Trust in education

Trust in the school context, especially around the use of technology.

Research about trust

How do you measure trust?

The effects of trust are hard to prove, since one could easily say that while trust increases productivity, so productivity increases trust (Forsyth, 2008).  Nevertheless, researchers working on the concept of trust in schools in recent decades have produced an impressive body of empirical evidence.

The first cluster of these researchers exists around  Wayne K. Hoy who worked with a collection of colleagues over the years from 1985, first at Rutgers University and then at Ohio State University.

This cluster worked initially with the definition of trust as:

 “a generalized expectancy held by the work group that the word, promise, and written or oral statement of another individual, group, or organization can be relied upon”. 

Their early studies explored how trust could be conceptualised, measured and examined empirically.  Their focus was on teacher trust – of principal, colleagues and school organisation.  In the 1990s their focus moved to the consequences of trust.

A 1994 symposium held at Stanford University Graduate Business School and the resulting publication, Trust in Organizations: Frontiers of Theory and Research, were influential on the study of trust in all types of organisations.

That work defined trust as:

 “one party’s willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on the belief that the latter party is: a) competent, b) open, c) concerned, and d) reliable”.

The definition Hoy and Tschannen-Moran then used in their 1999 study of school trust was :

“Trust is an individual’s or group’s willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on the confidence that the latter party is benevolent, reliable, competent, honest, and open.”

Studies from this cluster began to include:

  • teacher trust of clients (parents and students) and then
  • trust as an aspect of social capital, and
  • trust as it relates to “academic optimism” (a combination of trust, academic emphasis and collective teacher efficacy).


Bryk and Schneider  at The University of Chicago stumbled upon trust as a positive factor which heavily impacted the success of major changes in schools and seemed to explain why some schools thrived after a major change and others struggled.  They comprise the second trust research cluster.

They didn’t use the definitions of trust used in previous research but developed their own concept of “relational trust” which concerns relationships between pairs of groups in the school community, e.g. teachers and principal, teachers and students.

Positive relational trust exists where there is consistency between expectations of the group’s behaviour held by the group themselves and other groups in the school community and their behaviours are perceived as evidence of the holding of those expectations.  (Bryk and Schneider, 2002)

Bryk and Schneider’s studies were largely concerned with teacher trust.  They found that while trust did not have a direct positive impact on academic achievement, it enabled an operational climate which allowed conditions which did directly improve performance.

The third cluster, led by Forsyth and Adams at Oklahoma State University studied principal, parent and student trust as well as teacher trust and developed new measures of trust. These studies aimed to build on the previous work of Hoy and colleagues, so used the definition developed by that group.

While as many as 47 statements were developed to outline their findings, their “take home” message was that trust is a necessary condition for the major goals of schooling to be achieved, i.e.  academic achievement and beneficial relationships within the school community.

This page  merely scratches the surface of the research into trust in schools.  For an exhaustive examination of the findings of the many studies, I recommend the book edited by Hoy and DiPaola,   Improving schools: studies in leadership and culture (2008, Information Age Publishing).

To summarise, general findings across all studies were:

  • Teacher trust varies depending on the target (i.e., principal, colleagues, organisation).
  • Teacher trust of client is more important than socio-economic status in predicting academic achievement.
  • Multidimensional trust (between a number of groups in the school community) predicts important school outcomes more powerfully than the trust perceptions of a single role group. (Forsyth, 2008)

So, it’s proven.  Trust matters.


Bryk, A. S. & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools. A core resource for improvement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Bryk, A. S. & Schneider, B. (2003). Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for School Reform. Educational Leadership, 60(6), 40-45.

Forsyth, P. B. (2008). The empirical consequences of school trust. In W. K. Hoy & M. DiPaola (Eds.), Improving schools: studies in leadership and culture. Information Age Publishing.

Hoy,W. K. & Tschannen-Moran, M. (1999). Five faces of trust: An empirical confirmation in urban elementary schools. Journal of School Leadership, 9, 184–208.

Kramer, R.  & Tyler, T. (Eds.) (1996). Trust in Organizations: Frontiers of Theory and Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Photo credit: <a href=””>TerryJohnston</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


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