We're now WorkTogether Talent Consulting. We remain dedicated to serving the education sector. Explore our new look and services!
Skip to content

Building Trust in Educational Organizations

J.Drew Tonissen of the Hunt Institute explains that trust is a vital component of a strong and effective education organization culture. Karen Louis, and Kyla Wahlstrom, both of whom are affiliated with research about educational improvement at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, perfectly summed up this concept in Kappan Magazine:

“…neither organizational learning nor the professional community can endure without trust—between teachers and non-teaching administrators, among teachers, and between teachers and parents.”

On a broader level, research shows how important trust is in organizations of all kinds, including those in the education sector. A recent Edelman study surveyed 33,000 people in 28 countries and found that one-third of employees do not trust their employer. Less than 25 percent describe their CEO as exhibiting highly ethical behavior.

Trust is imperative for the growth and success of your education organization. This guide provides more information about trust on a general level, vital components that contribute to building trust, the benefits of trust for your education organization, and tips on building confidence as a leader in your education organization.

Likability Is NOT the Same as Trust

Many mistake likability for trust. We automatically think we should trust someone if we believe they are a nice person or the kind of person we want to spend time with outside of work. These types of statements demonstrate how much we like someone. For many, this is enough to give trust to others. This, however, is only part of the equation. Being a good person does not mean someone can always get the job done. As a leader in an education organization, you need both.

This is an important distinction because many education leaders unintentionally optimize for likability as a means to build trust. They focus on building friendships with their team members to ensure their team will trust them more.

What IS trust if it isn’t likability?

Trust IS Intentions & Behavior

Scholars who published work about trust across disciplines proposed defining trust as a psychological state. This state combines the intent to accept vulnerability based on the positive expectations of another person’s intentions or behavior. More simply, trust is a combination of intentions and behavior. It’s people’s perception of who you are and their expectation of what you can do.

The Four Cores of Trust

Author Stephen M.R. Covey defines trust similarly in his book, Speed of Trust. To Covey, trust is the belief in who a person is and their abilities—a person’s character and capabilities. Covey further breaks down trust into “Four Cores”:

  • Integrity. This refers to honesty and behaving in a way that is consistent with your beliefs. You cannot trust someone unless you believe they have integrity. When assessing another’s integrity, a person wonders if the other has strong values that align with their own.
  • Intent. This is your agenda, motivation, or mission. Your team needs to trust your intent before they can trust you. A person evaluating your intentions will wonder if you are selfish or thinking of others and whether you have considered both long- and short-term consequences of your decisions.
  • Capabilities. These are your talents, attitudes, skills, and knowledge. When someone determines whether to trust you, they will consider whether you can do the job as well as you claim.
  • Results. This is your past performance. You cannot be trusted unless you show evidence that demonstrates you can be trusted to follow through. When a team member thinks about your results, they will think about the outcomes you’ve gotten that prove they can trust you.

Trust as Warmth & Competence

Organizational experts Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger provide another lens to understand trust in education organizations. Their research reveals two vital elements for an educational leader to receive trust from their team—warmth and competence. According to psychologists, these two dimensions account for over 90 percent of the variance in our positive or negative impressions of those around us.

According to Cuddy, et al., showing warmth includes positive body language, affirming works, generous actions, and even a smile. Similarly, you can project competence through body language, proven results, and future actions. Their research echoes the idea that trust is intentions and behavior. Showing warmth shows your intent, and your behavior shows your competence.

Genuinely understanding the definition of trust helps lay the groundwork for you to build trust in your team. In addition to understanding why your team might not trust you, you can begin to brainstorm about the best ways to build your team’s confidence. The clearer understanding we have of trust, the more straightforward path we have to our education teams trusting us more.

Benefits of Building Trust in Education Organizations

Your education organization can reap several benefits when leaders build trust with team members. They include:

Improves role performance 

A study published in Applied Psychology revealed that trust in leadership has a significant relationship with the following individual outcomes: enhanced role performance, reduced employee turnover, increased employee satisfaction in their role, and increased organizational commitment among employees.

Increases employee engagement

According to a Gallup study of more than 10,000 people, employees have a one in 12 chance of being engaged when they do not trust the leadership in their organization. The likelihood of employee engagement skyrockets to more than one in two when leaders take the time to establish trust with their employees.

Encourages employees to spread the word about the organization

Trust is also contagious. It provides a vehicle for growth for your education organization because engaged employees who trust their employer will organically spread the word about your organization. The Edelman study referenced above also revealed that employees who trust their leadership team are more likely to advocate for their organization.

