Trust‐effectiveness patterns in schools

Publication Date01 Mar 2006
AuthorPatrick B. Forsyth,Laura L.B. Barnes,Curt M. Adams
Trust-effectiveness patterns
in schools
Patrick B. Forsyth, Laura L.B. Barnes and Curt M. Adams
Oklahoma State University, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
Purpose – To investigate the consequences of relational trust, especially parent measured trust, for
desirable school outcomes.
Design/methodology/approach – Using a US Midwestern state sample of 79 schools, parent and
teacher trust data are used to derive a trust-effectiveness typology. Trust was conceptualized as one
party’s willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on the confidence that the latter party is
benevolent, reliable, competent, honest, and open.
Findings – Findings derived from the extraction of canonical correlation variates support the
prediction that a complex and extensive trust environment is predictive of internal school conditions
and consequences, even after accounting for socioeconomic status of the school community. Four
theoretical trust-effectiveness patterns emerge from the interpretation.
Research limitations/implications – The research design was planned as a school level study.
Perceptual data collected at the individual level were intended for aggregation thus, nested analyses
were not possible. Other evidence is offered for justification of aggregations.
Practical implications Researchers and school leaders need to consider a broad trust
environment as having relevance for predicting and enacting school success, not just those trust
levels that can be measured as teacher perceptions.
Originality/value – Previous school trust research, when it has considered parent trust, measured it
as a teacher perception. This study measures parent trust directly and hence more credibly. The
empirically derived trust-effectiveness school types introduce the possibility that “high teacher trust”
can sometimes be part of a menacing school pattern.
Keywords Parents, Teachers,Trust, Schools, United States of America
Paper type Research paper
Effective schooling relies on cooperation and support between home and school. This is
obviously the case with home reinforcement of school decisions about home learning
activity, as well as broad expectations that there will be home encouragement for and
interest in children’s school success. The general case for the importance of securing
cooperation and compliance for organizational success was made long ago (Barnard,
1958). But, these claims are applied to individuals considered to be inside the
organization. The role of parents in the school organization is somewhat more complex,
invoking the work of Etzioni and others with respect to the question of who should be
considered a “member” of the school organization (Etzioni, 1975). For Etzioni, students,
whom he labels “lower participants” because their involvement in the school is intense
and their subordination and performance obligations are relatively high, should be
considered to be “inside” the school organization. However, he sees parents as outside
the organization, viewing them like customers or clients, groups which score low on the
criteria of involvement, subordination and performance obligations (Etzioni, 1975,
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received September 2005
Revised November 2005
Accepted November 2005
Journal of Educational
Vol. 44 No. 2, 2006
pp. 122-141
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/09578230610652024
pp. 20-21). Indeed, the mechanisms and relative influence of parents on school
outcomes are not well understood. Inspired by seminal work of such scholars as
Coleman and Hoffer (1987), we became interested in exploring parental beliefs and
perceptions about the school and its leadership and how those beliefs and percep tions,
particularly trust, together with internal conditions, affect the school and its work.
Trust within organizations has been studied, for example, by Tyler and Degoey
(1996) who conclude that it has a strong influence on people’s reactions to authorities.
They found that “inferences about the trustworthiness of the motives of authorities
had a powerful effect on whether people voluntarily deferred to third-party decisions
and group rules” (Tyler and Degoey, 1996, p. 336). That trust of an organization and its
leadership has productivity consequences for people within that organization is
reasonable and empirically supported in the school literature as well (Tarter et al., 1995;
Goddard et al., 2001; Bryk and Schneider, 2002). The consequences of trust by those
who are technically outside an organization for organizational effectiveness has not
been explored to our knowledge.
Based on the general argument for the key role that trust plays in organizational
success, in this research we specified the probable importance of parent and teacher
trust for three school outcomes: collective teacher efficacy, bureaucratic structure, and
academic performance. Within the school organization we included teacher trust of the
principal and teacher trust of other teachers. Trust outside the school’s formal
organization was explored by examining parent trust for the school and its principal.
Given the importance of parent cooperation and the evidence that trust plays a critical
role in cooperation, this study adds to the trust literature by exploring the specific
importance of parent trust.
Although our main interest was in the consequences of parent trust for schools,
because teacher trust has been studied extensively, we included the teacher trust
dimensions to permit a more comprehensive investigation of the school’s trust
environment, especially the comparative importance of trust from sources inside and
outside the school’s formal organization. The research question guiding this study is
“What is the relationship between the school’s trust environment and school
It should be noted that there are studies of teacher perceptions of teacher-parent
trust, but few or no studies that examine parent trust for the school more directly with
parents as respondents.
Conceptual framework: trust formation in schools
For our general analysis of school consequences of trust, we rely on the perspectives
advanced by Bryk and Schneider (2002), especially their development of a theory of
relational trust. Reviewing conceptual frameworks for examining organizational trust,
Bryk and Schneider examined two approaches to the study of social trust formation
they found inappropriate for studying most schools. One framework, organic trust, is
based on the unquestioning belief in the moral authority of an institution. This type of
trust, requiring extensive consensus about beliefs and a moral vision, is unconditional
and results in strong social bonds and institutional identity. Organic trust depends on a
board range of shared beliefs, a condition not especially common in the diverse,
contemporary social environment.
effectiveness in

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