Trust in Educational Leadership in Times of Crisis
This qualitative case study explores the role that trust plays between the superintendent and the teacher union leader of a public school district in the Northeast United States during the COVID-19 pandemic using the framework of interpersonal trust-building (Zand, 1972). Further, it uses the five facets of trust (Tschannen-Moran, 2001) to identify the leadership practices that have the greatest impact on perceptions of trust in this relationship. Specifically, this study addresses the following research question: How, if at all, does trust influence the relationships and practices of educational stakeholders during times of crisis? Based on semi-structured interviews, document reviews, and observations, findings support previous research indicating that trust develops only with the benefit of time and, once established, allows for more direct communication and more efficient and collaborative problem-solving. Data also indicate that the facet of benevolence exerts the greatest impact on perceptions of trust in the superintendent’s and teacher union leader’s working relationship. Finally, the accumulation of shared experiences over time help develop a shared sense of identity between the superintendent and teacher union leader, resulting in stronger perceptions of trust and a greater sense of shared purpose. This shared sense of identity may also serve as a proxy for time, allowing parties to make assumptions about the other’s future behavior based on perceived group memberships, thereby jump-starting the development of trust in the relationship. Recommendations include purposefully demonstrating benevolent behaviors in order to more effectively develop trust in a relationship and, whenever possible, communicating a shared sense of identity based on common values and beliefs. These findings have implications for district and school leaders who want to more intentionally establish trusting relationships and can inform the preparation, induction, and learning of district leaders.