle in the Connection between school leadership and employees, it is hire well then support well. Any organization’s personnel are its greatest asset. Studies show that typically 70-80% of a school’s budget is dedicated to personnel costs.[4] Thus, the fundamental ideas of hiring well and supporting well protect that all-important investment.

2. Recognize that Healthy Relationships Begin in the HR Office

Building relationships with school employees, and demonstrating awareness of their needs, requires in-place processes that begin before hiring the individual. The Human Resource (HR) office must have a detailed and thorough application process, which provides opportunities to identify the unique qualities, interests, and potential life-challenges faced by an applicant. This requires an investment of time. When leaders rush to fill a position without thoroughly checking references, background, fit with school philosophy, etc., they are guaranteed more problems and headaches than having an empty position.

Over the years, quite a large number of boarding schools have failed to invest in quality HR practices, which has resulted in some horrible abuses.[5] Today, there is no excuse for this, as there are many quickly attainable resources, policies, and protocols available through the business world, which work effectively for schools.

“Businesses have far more similarities with schools than differences because both rely heavily on human factors for success; principles that apply universally to these human factors are helpful in both settings. This is why best practices in people management, processing change, and personnel development have universal application in both the business setting and the school”.[6]

3. Relationships are Stronger with Shared Norms

Normative conformity is important to any organization and essential for a faith-based school. The individuals serving in the school must share the same vision and embrace the school’s approach to education as a ministry. According to Hoy and Miskel, two areas have significant importance in creating healthy norms within a school.

“The first rests on formal education and cognitive knowledge. Professionals learn standard methods of practice and normative rules about appropriate behavior. The second comes from the growth of professional networks and associations that span organizations and allow new models to diffuse rapidly. Associations of teachers and administrators, for example, facilitate the exchange of information among professionals and provide policies and practices that can be copied throughout education.”[7]

In the hiring process, schools must be sure to question and explore teacher applicants as to their beliefs and practices in regards to topics such as classroom management, inclusion, standards-based instruction, grading philosophy, special education, differentiation, homework, values integration, etc. Leaders must ensure that their school has clear statements and standards of expectations in all of these areas and more. These areas can be future sources of conflict – destroying relationships between teachers and leaders, if expectations are not clear in advance.

Once a faculty or staff member has joined the school, the trusted leader’s focus turns to supporting them well. For example, when processing decisions they constantly ask, “What is this decision’s impact on our personnel?” Protecting and maintaining the level of job satisfaction is a characteristic of TrustED School Leadership.

Faculty and staff who are happy in their work environment, fulfilled in their professional tasks, cared for in their personal challenges, and trusted with their work, flourish and help produce a successful and positive school environment for all.[8]

This requires leaders who make connections with their faculty and staff – demonstrating an awareness of who they are as individuals.

©2018 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.


[1] Marzano et. al., School Leadership That Works, 732, Kindle.

[2] “Genesis 1:31,” Bible Hub, accessed 23 June 2016, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/genesis/1-31.htm.

[3] Silverstein, Best Practices, 244-246, Kindle.

[4] Pue, Rethinking Sustainability, 2029-2030, Kindle.

[5] Andrea Smith, “Boarding School Abuses, Human Rights and Reparations,” Journal of Religion & Abuse 8, no. 2 (2006): 5-21.

[6] Frost, Learning from the Best, 1256-1258, Kindle.

[7] Hoy and Miskel, Educational Administration, 284, Kindle.

[8] Megan Tschannen-Moran and Wayne K. Hoy, “A Multidisciplinary Analysis of the Nature, Meaning, and Measurement of Trust,” Review of Educational Research 70, no. 4 (2000): 547-593.

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