Trust in schools

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Trust has been called the "foundation of school effectiveness" (Cunningham and Gresso, 1993) and yet studies of trust in schools are scarce. Trust allows individuals to focus on the task at hand, and therefore, to work and learn more effectively. Productive relationships build effective schools. Rotter (1967) asserted that being able to trust that others can be believed is an important variable in all human learning. Distrust, on the other hand, causes people to feel uncomfortable and ill at ease, provoking them to expend energy on assessing the actions and potential actions of others (Fuller, 1996).

Wayne Hoy and his colleagues have engaged in over a decade of research on trust in schools. They have found teachers' trust in their colleagues as well as their principal are important elements of the trust in a school setting. Faculty trust in both colleagues and the principal has been linked to school effectiveness (Hoy et al., 1992; Tarter et al., 1995), as well as to positive school climate (Hoy et al., 1996; Tarter et al., 1989), and principal authenticity (Henderson and Hoy, 1983; Hoy and Henderson, 1983; Hoy and Kupersmith, 1986).

(Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 1997: 341)

Dimensions of trust in schools

  • Vulnerability is essential to trust because trust is only an issue in relationships of interdependence in which one party relies on another for something they care about or need. Vulnerability creates the potential for betrayal or harm if one party does not live up to the expectations of the other.
  • Benevolence is the confidence that “one can count on the good will of another to act in one’s best interest” (p. 19). In other words, in a trusting relationship, you can assume that the other party wouldn’t willingly act a way to cause you harm.
  • Honesty refers to a person’s character, integrity, and authenticity. People are perceived to be honest through their actions, such as sharing truthful information or consistently following through on promises.
  • Openness refers to the process through which people share information, influence, and control. These can symbolize power within a relationship, and it is how this power is used that can influence trust.
  • Reliability is the sense that one person is able to depend on another, and that behaviors will be predictable from situation to situation.
  • Lastly,Competence is “the ability to perform a task as expected, according to an appropriate standard,” or essentially the perception of how well you perform a task or job according to understood expectations (p. 30).

(Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 1997: 341)


  • Cunningham, W.G. and Gresso, D.W. (1993), Cultural Leadership, Allyn Bacon, Boston, MA.
  • Fuller, E.J. (1996), Conflict or congruence? Faculty, parent, and student trust in the principal, paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York.
  • Fuller, E.J. (1996), "Conflict or congruence? Faculty, parent, and student trust in the principal", paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York.
  • Hoy, W.K. and Kupersmith, W.J. (1985), "The meaning and measure of faulty trust", Educational and Psychological Research, Vol. 5, pp. 1-10.
  • Hoy, W.K. and Kupersmith, W.J. (1986), "Principal authenticity and faculty trust: key elements in organizational behavior", Planning and Change.
  • Rotter, J.B. (1967), "A new scale for the measurement of interpersonal trust", Journal of Personality, Vol. 35, pp. 651-65.
  • Tschannen-Moran, M. & Wayne Hoy (1997). Trust in schools: a conceptual and empirical analysis. Journal of Educational Administration, 36(4), 334-352. PDF (Access restricted)