The Principal Teacher Relationship: What Teachers Really Want, But Never Ask For


When it comes to strong school culture, the principal-teacher relationship is key. At the center of that relationship is trust.

This idea of trust has consumed me lately. After reading The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey, and Trust Matters: Leadership for Successful Schools, by Megan Tschannem-Moran, I have realized that a trusted teacher is motivated and open to reflection and feedback. Most importantly, a teacher who feels trusted will trust their administrator in return. Ultimately, joinging them in their mission and vision. Trust goes both ways. It’s an essential element in all healthy relationships and the relationships that exist in your school are no different.

But how do you cultivate trust? And how does your school maintain trust once it’s established? Building lasting trust that serves as the foundation of relationships comes from having shared experiences, from giving teachers the tools and ability to make decisions that matter, and from cultivating innovative practices. Just like a classroom, these shared experiences create an environment of predictability and order where teachers thrive and aren’t afraid to try new things for fear of failure. 

Here are four things that teachers really want, but never ask for.  These simple and motivating steps will help cultivate and maintain trusting principal teacher relationships.  

1. Teachers Want Autonomy

Giving teachers autonomy is a symbol of trust.  It is also incredibly motivating.  No one likes being micromanaged. Of course Administrators can’t just let everyone go in different directions, but when a school’s culture is grounded in a common mission and teachers have knowledge, skills and commitment to best practice, it’s easy to give them the keys to make decisions. With this autonomy, Principals must be willing to accept when things don’t turn out the way they planned and learn together with their teachers from the experience.

2. They Want You to Highlight Their Success

As a leader it is important to celebrate teacher success. Look for areas where staff have accomplished goals and have done exceptional work. Keep an initiative going long enough for staff to feel successful in its implementation. Find balance between mastery and life-long learning and cultivate an environment where even the very best teachers are motivated to get even better through celebration, recognition, and stimulating dialogue about teaching and learning. The very best leaders don’t need to be the experts in everything, and being appropriately vulnerable goes a long way in setting the tone for continual growth.

Like any profession, teachers want to feel like the work they are doing is yielding results. They want to feel successful and know they are doing a good job. The profession is constantly changing. New research, ideas, standards, strategies assessments, even new ways to work with colleagues bombard educators year after year. This constant change leaves many teachers feeling like they have never “arrived.” It’s hard to feel successful in anything when the bar is always shifting. Highlighting success among your staff shows that you trust the work they are doing, and value their hard work. 

3. Teachers Want An Aligned Purpose

As leaders, support your teachers’ sense of purpose and nurture it.  Align your purpose with that of your educators, and elevate students together. When the going gets tough and it’s hard to see through the weeds, help your teachers take a step back and understand things from up at a 30,000 feet point of view.  

With the demands of high stakes testing, new core standards, and ever changing needs of the students they serve, the teaching profession is challenging. I have found that many times the natural calling to teach, which all your staff feel, can become conflicted with the demands of the job.

Educators will do all they can to serve their students. Teaching is a calling, not merely a profession. Teachers do not come to this work because of fantastic pay or summers off. Not many other professions draw people to the work like teaching does. Help them to keep their big picture aligned with your big picture, and they will flourish.

4. Teachers Need to Establish a Connections

As a leader, it is important to create connections between yourself and your staff and create connections between teachers and the school staff. Take time to get to know your teachers and to discover what they need to feel successful. Foster pride in your school and your organization. These connections are key to cultivating trusting relationships with staff. When you feel connected to an organization, a common value, or a person, your sense of loyalty increases. Your productivity, and sense of urgency improve.

Teacher’s want to be trusted. In order for that to happen they need autonomy, they need to feel successful, they need a sense of purpose and they need to feel connected.  

A teacher that I follow posted this the other day:

“I struggle when leaders justify doing something that dismisses or hurts teachers by arguing, ‘It’s all about the kids.’ To help students thrive we must take good care of their teachers. Teachers who are trusted, inspired, & empowered are likely to do the same for their students.”

This really hit home for me and is true to the core. A trusted teacher is an inspired and empowered one. Begin this journey by creating a dialogue. CLICK HERE to download this questionnaire to begin the conversation with your staff today.

Also, if you’re looking for some rock solid keys to improving mental health on campus, check out this month’s post from JC Pohl by CLICKING HERE.

Keep building those relationships! They are the foundation to a school’s success. Check out TEEN TRUTH’s ultimate guide to school conflict resolution for more valuable insights!

Sarah Hayden
Instructional Coach, TEEN TRUTH

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