Building and Restoring Trust: A demanding yet worthy effort

ISTE coaching standard 1c states: “Cultivate a supportive coaching culture that encourages educators and leaders to achieve a shared vision and individual goals.” The literature points to the importance of trusting relationships when cultivating a supportive coaching culture. Foltos explains that “coaching cannot succeed without a trusting respectful relationship” (p. 21). The literature provides many recommendations on how to establish trust. In real life, a trusting relationship may undergo many challenges, and I would like to know

What strategies can be implemented for restoring trust if or when an interaction does not go as intended, or ends up in conflict?

Besides facing the challenge of restoring trust when an interaction goes wrong, there are situations where a coach may start an interaction with someone who already has had a negative experience. In such a case, the coach’s effort needs to include strategies to gain and/or restore trust.

The article “Do you really trust your team? (and do they trust you?)(2019) by Amy Jen Su, includes strategies that can be used to build and/or to rebuild trust, especially when there is a “lack of psychological safety on the team.” Amongst the suggestions presented in this article are:

  • modeling healthy conflict resolution and creating a culture of appreciation
  • acknowledging that failure will happen, and that’s okay
  • when a team member makes a poor judgment call – be curious not dismissive

The article concludes with the reminder that “When you give trust, you not only empower others, you also develop the individuals on your team into stronger contributors, and in doing so, you empower yourself as a leader.”

The article “Restoring Broken Trust in the Work of School Principals” (2011) reveal insights from the perspective of school leaders in restoring trust with their staff. The findings from this article were later included in the book, The lifecycle of Trust in Education: Leaders as Moral Agents (2021) written by the same author, Kutsyuruba, B.

The lifecycle of Trust in Education: Leaders as Moral Agents reviews over 140 definitions on trust and defines trust as multidimensional. Some of the most common dimensions are: “predictability, benevolence, reliability, competence, honesty, openness, and risk.” However, there are many other attributes of trust. The book is divided in three parts:

Part 1 elaborates on the understanding trust, which includes the nature of trust, dimensions, usefulness, and fragility, also distrust/ mistrust.

Part 2 explains the trust lifecycle: Establishing, maintaining, sustaining, breaking and restoring trust. The authors describe the following attributes of a positive culture of trust:

  • People truly listen and hear one another. There are complements and laughter.
  • Morale is high, and everyone feels comfortable with each other
  • There is school satisfaction where people are happy to be there
  • People are willing to work on common goals and discussions are healthy and respectful.

Although the study included principals, it is applicable to a coaching environment. Kutsyuruba explains how trust is essential in organizations, relationships, social and collaborative exchanges, yet trust is “easier to break than build (Govier 1998:204).” The literature reviewed reveal the complexity of trust. However, there is a consensus that trust is vital to fostering a healthy culture. The research focused, not on the fragility of trust, but on the range of ways that trust can be repaired when it is broken.

Before restoring trust, it is important to understand what incidents can cause a breach of trust in schools. The book lists the following: breach of confidentiality, deception, dishonesty, breach of integrity, overuse of power, exclusion of others or divisiveness among staff, amongst others. It explains that the perceived intention would magnify the intensity of the violation.

The possibility of restoration and renewal include energy and time, in combination with consistency and persistence. “Restoring trust is a two-way process.” Both, the violator and the victim must be willing and invested to undergo the process. The steps recommended for the violator are:

  • Recognize and acknowledge the violation
  • Understand the nature of such violation and admit to having caused it.
  • Admit that the act was damaging, and
  • Accept responsibility.

This book quotes the “four A’s of absolution” from Tschannen-Moran 2004, which are:

  • Admit it,
  • Apologize,
  • Ask for forgiveness,
  • Amend your ways.

For trust to be regained, the victim can

  • Acknowledge forgiveness and specify “reasonable” acts of reparation, and
  • Acknowledge forgiveness and indicate that no further acts or reparation are necessary.

However, the victim could refuse to accept any terms for re-establishing the relationship, or specifies “unreasonable” acts of reparation.

