Teachers' Perceptions of Relational Trust, Leadership, and Culture In a New England Middle School
Southern New Hampshire University
Trust in schools has emerged as a foundational component and an extensively studied phenomenon, particularly as it relates to school improvement efforts. Research findings have suggested that collaboration and the establishment of relational trust among and between teachers and school leaders can contribute to improved school culture, teacher efficacy, and student achievement (Nias et al., 1989; Rosenholtz, 1989; Schliefer et al., 2017; Talbert & McLaughlin, 1994; Tschannen-Moran & Gareis, 2015). In this qualitative, phenomenological research study, seven content area teachers in a New England middle school participated in semi- structured interviews focusing on perceptions of leadership dynamics, attitudes, voice, efficacy, and trust in their school. In the 25 years since this school opened, there have been 10 building leaders. Participants’ work experience in the organization ranged from 10 to 25 years. Findings suggested that leadership changes and practices have contributed to a disjointed culture characterized by isolation, lack of voice, and distrust. Initiative fatigue, a confining school schedule, and perceived lack of support from leaders were identified as key components negatively affecting culture. Positive themes included teachers’ resilience, hope, and dedication to their students. The research focused on one school. Findings may inform expanded inquiry in this school and related studies in other organizations. Additionally, findings of this study, in combination with findings from concurrent studies and activities in the organization, may contribute to efforts by leaders to improve relational trust, culture, community, and teacher voice.