Trust and improvement in schools

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This paper examines how trust affects teachers' willingness to work with innovations introduced by central office administrators. Interview and focus group data collected over a three-year period in five schools are used to analyze the centrality of trust to teachers' willingness to work with administrators to implement continuous improvement and quality management practices for their schools and classrooms. A qualitative data analysis software package was used to code interviews and focus groups for spontaneous comments that addressed trust. Two schools were characterized by high trust, and high willingness to change; high levels of distrust distinguished three others. This emphasis of the analysis is on the association of spontaneously expressed sentiments of trust or distrust and the association of those sentiments with willingness to participate in change initiated from outside the school building. Pre-existing patterns of relational and institutional trust will enhance or limit the ability of leaders to initiate large-scale change. More needs to be known about how to change coherently distrustful school settings in order for systemic change to occur.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Educational Change
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements I am grateful for the assistance of Angela Bies and Eva Nderu in coding the data and providing me with insight into the case materials. Initial discussions with Deb Ingram stimulated many of the ideas in this paper. Dan Bratton provided invaluable comments on various drafts, and is responsible for the sharpened distinctions between relational and institutional trust. This research was supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.


  • Administrators
  • Cohesiveness
  • Data based decision making
  • Quality
  • Teachers
  • Trust


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