Building Trust: A Critical Element of Student Success Teams – Experiences of Three High School Principals in Chicago

By Krystal D. Payne, Executive Director at the Network for College Success
January 30, 2024

Student success systems are a way of organizing a school community to better support the academic progress, college and career transitions, and well-being of all students. By focusing on relationships, actionable data, and evidence-based practices, student success systems help educators and communities build a sense of belonging and school connection among students, address school-wide achievement patterns, and meet individual student needs.

What are Student Success Teams?

Student success teams are an essential element of student success systems. These teams consist of groups of adults who work together regularly to implement and continually improve a school’s student success system. 

The size and composition of student success teams will vary based on school size and the scale and scope of students who need adult actions to succeed and thrive in school. Typically, these teams include teachers, counselors, school leadership, and others in student support roles. Student success teams also use an organized structure for soliciting insights and participation from students, parents/caregivers, and the community. In some instances, it may be advantageous to have teams for specific grade levels.

Learn more about high-functioning student success teams:
This two-page resource outlines six steps school leaders can take to implement student success systems

Advice for Building Trust in Student Success Teams

The GRAD Partnership is a national effort to cultivate an educational landscape where the use of evidence-based student success systems becomes commonplace. The GRAD Partnership’s Community of Practice (CoP) shares best practices from across the nation (see here for a list of all past and upcoming CoPs). A recent CoP session, Building Collective Effort for Student Success Systems: Student Success Teams in Action, focused on the importance of trust building as teams use data to collaborate and improve experiences and outcomes for students. The event featured a trio of successful Chicago public high school principals, who were each asked, “What recommendations do you have for other principals on how to foster trust within student success teams?”

Brad Rossi, Principal at Wells Community Academy highlighted the role of patience, which is necessary for teachers to assume the role of “decision makers.”  Rossi said, “I decided to meet them where they were and from the start said that I will not dictate what the team does.” Wells’ success team collaboratively landed on the goal of intentional adult learning that included data review, student shadowing, and the teacher-as-leader concept. “The teacher leadership was really pivotal,” noted Rossi. “When it began to happen, it really started to create buy-in.”

Dawn Ramos, Principal at Tilden Career Community Academy echoed Rossi’s thoughts on the importance of promoting teacher leadership. Tilden’s success team, composed of four teacher-leaders, lead teams spanning grades 9 – 12. “The leaders met over the summer and really thought about a professional learning plan that they would enact this year, one that would focus around adult capacity,” she said. “This plan resulted in a major shift in the team’s work, from focusing primarily [on] student data to a stronger focus on adult mindsets, beliefs, and agency.” Ramos found that the “most pivotal” aspect of the work was allowing the teachers to lead, even when the agenda was “probably not something that I would have created.” Conrad Timbers-Ausar, Principal at Englewood STEM High School also emphasized the benefits of using teachers as decision makers. Timbers-Ausar stressed that the initial building of the teams was integral to their success. “I hire like-minded people who share a common mission, but who also have the wherewithal to establish different pathways to accomplish goals,” he said. He concluded that this ultimately requires teachers to take personal responsibility for building a positive school community.

The clear takeaway from the principals’ panel discussion was that school leaders must do all they can to support and nurture teacher leadership and decision making. This increased stakeholdership is essential to the development of successful student success teams. 

For more information on how school principals can advance the work of student success teams, please check out Practice-Driven Data: Lessons from Chicago’s Approach to Research, Data, and Practice in Education. Be sure to join all of the GRAD Partnership’s future Community of Practice sessions to continue learning with other dedicated educators about how to propel your student success efforts.

Share to your network
Skip to content