Trust in Educational Leadership in Times of Crisis
Trust is never more important than during a crisis. For years, researchers have been studying trust in organizations and schools, focusing on the principal and teacher relationship and its impact on school climate. The literature has been less focused, however, on the superintendent and principal relationship—and the role trust plays within that relationship. Moreover, given the recency and continually evolving nature of COVID-19, there is little research about the actions superintendents and principals are taking to lead their school communities through this pandemic and even less research on how this crisis impacts the relational trust between the superintendent and the principal. The purpose of this study, therefore, is to examine how trust impacts the relationship between the superintendent and the principals in their district. Accordingly, this study will address the following research questions: 1) How do principals view their relationship with the superintendent and their schools during a crisis? and 2) What practices influence the role of trust in this relationship? To understand how principals view their relationships with their superintendent, as well as practices that influence trust, I conducted six interviews with five principals and the superintendent, and I observed a School Committee meeting where a principal presented on behalf of all principals in support of the superintendent. Principals highlighted how working for a benevolent, competent, and reliable superintendent over a long period of time helps them build trust in their superior while also leading a school during a time of crisis. Practices that appeared to build and sustain trust during the COVID-19 crisis and that support a trusting relationship between the superintendent and principals include length of time working together; perceived trust from the superintendent in the principals’ competence, which led to reciprocal trust; the ability to advocate for systems-wide change; and acts of benevolence. This research emphasizes that the relationship between principals and the superintendent matters. It is essential that trust is developed between principals and the superintendent to ensure a stable working environment for staff, ultimately leading to greater consistency for students during trying times in school and beyond.