The Battle Between Trust and Fear

In a battle of fear and trust, trust needs a great hand to win.

This morning’s always-provocative #satchatwc, hosted by Shelley Burgess, on the nature of trust, generated a rapid and steady stream of great, targeted, and pithy advice about how leaders can build trust in their organizations.  There were powerful quotes from Stephen Covey and others, all of it tested and true. The positive energy and understanding in a social-structed group like this is empowering, and it never fails to surprise me with how much we collectively know and can share.

But toward the end I had to post this query: With all this knowledge, understanding, and positive energy about trust, leading trust, empowering trust, building and re-building trust, why is trust so lacking in so many schools? Because the FACT of the matter is that trust amongst the rank and file at most schools is lacking, shallow, or fragile.

I think the answer is that fear is a stronger emotion than trust, and fear has always had a deep and powerful taproot in education systems.  There has always been a greater downside than upside to risk taking and trusting others in schools. Fear is probably a much stronger evolutionary emotion than trust, for very good reasons.

I would parse that Twitter stream for great advice on how to be a better trust leader at your school; there are a ton of tactics that work.  At a strategic level, we have to create long-term arcs to dig out the taproot of fear–shared leadership, public support for failure, rapid piloting, radical inclusion in strategic design–to give trust a better chance at overcoming the deep, pervasive fears that are embedded in school DNA. It works; I am seeing it work when we build this kind of capacity in a school organization. It takes time, is messy, and pushes all of us outside of our comfort zones.  But it works!

2 thoughts on “The Battle Between Trust and Fear

  1. Deborah Bright

    Sometimes, though, all it takes is a simple yet heartfelt gesture from an administrator regarding the stuff of the classroom (curriculum to schedule to furniture): “You’re the expert. Why don’t you tell me?” I am getting ready to move to a new school, and after years of starving for respect and trust or even awareness from my current administration, I am entering what feels like a beautiful clearing in a dark forest. Or a better metaphor: coming out of a cave into the sunshine of a San Diego day. And it’s all because people looked right at me, trusted my thirty years of teaching, and asked for my input. No fancy titles or prizes or plaques. Just respect. It means the world, because it tells me they also trust what I am doing in the classroom day in and day out. And that’s all I really ask for.

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