Cultivating a focused and collaborative learning environment requires healthy and collegial relationships among teachers and administrators. These relationships are built upon trust, and enable school personnel to stay focused on fostering a dynamic learning environment for their students (Parrett & Budge, 2012). As a result, “trust building is a necessary component of school improvement” (Parrett & Budge, 2012, p. 102).
To better understand the relationship between trust building and school reform, consider the Nah Tah Wahsh Public School Academy’s adoption of a new teacher evaluation system. Nah Tah Wahsh is a Priority School located on the Hannahville Indian reservation in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In 2012, Nah Tah Wahsh was designated a "Priority School" (i.e., the school was determined to be in the bottom 5% of Michigan's statewide Top-to-Bottom ranking).
Since receiving its Priority School designation, Nah Tah Wahsh has successfully implemented a number of structural and instructional changes to increase student learning. This article highlights the efforts of the faculty and administration to build trust between each other around using a new teacher evaluation system.
The new evaluation system was introduced to Nah Tah Wahsh in hopes of improving student learning outcomes. Carol Swingle, the MSU MI Excel outreach specialist assigned to the school, describes this phase of the trust building process: “we had to move from a compliance mentality to an improvement mentality.” In order to adopt an “improvement mentality,” teachers and administrators had to trust in the value of the school’s reform efforts—including the new evaluation system.
When the new system was introduced at Nah Tah Wahsh, many teachers were apprehensive about it, because the system put forth a new and unfamiliar set of provisions for teachers. As Carol describes, “it took some time to build trust in the new requirements and system—to move beyond the “I gotcha” mindset.”
For Nah Tah Wahsh, building trust in this new system required buy-in from teachers. Namely, these stakeholders needed to understand the connection between evaluation practices and school improvement efforts (i.e., believing in the validity of this structural change). Nah Tah Wahsh administrators gained teacher buy-in by demonstrating to the teachers that this new evaluation system supported the other reform efforts going on in the school (for example, using data to inform instruction). Moreover, building trust in the teacher evaluation system called for administrators to be constructive with teachers by providing clear, targeted, focused, and positive feedback throughout the evaluation process. Lastly, building trust required teachers to be reflective about their own instructional and pedagogical practices, as well as open to administrators’ feedback.
Nah Tah Wahsh’s experience exemplifies how implementing a new teacher evaluation system requires administrators and faculty members to trust—trust in the validity of the newly implemented change, and trust each other throughout the process of implementing and engaging with these changes. To cultivate the level of trust needed to be successful, faculty members must believe that the evaluation system is a good-faith effort to help teachers improve their practice and, ultimately, student learning. To that end, administrators must involve faculty in the design and implementation of the evaluation system in authentic and meaningful ways (Danielson, 2010).
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Budge, K, & Parrett, W. (2012). Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Danielson, Charlotte, “Evaluations That Help Teachers Learn,” Educational Leadership 68, 4 (December 2010): 35-39.