3 Things That Need To Be Reciprocated in Schools

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Aunt Owwee

A positive school culture is the only way that organizations will move forward, yet there is often a lot of little subtle messages on things that aren’t working that can slowly erode the climate.  I believe that I have said it before, but schools will not be “innovative” if they can’t work together.  You will only get pockets of teachers/classrooms that will have this in spite of the culture.

As teachers and administrators should be working together to do what is best for kids, in many conversations with schools there seems to be an expectation with some that some traits are the responsibility of either the teacher or the principal, not necessarily both.  As I am no longer a school principal or classroom teacher, these are things that I have thought about a long time and wish I saw more in schools, and to be honest, wish I would have done more myself in those positions.  Hindsight is 20/20, right?

Here are some things that need to be reciprocal as opposed to coming from one direction:

1.  Trust – As a principal, I trusted my staff without them earning it.  I expected and trusted they would do great things, and they would only lose that trust if they did something to prove me wrong.  It is so much easier to work in that situation, then having the feeling that you have to always prove yourself.  Yes you can get burned easier but people tend to live up to your expectations, whether they are good or bad.  Principals need to give trust if they are expecting to have it themselves.

“The first job of a leader—at work or at home—is to inspire trust. It’s to bring out the best in people by entrusting them with meaningful stewardships, and to create an environment in which high-trust interaction inspires creativity and possibility.”
― Stephen M.R. Covey

On the other hand, I have seen teachers question whether they could trust their principal or not and it seemed like they had to continuously earn it  from staff and community.  I always believe that if you are unsure of someone’s intentions, ask them.  Ultimately, we might not always agree with the way we do things, but we should always trust that everyone is in a school to do what is best for kids until they show something different.

2.  Loyalty – I have heard the discussion by many administrators that teachers need to not “bad mouth” the school when they are away, or throw their principal “under the bus”.  As I really believe in that, principals have to make sure that they are loyal to their teachers as well.  Parents can come in and say what a teacher is doing wrong, and a principal may agree with them to calm the parent down, which is NOT a good way to build community.  If principals expect loyalty from their staff, they better show loyalty in those tough situations as well.

In my first years as a teacher, I remember doing something really stupid and the parent complaining to the principal.  The principal at the time did everything to kind of calm down the parent but never said anything bad about me during the conversation.  He did tell the parent that we would have a conversation about it later though.  As soon as she left, he said to me, “What the heck were you thinking!?!?!!?”  Although it was tough to hear, I was so grateful that he didn’t say what he really thought to the parent but knew that it was something that was totally fixable and did not have any detriment to her child.  After that, I would do anything for him as I knew that he would always have the tough conversations with me, not behind my back.

3.  Praise – This might seem a little sappy, but I think that we do not give each other enough praise in schools as peers.  As a principal, the quote, “That is why you get paid the big bucks!”, is one of my biggest pet peeves.  Do you think that if your salary doubled (no matter your position), you wouldn’t want to hear that you have done a good job?  Praise should go up and down, not one way. If you see someone do something good, tell them.  It should always be sincere and heartfelt, but we should still give it out.  Don’t just assume people know they have done something well. Your position doesn’t matter. Hearing nice things is welcome from all :)

I am not saying that these don’t exist in any school.  Actually, from what I have seen, this is done in the best schools.  That is why I am sharing them!

The easy thing to do after reading these things is to think, “yeah, so-and-so DOESN’T do that enough in my school!”  The harder thing is to look at what we (myself included) could do more ourselves to make our school and organizational culture stronger.  As I go back to work on Monday, I am going to be thinking of these three things and focus on how I can improve on them in my own work.



  1. Perfect reminder of what we should already be modeling no matter what our position is in education. Like many of us, I have seen both ends of this process and have found that even if it’s just one person consistently modeling this Trust, Loyalty and Praise it has a positive affect on the team, if not the entire school/district. I do believe that it needs to start with the administrators of each building and to consistently reinforce these norms for continued successes. Thanks for the reminder as we begin to think work again on Monday!


  2. So true! And we need to see trust, loyalty and praise not only between the adults in the school, but also between adults and children and between the children themselves. We all tend to shine just a little bit brighter when we feel we are trusted, safe, and recognized.
    I will be thinking about how I can help build this on my staff and in my class over the next weeks. Thanks for the thoughtful reminder.

  3. This article really rings true with the experiences I have had. When a school staff has the strengths you mentioned above, it creates an environment in which a learning community can thrive.

  4. While I agree with what you are saying my question is how does one build this environment when it does not exist in a school?

    • I am not sure that one alone can building this environment, but one can only begin the process and gain the trust from others. As stated in Forbes, 5 Leadership Behaviors Loyal Employees Trust (http://onforb.es/JNwTKh) it is a two-way street of respect and trust. I have found that building trust either with your students or the adults you associate with tends to lead to respect and loyalty. That biggest challenge tends to be the follow-through and the consistency of modeling the behavior you seek of others. The process does not have to begin with the administrators of a building, but their support would make it easier. The process takes time and commitment, but builds relationships that allow for trust, loyalty and praise to occur naturally. As teachers we can begin to model this in our classrooms, our small/big teams and it could go viral to the entire school with time if the majority of staff models the behavior. I hope this answers your question.


  5. I agree with your three things administration and educators must reciprocate when working in an educational environment with students. To be considered a best or great organization, and as you posit, a great school, each party must possess the same mindset and principles to ensure everyone succeeds. I worked in the private sector, in corporate research and development, and the best departments had the best managers who exhibited these same things you’ve discussed, trust, loyalty, and praise. The best managers had reputations for setting their people up for success – these were the behaviors they exhibited as part of their management style, publicy and privately. I recently completed my first year teaching High School science, and by the beginning of my second month (~ November), I determined which administrators were ‘the best’ by how they demonstrated these reciprocating behaviors to the teaching staff. Unfortunately, the administrator evaluating all the new teachers was not one of them. It was a easy decision as tobwhether or not I would return to this school for the following school year. My colleagues were great, they helped me manage as best they could and supported me as much as possible, given the situation and conditions I was placed in as a first-year teacher. This was also the mindset and platform I used in my classroom. Most of my students began to trust me, once I showed faith and confidence in them. Also, care. By the end of the school year, several students felt they could come talk to me about anything. I praised them individually, and as a group, for small things, like receiving a good report from a substitute, and big things, like completing projects on time. My question is how does one determine whether these reciprocating behaviors are part of a school’s culture or not? If you haven’t taught (or been a substitute) in a particular district or school or know someone who does, what suggestions can you provide a prospective educator looking for a teaching job to evaluate these behaviors/beliefs/practices?

    • These are some great questions you are asking. I have some thought and suggestions as I would recommend. First, I would use the internet to explore the school district/school and what they are about (mission/philosophy, etc). I would look at their extracurricular activities, teacher webpages/blogs and even visit the community to get a better feel for what they are about. Second, if you were to have an interview with one of the schools, I would suggest jotting down some questions to ask the administrator/team. These questions may relate to administrator expectations of staff, goals they have for their teachers and/or how they handle a self driven staff member. These are just a few of the obvious suggestions that come to mind. I hope that they are helpful to you!


  6. These are precisely what set great schools apart. Working towards a common goal within these norms is powerful. I feel very fortunate to be part of a learning environment that values this.

  7. Nice post George! I kind of chuckled when I read the part about the first year teacher experience. Made me think that honesty, no matter how difficult, needs to be a key part of being a school administrator.

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