Category Archives: Trust in Schools

Petersburg Rising Film Complete – What’s Next?

We have met our initial goals to date, thanks to the generous support of people like YOU who are credited within the now completed, Petersburg Rising film!

Petersburg Rising

  • Has won First Place in the Oliver White Hill Social Justice film festival;
  • Is now being sponsored & supported by the Virginia  Governor’s Film Office;
  • Will Premier in the Richmond International Film Festival September 11, 2021 at the venerable Byrd Theater;
  • Is being featured on PBS-Affiliated VPM throughout the state beginning this fall and before hitting the national airwaves.


While we are ecstatic over having gotten the film produced and agreements in place assuring that will allow thousands of people will view it,  we still have an even greater opportunity ahead: impacting the lives of millions of children, and uplifting families and communities nationwide and beyond.

See updates, get more information about screenings, or donate at the film website: Petersburg Rising – Short Film Documentary (

License/Purchase –

Building Trust in Schools

The pioneering work around the importance of building trust in schools is more critical now than ever due to our current political climate, growing xenophobia, and the credibility of our media, judiciary branch and intelligence community being called into question regularly. In my first edition of Failure Is Not an Option ™ , I drew on the work of Bryk and Schneider 2002; 2010) and that of extraordinary practitioners throughout N. America who have acted on the fact that if there’s no relational trust between and among the adults in schools, there’s virtually no progress among students in those same schools in their math and literacy scores over a 5-year longitudinal study period.

Yet, there are many strategies that can be deployed – first by the leader and his or her lead team – to build a trusting culture to the benefit of the students. These strategies would be used  both in classroom settings, and in the development of the pillars of a high-performing culture in general, like the creation of common mission, vision, values and goals.

The strategies mentioned below are part of a series that will be shared over the coming months, most of which can be found in greater detail in Failure Is Not an Option (Corwin, 2013). It is my hope that we exert influence wherever we can on behalf of our children. There is no place in which this is more crucial than in our schools, and there is no better place to begin than in the area of building trusting relations.

The framework for building affinity and relational trust can be captured in part via the diagram below.

Each time we engage people in something positive, their communication, shared reality and affinity is enhanced. For example, Project Boost in New Yok, was designed to give impoverished 8th graders experience they would not otherwise have, as a means of expanding their horizons and ultimately moving them toward seeing college as a viable reality. As a result of a shared experience –like going to a museum or eating in a restaurant– the children, their attending families, and school personnel have a new shared reality, begin to communicate around that experience, and enhance their affinity for one another.

In the coming weeks, I’ll share a number of one-to-one strategies teachers and administrators can deploy to enhance relational trust in schools. If you have any questions prior, feel free to drop me an e-mail at:

Where there’s hope,
Failure Is Not an Option ™

Relational trust in schools among ADULTS is essential to student success.

Yet with teacher evaluation, new assessments, budget cuts and the like, trust can become frayed.

This SERIES—excerpted from the forthcoming third edition of the award-winning Failure Is NOT an Option®: 6 Principles That Advance Student Achievement in Highly Effective Schools; is focused on some specific strategies to build trust in schools.

Relationships are at the core of successful learning communities as well as student success. In its Set for Success report of 2002, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation summarizes, “Stated simply, positive relationships are essential to a child’s ability to grow up healthy and achieve later social, emotional, and academic success”.

Those positive relationships begin with the adults in the school building and district. The personal rapport among teachers, students, and parents influences students’ school attendance and their sustained efforts at difficult school tasks. The history of relations between the principal and the teaching staff determines teachers’ willingness to take on new initiatives, and the relationships among adults in the school greatly influence the extent to which students in that school will succeed academically. In essence, if the adults in the building get along, so will the students.

Building meaningful and productive relationships with people is complex; people are less predictable, and their emotions can be scary. How often are school leaders trained in the many nuances of dealing with an angry parent, a disgruntled staff member, or a crying teacher? Where is the how-to manual for these tasks? Moreover, who has time for these elements when the “real” work of increasing student achievement awaits?

Relationships are the real work of school improvement! Without people and relationships, who will administrators lead and how far will followers follow?

Building relational trust with the staff is a precursor to sustainable success. In our work in thousands of schools and districts, this trust has been built by the leader using various approaches.

The first strategy in this series is:

Listen First

It’s essential to recognize that everyone wants to be heard. The new-leader syndrome, however, often entails changing things quickly to establish authority. Many veteran leaders, on the other hand, may feel they already know what is best and may move forward without building consensus. In both cases, the “slow” part—listening—of going “fast” is cut out of the process and initiatives are short-lived.

The “listen first” strategy has many components:

  1. Show appreciation via understanding the other point of view. “I appreciate that you’ve been asked to do a LOT here…!”
  2. Finding merit in what the person does, thinks, or feels is important in showing appreciation– even when you don’t agree! “I realize that it seems easier to teach students in Like-ability groups, and you need a way to manage a lot of diverse learners. At the same time, we know putting students into tracks will doom many to staying in those tracks. Ai here’s what we need to pilot instead…”
  3. Communicate understanding in words and actions. Saying “I look forward to seeing you when you feel better” could be even more powerful were you to send over some cough drops too!
  4. Show appreciation for yourself as well! “Yes it’s been hard to handle so much change– imagine having to lead it all!…”