Trust: The Chicken or the Egg in the PLC Process?

One of the more frequent questions that we receive from teacher and administrative teams as they begin the PLC journey is “How can we possibly plan, implement, assess, and reflect together and move forward in this work as a team if we do not trust one another?”

While we do believe that creating a culture of shared responsibility in a PLC is essential and trust is a critical ingredient, we do not believe that the important work of collaboration must be put on hold until trust is built within and among team members.

When I first started teaching many years ago, I spent my weekends and summers working for an outdoor adventure and education program that specialized in leading adventure travel trips and facilitating specialized outdoor education programming.  We worked with Fortune 500 companies, small business, non-profit organizations, churches, and schools. The days we spent in team building were exciting, challenging, and fun. However, over time we found that while we could help twenty people scale a fifteen foot wall relying only one another other, and we could help participants fall into each other arms in blindfolded trust falls, we would hear from many groups that weeks later, once they were back in the workplace, all of the good feelings of the day spent in the woods were lost, and the teams fell back into negative patterns and dysfunctions.  We found that “what happed in the woods, stayed in the woods.”

Of course it did. The best time and place to build healthy teams and trust among team members is not somewhere else – out in the woods, it is in the work place, with actual teams, and actual work. We build trust by working together in collaborative teams, by sharing resources, by planning together, by observing each others classes, developing common assessments, examining the data, and reflecting with one another on how we might support students more effectively and improve our instructional practice. Trust is not built outside of the work of our team’s, trust is built in our teams, as we are doing the work.

When we are vulnerable as teachers, when we open-up, we develop high levels of trust, and then we watch as our teams become even stronger, feel empowered, and begin taking even more significant risks as teams. Patrick Lencioni (2006), puts it this way; “For a team to establish real trust, team members must be willing to take risks without a guarantee of success. The will have to be vulnerable without knowing whether that vulnerability will be respected and reciprocated.”

Trust is not a pre-requisite or requirement for us to be able to open-up and be vulnerable with one another, trust is a result of working together doing the hard work becoming a professional learning community in our teams.