This book also examines at the REPAIR model which includes the following steps:

  • Recognize the intensity of the loss of trust.
  • Examine where the breach occurred, such as credibility, reliability, self-interest, etc.
  • Place it out there fast, by acknowledging the problem, rather than ignoring it.
  • Acknowledge its impact on the individual or group.
  • Identify as precisely as possible how you will attempt to rebuild trust
  • Raise the bar of your performance as you rebuild trust, and Reflect carefully.

The authors of this book present their findings, which include the advice given by a group of principals. Effective communication and relationship building were amongst the most significant elements in rebuilding trust. The participants recommended to address the issue immediately, and apologize.

In conclusion, the possibility of restoration and renewal included energy and time, honesty, integrity, and openness in communication in combination with consistency and persistence.

The following is a chart that shows the stages of trust restoration, as presented on page 134.

Finally, part 3 is about trust brokering and moral agency. This section elaborates on trust, ethics and moral agency. Also, how educational leaders act as trust brokers and leaders’ exercise of moral agency and growth towards transformation.

While many resources offer examples on how to establish trust, this book takes it a step further to include strategies for maintaining, sustaining and restoring trust. The examples are also drawn from the field of education and provide insight on how education leaders act as “trust brokers.” The authors recommend embracing a moral agency role, which may involve assessing a situation and the further involvement of a third party necessary.

Two other articles that address restorative practices coincide with the importance of communication. While the article “3 Restorative Conflict Resolution Strategies Every Teacher Should Know,” is really meant for a classroom teacher dealing with conflicts between students, mindfulness, restorative circles and affective statements are strategies that apply in all collaborative situation, and place communication as a needed skill for conflict resolution. Similarly, the article “How Leaders Can Build or Rebuild Trust on Campus,” recommend to start the restoration process by listening, and asking questions to truly understand. “You need to hear the stories and people need to feel heard.” They recommend administrators to create committees that act as “sounding boards.”  This article also explains that trust is situational and “rests on stereotypes and unconscious biases.” Our perceptions can interfere with trust and perceived trustworthiness. It would be more difficult to restore trust if others’ perceptions do not match their preconceived image or fitness for the role. Although this is an important topic to address, this article does not address what to do under such circumstances, leaving some loose ends that need further investigation.

  • How do stereotypes affect trustworthiness?

How can “Restorative Circles” be successfully used between professionals within a school?

It is also important to consider the role that personality plays in trust building.

According to the article from Psychology Today, Why are some people more trustworthy? (2018). Besides people’s level of integrity, being prone to feeling guilt might be a predictor of their trustworthiness. According to the findings from this study, people who are guilt-prone are more sensitive to anticipating the guilt associated with doing something wrong, and also are more likely to make “benevolent choices in their interactions with other people.”

Another study, Science says people with this personality trait are more trusting (2018), revealed that people who can tolerate ambiguity are also more likely to trust others. For example, people who can handle not knowing what lie ahead, are more likely to trust others. The article explains that we are in constant need to predict what others are feeling or thinking. Those who have difficulty trusting, are also those who prefer constant and predictable situations.

These findings can help coaches understands that trust building strategies may still render different results. It is important to take the time to get to know those with whom we collaborate, and understand them. Follow up questions that I would like to investigate are: 

  • Can personality tests, and open discussion about our personality have a positive influence and/or improve our relationships in the workplace?
  • Can developing an awareness of our personality decrease conflict and help in the process of trust restoration?


Bruk, D. (2018). Science Says People with This Personality Trait Are More Trusting. BESTLIFE

Gibbard, S. (2014). How Leaders Can Build or Rebuild Trust on Campus. Wiley Online Library. DOI:

Foltos, L. (2021) Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin

Harris, M. (2021). 3 Restorative Conflict Resolution Strategies Every Teacher Should Know. Learners Edge.

ISTE standards for coaches.

Jen Su, A. (2019). Do You Really Trust Your Team? (And Do They Trust You?). Harvard Business Review.

Kutsyuruba, B., & Walker, K. D. (2021). The Lifecycle of Trust in Education, Leaders as Moral Agents. Edward Elgar Publishing Limited. DOI:

Kutsyuruba, B., Noonan, B., & Walker, K. (2011). Restoring broken trust in the work of school principals. ACADEMIA

Plata, M. (2018). Why Are Some People More Trustworthy? Psychology Today.

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