Cultivating Relationships Through Trust = SUPPORT

Mike Lawson • MAC Corner • February 2, 2018

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Seasoned music educators know that networking within the school is something that must be cultivated over the long term.

Networking leads to building quality relationships and those relationships lead to the establishment of trust and ultimately, support. Once trust is in place, you have put others at ease and in doing so, they become more open to all that you represent—your students, your programs, your ideas and more. Once this happens, the job of negotiating the many nooks and crannies of program support becomes much less of a cumbersome task.

So how do we accomplish this? Must we possess an outgoing personality? Do we just start talking with people? If I were new to a school, I might feel a little reserved about making the “first move” with the principal/supervisor. Yes, you met the principal at the interview and established a preliminary, more formal relationship but now it’s time to advance that relationship to the next level.

It’s important to understand that people who engender trust exhibit common characteristics. Manchester, Inc. of Philadelphia, performed a survey with over 200 companies to discover the best ways to build trust and the responses apply to the school culture as well as to the business environment. The beauty is that in demonstrating these traits to others, they will be demonstrated back to you in return.

1. Maintain integrity. The Oxford Dictionary defines integrity is as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. The best way for us to demonstrate integrity is to keep our word, and this is shown in everything that we do, from completing paperwork on time, to following through on promises made. Being reliable also means that we hold ourselves accountable to be on time and to respond to people in a timely fashion, and requires organization. Having a system for completing paperwork and correspondence is a must. Also, a no-surprises approach shows supervisors that you want them to be successful as well, so make sure to give your principal a heads-up if a call is going to be received from an unhappy parent or frustrated colleague.

2. Openly communicate vision and values. Being able to communicate our purpose and beliefs and remaining true to these as our core values allows everyone we work with to understand our purpose. If our purpose is to serve the students and the school, then the outcomes of our decision-making must be based on what is best for these two constituencies. It is much easier to defend our positions on everything from budgets to curriculum, to pulling students out of school for an activity if our actions stem from these values. A relationship built on an established vision and value also clears the path for open dialogue and honest exchange since a starting point is already in place.

3. Show respect for employees as equal partners. We all know the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and this is easily evidenced in the school community. From the principal to the counselor, to the custodian to the teaching staff and everyone in between, everyone wants to feel valued, so take an interest in people as individuals. Find out which teams they follow or what music/artists they like or what books they read, then establish common ground. In considering the big picture, you might seek how to increase the ways in which the music program could make a positive impact on the staff. One successful example might be to host an annual Staff Appreciation Luncheon on or near Valentine’s Day. Students would make and send out invitations to the entire school staff to be their guests. It could be held in the faculty lounge or near the school cafeteria. All it would take would be to provide the lunch, assemble some music-themed centerpieces, tablecloths and silverware, provide a little live entertainment and there you have it—instant support for your program from the entire staff because of a little extra effort made to show your colleagues that you appreciate them. For many, this could be their first experience in seeing students demonstrating their learned skills, and the students will love being able to share their talents with some of their other teachers, so this is a definite win-win. When we show that we value others, we are valued in return plus it demonstrates to our students that we live what we espouse to them.

4. Focus on shared goals rather than personal agendas. At his inauguration speech, President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” In considering the big picture, what are the initiatives that are the focus point for the current school year and how might you contribute? What are the vision and mission of the school? Does your program address these? In what way? Are the vision and mission statement on your music department letterhead? If literacy is the school-wide initiative, support the initiative in an outward way. Teach vocabulary and expect good spelling in written work. Make the point that learning to read music is a form of literacy as well. Show buy-in and your school leaders will appreciate your support and support you in return.

5. Do the right thing regardless of personal risk. There are times when we make mistakes — BIG ONES – but dealing with them honestly and in a timely fashion can actually help to build trust. During my first year of teaching, I was rehearsing an ensemble in the gym for a performance the following day at a pep rally. The sound equipment was set up so that we would be all ready to go. Everything was going just fine until we heard a loud POP followed by the burning of an extension cord from the outlet all the way up to the sound board. The result was an enormous black burn mark extending half-way across the gymnasium floor. I was scared to death and couldn’t even imagine how the basketball coach was going to react, but there was only one thing to do and that was to call my supervisor that very moment and tell him what had happened and ask what I could do to make it right. Fortunately, the burn did not go all the way down to the wood, but my supervisor had my back by meeting the basketball coach when he showed up for school that next morning.

6. Listen with an open mind. Listening is the first step in establishing open lines of communication. Sometimes it’s a casual conversation about something unrelated to school but at times, it can be downright confrontational. It’s important to remember that in these cases, that person is frustrated, and venting may be the only solution. Two thoughts to keep in mind are a) never take these confrontations or criticisms personally and b) don’t get emotional. This will allow you to remain calm no matter what. Check your body language and be aware of how you are showing that you are truly listening. If your arms or legs are crossed, you may be distancing people inadvertently. Are your brows furrowed or are you displaying a pleasant demeanor? Maintaining an open posture and appropriate facial expression communicates that you are “all in” to hearing AND understanding.

7. Demonstrate compassion. Genuinely caring for others by showing concern lets them know that you are an upstanding person who puts others ahead of self. It’s surprising how a small gesture can endear someone to you. I’ll always remember the chemistry teacher at my school who, just prior to my returning to school after attending my father’s funeral, had come into my office and turned selected books upside down in my bookcase and strewn dots from a three-hole punch all across my desk. Underneath all of those many dots was a very sweet card that expressed a personal sentiment. I’ll never forget it. When he had to take off a week because his wife had to have surgery, he returned to find his office completely TP’d with Charmin’s finest, which I had done in return. There are many ways to demonstrate compassion without making a mess, of course, but when we show others how much we care, they show compassion for us in return.

8. Maintain confidences. Keeping secrets is one of life’s challenges but it’s nice to be known as that one person in the building who others can share with knowing that it’s “in the vault.” The nicest thing I ever heard anyone say about someone was that they never heard that person speak an ill word about another. This is the ultimate compliment. It doesn’t take long to discover who the gossips are. Every school has them and they should be avoided at all costs!

Music teachers who demonstrate the above traits consistently discover that trust is the glue that bonds everything together as well as the lubricant that keeps things moving smoothly. It helps others to understand more about what we do and the value that it provides for the students. Stephen M.R. Covey, author of Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, explains that while high trust won’t necessarily rescue a poor strategy, low trust will almost always derail a good one. Exhibiting the above characteristics of trust may not come easily but they can be learned and cultivated over time. All we need to do is get started. What we give is what we get back in return.

Marcia Neel is president of Music Education Consultants, Inc., and serves as educational advisor to the Music Achievement Council (MAC). In this capacity, she provides sessions at conferences, district in-service days, and dealer workshops to share practical success strategies to help educators with the many and varied elements of the successful music education program. Marcia also serves as senior director of education for the Yamaha Band and Orchestral Division and was recently appointed to the board of the Percussive Arts Society.

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