Moving Ahead with Motivation and Trust

Moving Ahead with Motivation and Trust

TrustSandI recently had the opportunity to spend time with a group of superintendents and principals during a summer professional development conference. The chance to gather together in a beautiful location and eliminate distractions provided a perfect background for engaging in the theme and topic of our time together: Moving Ahead with Motivation and Trust. As we began our time together, each participant was asked to share a leadership challenge. While the challenges varied, similar themes emerged around building trust and providing support and knowledge during change.

We explored the idea of collective trust in schools through the presentation and work of Dr. Patrick Forsyth.  As we thought about the trust expectations in various relationships, we revisited the five facets of interpersonal trust—honesty, openness, reliability, benevolence, and competence—recognizing the importance that each facet plays in creating trust. When you’re in a leadership role, the adage of “perception is reality” is true!  It can be a challenge for leaders to recognize that our own beliefs about our trustworthiness do not matter in comparison to the perception of those we are responsible for leading. Considering how to improve and increase the trust in our interpersonal relationships required us to reflect on the following questions:

  • Benevolence – Do others believe that we have their best interests in mind?
  • Reliability – Can others count on us to do what we’ve said we would?
  • Competence – Do others believe we have the competence to fulfill our role?
  • Honesty – Do others believe that we say what we mean and mean what we say?
  • Openness – Do others believe that we are straightforward and transparent in our actions and communications?

Moving beyond interpersonal trust to collective trust within a school community requires examination of a variety of trust relationships in order to determine to what extent groups collectively trust each other. Collective trust dynamics within a school include the teachers’ trust of students and parents, students’ trust of teachers, and parents’ trust of teachers, and all are a shared part of a school’s culture . The research we examined provided evidence for the fact that collective trust among these groups has a definite impact on overall effectiveness and can affect many facets of the school, including:

  • Academic Optimism
  • Collaboration
  • Authentic Interactions
  • Collegial Behavior
  • Enabling Structures
  • Student Achievement
  • Organizational Citizenship
  • Professionalism

Changing practice in order to improve instruction and increase learning and achievement can be difficult.  Building interpersonal and collective trust is an essential part of supporting that change process.

Educating individual children is a complex task. It requires professionals to have knowledge of current research and theory, and then be able to combine that knowledge with their practical, on-the-ground expertise to ultimately make the right instructional decisions for student learning. When trust is firmly in place, leaders can move beyond command and control and allow professional educators the flexibility they need to operate in the best interest of their students.

So how do leaders motivate people to do their best work in a trusting and flexible environment?  Our instincts may be to reward people (monetarily or otherwise) for a job well-done and implement consequences for less-than-optimum results. However, a look at the research on motivation, through the work of Daniel Pink, shows that education is far too complex for a carrots-and-sticks approach. In fact, the research shows that a rewards-and-punishment approach to motivation actually decreases productivity and effectiveness for people engaged in anything more than simple, routine, automated tasks. What really motivates those engaged in complex tasks is their sense of competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The challenge for leaders is to find ways to provide support in each of these areas to enable and motivate professionals.

Supporting autonomy in a trusting environment means finding ways to provide choices and flexibility. Autonomy does not mean everyone does whatever they want. There are a variety of small, medium, and large ways to offer choice that will build motivation. Can we provide opportunities for our teachers and students to have choice in their task, time, technique, and team? One example of building autonomy is the “genius hour” approach, where PLC groups, teachers, or students have allocated time for pursuing topics and projects of interest to them, letting their passions dictate their work. In a more structured context, perhaps we can find ways to provide:

  • a choice of projects or assignments on which to work
  • flexibility in the work or meeting time
  • options for the techniques, method, or approach to the work
  • opportunities to choose and/or rotate our working teams

Supporting competence includes providing teachers and students with a variety of ways to experience success. This requires a culture where productive struggle is valued and where trust enables risk-taking. Leaders and teachers need to provide conscious encouragement and support in order to build self-efficacy among teachers and students. In addition, teachers and students can build their motivation towards competence by having models of success to aspire to. How can we build a culture that supports and encourages people to strive towards mastery? Where can we offer instruction, change, and projects that are in the Zone of Proximal Development so that teachers and students experience success and continue to be motivated towards greater achievement?

Supporting relatedness comes from developing a sense of belonging and purpose. Both the meaning of the work and the knowledge that you are part of a team motivate people. One research study that was shared focused on a group of workers who worked in a particularly loud and isolating environment. They were given work breaks as a means to try and increase productivity. The study concluded that they were more motivated and productive after breaks. The surprise was that it was the social interaction during breaks, rather than the break in work itself, that truly made the difference. Teachers are often isolated from one another and could benefit from more opportunities to build purpose and relatedness from social interactions. How can we offer those opportunities for faculty and staff to engage with one another? How about for students? Are they permitted to form a group identity and purpose within a classroom, a grade, a school? Can we allocate time for students to relate to one another beyond their immediate friends and social circles? The Morning Meeting was one approach discussed for making this a routine part of student’s school experience.

As adults learning together at a conference, we took advantage of opportunities to build relatedness through sharing meals and attending a baseball game together! It was fun and it helped build connectedness. It allowed us to get to know each other and build a sense of purpose for our learning.  As you take time to reflect this summer and make your plans for the upcoming school year, consider how to implement some specific and intentional ways to build collective trust at school and increase motivation through competence, autonomy, and relatedness.  Also, providing chocolate, instead of carrots,  never hurts!

1 Comment

  1. Carolyn Deyo July 31, 2015 Reply

    Thanks Diane! These are excellent topics to drive effective PD.
    Of interest is an article you may already be familiar with from the Journal of Experimental Psychology 2014 called Breaking the Cycle of Mistrust: Wise Interventions to Provide Critical Feedback Across the Racial Divide.
    Stanford author Cohen gives a great example of how the specific word choices we make when providing feedback can have huge results, especially when trust is an issue.

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