Date of Award

Spring 2-25-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Barbara Govendo

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul Naso

Third Advisor

Dr. Matthew Joseph


Research on leadership within schools has examined principals’ varied and complex tasks and highlighted their responsibility to promote positive relationships with their staff. Prominent in that research and in the professional literature on school leadership are arguments that staff trust of a principal—resulting from the principal’s trust-building actions—is a crucial factor for school improvement. Despite this priority, there remains a need to study the ways in which principals come to understand the nature of trust and cultivate it within schools. Thus, the purpose of this narrative study was to examine the stories of elementary school principals to derive an understanding of the experiences that influenced their beliefs and practices about trust and trust-building. This research employed a purposeful sampling strategy and involved seven currently practicing elementary school principals within the Massachusetts MetroWest area. Through interviews, these participants shared narratives on experiences that influenced their understanding of trust, instances of their own efforts to increase trust, and accounts of how these past experiences affected their thought processes with regard to their current leadership actions. Thematic and structural analysis of the interview transcripts yielded five findings: (a) Participants strongly endorse trust as essential for goal achievement but are perplexed by its elusive meaning and uncertain manifestations; (b) Participants’ understanding of trust between staff and the principal is based largely on their experiences interacting with other school leaders where trust was breached; (c) Participants came to understand the need to admit and apologize in order to repair broken trust; (d) Participants implicitly understand that trust is built through a principal’s small, intentional, and daily actions; (e) Participants’ narratives portrayed honest and open actions as building trust, and actions that revealed a lack of competence as decreasing trust. These findings have implications for the training and professional development of school leaders, including the necessity of deepening principals’ knowledge of trust, their understanding of the continuous nature of trust, and their skill in analyzing the complex elements of context that influence trust. Systematic observations from peers and supervisors, as well as opportunities to observe other school leaders, were also identified as approaches to support principals in gaining a better understanding of trust-building.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.






The author owns the copyright to this work.