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At the heart of consensus processes is the development of trust through formal and informal social exchanges in an environment of listening with respect (R. Chadwick, Consensus Associates, personal communication, March 27, 2008). Little can be found in the literature identifying a link between consensus processes and relational trust, yet those involved in the use of this practice report heightened levels of trust as both a purpose and product of consensus practices (Eichler, 2007; Eller, 2004; Susskind, McKearnan&Thomas-Larmer, 1991).

The meaning and function of relational trust in schools

In their seminal study of 400 Chicago elementary schools, Bryk and Schneider (2002) found that growth and change are key components in the success of a school. They posited that the capacity to improve is shaped by the nature of the social exchanges and the local cultural features in the school. A broad base of trust is the “lubricant” (2002) that is necessary for a school’s day-to-day functioning and is a critical resource as leaders embark on ambitious improvement initiatives. Sebring and Bryk (2000) suggested that cooperative work relations in schools “requires a strong base of social trust among teachers, between teachers and parents, between teachers and the principal, and between teachers and students” (p.442). Through an analysis of existing research and their own work, Bryk and Schneider identified “a dynamic interplay among four considerations: respect, competence, personal regard for others, and integrity” (p.23).

Tschannen-Moran and Hoy (2000) describe the presence of interdependence in a trust relationship. They observe that where there is a reliance on one another, two or more parties are vulnerable to each other. Where vulnerability does not exist, trust is not needed. They defined trust as “one party’s willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on the confidence that the latter party is (a) benevolent, (b) reliable, (c) competent, (d) honest, (e) open” (p.556). Although these facets are independent of one another, they are interrelated and mutually reinforcing.

Hoy and Tschannen-Moran (2003) found a positive correlation between high levels of trust in a school and a high level of teacher perceived efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief of an individual regarding self capacity to achieve the desired level of attainment (Bandura, 1997). “When teachers trust each other, it is more likely that they will develop greater confidence in their collective ability to be successful at meeting their goals” (Tschannen-Moran, 2004, p.127). Distrust in the school setting, however, causes discomfort, leaving people feeling ill at ease (Fuller, 1996). Since learning is a cooperative process, distrust negatively affects cooperation and teachers’ tendency toward collaboration (Tschannen-Moran, 2004).

Having established the function and importance of trust in schools, the literature also provides guidance as how school leaders and other members of a school community can develop and maintain trusting relationships. Using the facets of trust established by Tschannen-Moran and Hoy (2000), Tschannen-Moran (2004) described the attitudes and general behaviors that school administrators and staff members, the subject of this study, can adopt. It is suggested that the leadership functions that can lead to the development of trust are multidimensional and include visioning, modeling, coaching, managing, and mediating. Each of these functions is described in ways that suggest how a leader might act with special attention to sending the right message through those actions. One example provided in the area of modeling is that, “Effective school leaders not only know how to ‘talk the talk’ of trust, they also know how to ‘walk the talk’” (p. 177). In the area of coaching, an emphasis is placed on active listening. Advice for newly appointed principals suggests that in this honeymoon period exists an opportunity for each party to “signal a willingness to extend trust and not to exploit the vulnerability of others” (p.58), as well as “communicate good will and caring toward each member of the school community” (p. 59).

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Source:  OpenStax, Ncpea education leadership review, volume 10, number 1; february 2009. OpenStax CNX. Jun 05, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10630/1.9
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