The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Moving forward with a culture and climate of trust

Sharon Smith discusses the importance of moving forward together in a united and trusting fashion and shares how GTCS’ culture and climate of trust resources may offer support.

There has never been a better time to reflect on and learn from experience. As Ken Muir, GTC Scotland Chief Executive and Registrar, stated in his recent Teaching Scotland keynote: ‘the danger is that all of us in education go back and try to do the same things in the same way as we did.’ We cannot allow that to happen.

Claire Lavelle, Managing Director of The Hive of Wellbeing, in her Dealing with Uncertainty webinar shared John Fisher’s Personal Transition Curve, which focuses on organisations going through changes; never more relevant. Now, Claire was referring to how we cope in times of uncertainty; how we cope with the loss of routines and systems that we are familiar with; with the loss of our familiar and safe sense of community; and, how we generally cope with change itself. But lessons should be learned from this seismic change education is experiencing. We have all been making changes to the way we teach, lead, communicate, learn, and support each other; and it is far from over yet.

Last week the Scottish Government released the Route Map – through and out of the crisis and employers and the teaching workforce across Scotland are now trying to navigate what this advice will look like in reality; how it can be realised in practice and what impacts there will be in the way educational establishments recover, show resilience and reconnect. Risk assessments will be undertaken, and school leaders and their team will consider tasks that may be far beyond what they have ever experienced.

Last October GTC Scotland published a range of resources to support the messages we were recommending in Unlocking the Potential of Professional Review and Development (PRD) Guidelines. Core to the success of PRD is a culture and climate of trust (CCT), where teachers feel nurtured, valued, and empowered. We imagined that these specific CCT resources may have been used at the outset of a new school session to undertake a ‘temperature check’ and to work collaboratively to make positive changes to improve the quality of professional relationships if required. Of course, these resources are still very relevant and valid, but they might be used slightly differently going forward; they now become about much more than PRD.

Core to each of these resources is a self-evaluation, carried out by all staff, based on the following measures of:

  • shared purpose;
  • strong relationships;
  • integrity and honesty;
  • professional and personal commitment from all;
  • collaboration;
  • values and empowerment;
  • open communication, and;
  • safe.

Those schools that have already used this resource will be in a fortunate position to have a pre-Covid baseline assessment. I wonder how different those results would be now?

There may well be a shift in the professional relationships in schools as everyone is experiencing a feeling of uncertainty, and where we need to trust each other in order to deliver what is needed. The pressures and expectations of each and every member of the team has increased, and some people might feel ill-equipped and challenged to engage. This is where a culture and climate of trust is so important. We need the comforting sense of safety and security a strong culture and climate of trust brings, for us to step forward with reassurance, especially in these uncertain times. However, importantly, this sense of security must be a four-way street, afforded internally from bottom-up as well as top-down, and outwards as well as inwards.

Brené Brown in her book Dare to Lead states: ‘you can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability’, and boy do we need to be in that courageous place just now. She also rightly states that ‘we need to trust to be vulnerable, and we need to be vulnerable in order to build trust.’ There is an opportunity in these circumstances to be vulnerable together and build a culture and climate of trust that we all have ownership of and have created together.

We can use our openness, kindness, and compassion to build stronger professional relationships as we steer towards our new shared purpose and vision. Let’s focus on that culture and climate of trust as we move forward as stronger teams who are willing to weather the storm together, openly, and honestly, into our very different versions of tomorrow.