It would make sense that collaboration is effective when there is trust between the collaborators. However, this conventional wisdom is not easily translated in many schools (Tschannen-Moran, 2009, 2014). Such shortfall is not the fault of these schools, but it is inherent in the school’s organizational structure and system. Sometimes the hierarchy of roles within an institution inhibits the fostering of trust. In other words, defined roles such as teacher or administrator hinders the openness between levels of authority. And this lack of transparency affects the staff’s trust for one another.
However, the National Faculty of School Reform’s (NFSR) Critical Friend’s Group (CFG) model can offer one solution to building trust. Their CFG model are designed to minimize vulnerability through structured conversations. CFG activities constrain the interactions in order to provide equity amongst the teacher participants’ voices. In turn, such environment supports trust.
From my experience with CFG activities, some have been very particularly powerful in establishing trust. When schools adopt such activities regularly, teachers build stronger connection with their colleagues. So allow me to elaborate on a few CFG activities
Establishing norms when starting a new team is very important. It allows group members to have a common understanding of expectations when participating in a meeting. During CFG norm setting activity, group members must reach consensus on what is valued. These values include participants’ equity in sharing, honoring the time, and setting confidentiality. The time taken to establish such norms is valuable. Often groups would write these agreements on chart paper and keep these posted during their future meetings. Reinforcement of these norms in later CFG conversations fosters a culture of trust.
In my experience, establishing norms seems trivial to most teachers. However, when conflict or disagreement arises, referring back to the agreed upon norms is powerful. Such quick reminder honors the group’s time in creating these. As well, they become a set guiding principles for the facilitator to conduct CFG conversations.
Zone of Comfort
Understanding one’s comfort level helps teachers relate to each other and this relationship promotes trust. In the Zone of Comfort CFG activity, an area of the floor is marked with three concentrate circles, much like an arrow target board. The location of the bulls eye indicates an area of great discomfort. On the other hand, the outermost rim is designated as most comfortable area. The facilitator would read aloud a list of activities with varying levels of risk. Meanwhile participants responded by moving to their “zones of comfort”in performing these tasks. Examples of task statements might be “sing in front of their students”, “dance at a wedding”, or “try scuba diving”, or “talk about politics”. Through this activity, participants learn more about their peer’s comfort level.
When we did this activity at the beginning of the year, I was pleasantly surprised about my colleagues. I learned that I, a Chinese Canadian, was less confident about ordering food in Cantonese than our Scottish PE teacher. Or that the most assertive member in our gang had reservations about certain collaborative activities. We all had varying levels of comfortability for any given task. As a result these surprising insights helped me learn more about my colleagues and further deepen my trust.
Chalk talk Protocol
In CFG’s Chalk Talk Protocol, participants respond in writing to a driving question. This activity is done in silence, participants may respond, build up, and add to others’ written comments. Such activity also builds trust in that responses are not personalized. That is, the ownership of the unfolding conversation belongs to the entire group.
During one of our whole school session, we did a modified Chalk Talk activity with our whole school visioning. We ignited our teachers to put their ideas on our large whiteboard, and had teachers responded to these. Through this process, everyone felt they had ownership to the story that was unfolding. And that was bringing all of us together to a united vision. What more can we ask for when building trust in a school community.
Tschannen-Moran, M. (2009). Fostering teacher professionalism in schools: The role of leadership orientation and trust. Educational Administration Quarterly, 45(2), 217-247.
Tschannen-Moran, M. (2014). Trust matters: Leadership for successful schools. John Wiley & Sons.