Building Professional Trust

One of my professional goals this year is to encourage teachers to reflect, by providing them with the tools and time to do so. In addition, my goal is to model reflection for them. Each week I am sending out a “Friday Focus” which will share my reflections with staff on what I have recently encountered or learned about. Here is my most recent Friday Focus.


“What you teach today in your first grade classroom matters to those students when they are in fourth grade. and well beyond.” ~Unknown

When I attended Regie Routman’s Literacy and Leadership Institute this past summer, one of the leaders of a breakout session (a principal from Colorado) shared this quote with us. In addition, she talked about how her staff, over time, developed professional trust with one another. I almost snickered when someone asked, “What do you mean by professional trust?” But I was amazed by her profound response…

“If we have professional trust amongst us, then a 2nd grade teacher can trust that the student coming to her has been taught appropriately and can trust that when she moves that student on, that in the following grade levels, that student will be receiving the same great instruction and focus on learning as she had dedicated to that student.  As a teacher, you trust that the growth that you have seen in your students will continue year after year, no matter which teacher they are placed with.  Unfortunately, it only takes one teacher’s practice to compromise the work of the entire school.”

Wow! Until I heard her say this, my understanding of the term “professional trust” was very superficial. As a teacher, I was always naturally collaborative and thrived on learning from my colleagues that shared their great ideas, successes and their failures (so I wouldn’t make the same mistakes!) When I heard complaints from some of my colleagues that didn’t want to spend their prep time planning with others (because they just wanted to focus on “their” kids) I never agreed with that point of view, but I could understand how it can seem time consuming or “messy” trying to get a group of people to all agree on what they are going to do.

This explanation of professional trust has completely solidified for me why it is so important that we collaborate. Not just that we’re meeting each week, but that we are developing common expectations within our grade levels and across all of our grade levels. So that whatever grade you teach, you know what all of your incoming students were taught last year and you know where you need to get your students by the end of this year. And if you have a student or multiple students not meeting that expectation, you know that you have your PLC to rely on—to learn what your colleague did in his classroom that was more effective for a particular skill or that when you send your students out for WIN (Intervention) time, that teachers’ heart is in it for “your” kids just as much as yours is.

Over the past two days our 3/5th grade teachers (as well as MS/HS English teachers) spent an entire day scoring students’ 6 Traits Essays collaboratively. Before beginning this process, each group scored the same student papers together and discussed why they chose that score for each writing trait to come to inter-rater reliability, or a common agreement on scoring. While this process took time and work, it is found by Douglas Reeves to be an effective practice for teachers to develop common expectations that impact student learning. By having these discussions at the beginning of the year, teachers develop a collective understanding of what a student must do to earn a score of a 3 or a 5 when they are writing.

As we discuss our beliefs on reading and writing and come to agreement on our beliefs collectively, we will be laying the foundation for our common expectations and practices as well as building our professional trust amongst one another.

“Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him,and let him know that you trust him.” ~Booker T. Washington


  1. What do you do with resistant teachers? It’s not the fully engaged teachers who fail to earn professional trust…

    September 25, 2011
  2. Chris Wejr said:

    Great discussion topic Jessica. I recently read “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and in it, the author spoke a lot on trust and accountability… And asked the question: are we accountable to each other. I asked myself, “is a grade 4 teacher accountable to a grade 1 teacher? (and vice versa)”. They should be… But are they? I have spoken to a few teachers and had some great conversations regarding this. (Due to some contract stuff, we are unable to meet as a staff until further notice).

    Makes me really question the old “trust-building” one shot, start-of-year activities. Building trustbis so much deeper than this and includes being able to challenge and be accountable to each other as professionals.

    Thanks for the great post!

    September 27, 2011
  3. In my current location, I have the privilege of working with a true teaching partner. We trust each other enough to formatively analyze student work, flexibly group them, and then each take a group for re-teaching or enrichment.

    Our students are used to going from one classroom to another. One of his students sent me a card that said, “Thank-you for being my half-teacher.”

    Throughout the day, we discuss what we are seeing and what our students need. We divide and conquer tasks to lesson the planning burden.

    Not everyone can do what we do – and we often wonder about that. What keeps professionals from trusting one another enough to collectively analyze student work and “share” students depending on their learning needs for a particular lesson?

    To me, team teaching that works is the ultimate example of trust.

    Janet |

    September 27, 2011

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