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An Investigation of Teacher Trust in the Principal


The purpose of this work was to understand the concept of trust, its meaning, antecedents, and outcomes as they applied to teacher trust in principals. Since there are very few in-depth studies specifically on trust in a school principal, research on trust from an organizational perspective was consulted. This body of research has numerous and valuable studies on trust in organizations that assisted in helping to understand how trust develops and flourishes within an organization's structure in general and how it applies to a school as a specific type of organization.

Data for this study were collected using a modification of a survey instrument from Mayer and Davis (1999) and McAllister (1995). Data from the four-part self-administered survey were used to build a structural equation model (SEM) that studied the relationships between teacher trust in the principal to the following: principal trustworthiness; teachers' propensity to trust; principal teacher interaction patterns; background similarity between the teacher and the principal; student demographics; and overall school achievement. The data for this study were included responses from 377 teachers in 13 elementary schools in one Southern California school district.

The trust model developed in this study confirmed the existence of a second-order factor for trustworthiness which integrated the first-order factors for ability, benevolence, and integrity. This second-order factor was a strong predictor of teacher trust for their principals. As a result, a teacher's perceived trustworthiness of a principal can be viewed as being comprised of three distinct factors (ability, benevolence, and integrity).

Teacher propensity to trust other adults had its strongest influence on the actual level of trust teachers have for their principals. The propensity factor also influenced the extent to which teachers find their principals to be of trustworthy character. The propensity factor also had a negative relationship with the perception of principal benevolence--independent of the overall level of trustworthiness measured by the second-order factor. The specific frequency of interaction factor did not have an independent affect on the factor that measured a teacher's actual trust in his/her principal. A strong relationship between teachers viewing their principals as trustworthy and the frequency of principal/teacher interactions also was found--with trustworthiness as being dependent on frequency of interaction.

It was also demonstrated that the factor structures accounting for teacher trust of their principals are independent of the specific school context or the particular principal being evaluated. The factors of propensity and specific frequency of interaction also relied on common measurement items. Finally, a significant relationship between principal and teacher trust and background similarity between teachers and principals as Zucker (1986) proposed was not found to exist. Student demographics and overall student achievement (though limited to one item) also did not have a significant relationship with teacher trust in the principal. Some discussion was also provided on the strength of the proposed model's fit and how it could possibly be improved.

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