Enables dissent and open flow of communication

Trust creates a culture that promotes open communication, so your team feels comfortable giving honest feedback. In an article published in Harvard Business Review, Cuddy et al., explain that a foundation of trust inspires employees to be internally committed to a leader’s goals. When trust is not present, team members only outwardly comply. Additionally, education organizations that lack trust promote a highly self-interested culture in which team members have the attitude of “every employee for themself.”

The 3 Most Effective Ways to Build Trust in Your Education Organization

You now know what trust is and the benefits your education organization can experience by building trust, but how exactly do you build confidence in an effective and meaningful way?

Show vulnerability as an education leader.

Research shows that 28 percent of people believe that the most effective way to build trust as an education leader is to be vulnerable and admit your shortcomings.

Communicate the intent behind your actions and decisions.

Almost the same amount of people, 26 percent, believe showing your actions’ clear intent is the most effective way to build trust. Considering intent plays such a large part in the definition of trust, this should not come as a surprise. Communicating the intent behind your actions or inaction includes being open and transparent with your decision-making.

Follow through on commitments.

Almost one out of five (18 percent) employees believe that merely following through on commitments is the most effective way to build trust with team members.

5 Ways Your Team Can Get to Know You Better

On the most fundamental level, others will not trust you unless they know who you are. Christopher Hannegan, the author of the Edelman study mentioned above and the EVP and U.S. Practice Chair for Employee Engagement, explains that employees want to understand their leaders at a personal level—know them as people. This also includes understanding the values that drive them. If you are a leader in an education organization, you have to let those you supervise get to know you as a person.

Share your personal values related to education.

The Edelman study revealed that 80 percent of employees wish education leaders discussed their personal values. Share what matters to you, what inspires you, and who your personal heroes are.

Share your personal success story, including the obstacles you’ve overcome.

Almost 75 percent of employees want to know the obstacles their managers have overcome, and 68 percent want to hear personal success stories from managers. Share with your team the people who influenced your life, the most formidable challenge you’ve faced, and that for which you are most grateful. The more your team knows about your personal story, the more they can empathize and identify with you as a person.

Share what you’re working on.

Your team members care about what is going on in your education organization. Share information about upcoming projects or exciting things you are working on. Not only do you let them know you better, but you can inspire them, too.

Share your personal hobbies.

The more personal information you share with your team, the greater connection they will feel with you. Share things like how you spend your free time, new skills you’ve been trying to learn, the things that make you laugh, your favorite books, or anything else you are comfortable sharing with your team.

Share the long-term societal impact you want to have in education.

You and your team members share a passion for ensuring children can access education in the best way possible. Share the impact you want to make as an education leader to foster a connection where you already have common ground.

How to Build Trust When You’re Working Remotely

Remote work has become more common in the education sector because of the arrival of COVID-19. 

Remote work poses challenges for everyone involved, however building trust remains essential. Remote work requires your team to trust you and that you trust your team to do what needs to be done. 

Some tips for building trust when working remotely include:

Proactively share progress.

Sharing progress on a particular project or goal demonstrates to your team that you follow through. On an individual level, it shows the entire team that others contribute, significantly promoting trust among team members.

Play detective about your team’s working style.

Working well with someone, especially in a remote working situation, requires understanding their work habits and style. Ask your team members about the traits they value in coworkers, the time of day when they are most productive, times when they do not like interruptions, and about any specific worries or issues related to your education organization.


Clarify your expectations, then clarify them again.

One of the most challenging parts of any working relationship—remote or otherwise—is getting on the same page concerning expectations. Offer your team members specific goals that define success when met, examples of the quality of work you expect, the amount of hours you expect them to work each day, what constitutes an “urgent” task or email, and your expectations for communication.

Get to know your team.

When you work in the same physical location as your team, you have plenty of opportunities to build trust and rapport. It’s not quite that simple when working remotely, especially with new team members. Set time aside for the occasional in-person lunch, coffee over Zoom, and small chats before or after calls or video conferences to check in with your team members and see what’s going on in their lives.

Remote work poses challenges for building trust, but focusing on these four areas will get you on the right path with your team.

You’ve learned that by definition, trust is the combination of intentions and behavior. Still, things like integrity, warmth, and competence also play a part in building trust in your education organization. With tips on building trust with your team members and showing them who you are, you are better equipped to promote a culture of trust in your organization, which is a win-win for everyone involved.

Contact us to learn about other ways to help your education organization thrive. 

Back To Top