Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education

FALL 2000     http://www.eastern.edu/publications/emme    Vol. 2, No. 2

Theme: Cross-Cultural Partnership

| This Issue | Articles | Instructional Ideas | Open Forum | Reviews | Contributors |
| Caruso | Cozza and Mbugua | Hallen | Hansell | Kennett | Lukiv |


Trust in the Transitions:
Changing Leadership with an Educational Partnership

Carol Kennett
Trinity International University

Abstract: The primary goal of this paper is to explore trust development in school-university partnerships, especially as it is affected by the transitions in leadership that so frequently occur in such settings. It proposes three elements of trust and highlights their importance as guiding principles of a successful educational partnership. By understanding the evolutionary nature of trust development, collaborators see the value of early attention to relational foundations upon which they can then build their program. By acknowledging trust as a mechanism for managing complex collaborations, partnerships are not easily derailed when encountering periods of mistrust and misunderstanding. Finally, by viewing trust as a choice, participants retain the sense of power and ownership enabling them to choose trust over time.

The Literature of Trust
Background to the Current Study
The Study


    As standards-based evaluation replaces the course-and-credit approach to teacher certification, schools of education are challenged to examine the means whereby they prepare students for the classroom. Such examination has led colleges and universities to rethink the clinical experience they expect students to complete prior to student teaching. This paper is set in the context of one Midwestern school of education as it seeks to build reflective, clinical practice into each of the methods courses taken by students in their pre-service programs. At the same time, the school is responding to the state's newly mandated content standards as they inform teacher education. This process has resulted in many challenges which threaten to derail the desired changes. These challenges include:

bullethelping faculty make the field experience a vital part of their curriculum;
bulletencouraging faculty to change their syllabi to reflect these experiences;
bulletarranging a far greater number of student placements
bulletassisting school-based personnel to understand the purpose of such placements; and
bulletensuring that students achieved maximum benefit from their time in the field. [paragraph 1]

    This paper is part of an ongoing and extensive exploration of the development of trust relationships between participants in a variety of school-university partnerships. It highlights one specific challenge faced by many of us whose collaborative partnerships have been in place for several years. What happens when the leadership of a partner changes? How do we respond to the relational changes and handle the inevitable adjustments which will occur? What factors appear to foster continued cooperation and involvement and creative initiatives between the new leaders? Conversely, what factors appear to inhibit cooperation and limit the involvement and production of creative initiatives? How do each of the partners view the newly developing relationship? Where and in what circumstances does the concept of trust enter into the participants' reflection on and evaluation of the partnership? How do they make sense of the tensions and stress (both positive and negative) that result from the change in leadership? [paragraph 2]

    Initial data for this ethnographic investigation were gathered in 1998 during the early planning stages and first semester of a newly designed course entitled "Fundamentals of Secondary and Middle School Methods." Prior to that year this junior-level course was offered without a field component; students were taught instructional planning and pedagogical skills through case studies and role playing. The following year a 24-hour field experience was appended to the course; however, because of time constraints, the instructor was able to visit each student in their respective schools (9 students in 8 different field placements) only once during the semester. This failure to effectively combine theory with practice resulted in a less-than-ideal outcome for the students. Student feedback and subsequent discussion with faculty colleagues underscored the need to provide pre-service teachers with a hands-on, activity-based experience that would also allow for reflective dialogue with an instructor who knew first-hand the situations they were encountering. [paragraph 3]

    An obvious solution to the problem was to explore the possibility of holding the class within a high school setting. This approach offered the benefit of immediate application of course-related content within the context of the secondary classroom. In addition, it allowed me, as the students’ instructor, to share the field experience with my students and to interact with the faculty and staff with whom they would be working. I was aware that this approach was related to the Professional Development School (PDS) model gaining prominence in the educational literature (Goodlad, 1988; Levine, 1997; Million & Vare, 1997; Schlechty & Whitford, 1993; Teitel, 1997) and wondered how we might begin to move towards building the type of relationship that could lead to such a collaboration. A detailed discussion of the early stages of this project, including the search for a site and the issues surrounding the initial organizational arrangements, has been reported elsewhere (Kennett, 1999). [paragraph 4]

    In July, 1999, a change in leadership at the partnership high school [referred to as Lincolnshire High School (LHS) in the earlier study] necessitated a re-negotiation of the arrangements and the development of a working relationship between myself and the new LHS program coordinator. In August, 2000, the hiring of a new faculty member at the university, part of whose responsibility was to assume oversight of the secondary education program, led to yet another transitional challenge. The data on these leadership changes were obtained from focused interviews with the various participants and from field observations made at selected points throughout the tenure of the program. Findings from this study shed light on the larger issue of trust-development within educational settings and its importance in providing the foundation for effective collaboration and cooperation in school-university partnerships. [paragraph 5]

The Literature of Trust

    A number of educational studies focusing on various learning partnerships in education foreground trust as a construct but evidence very little clarity or consensus as to what is meant by the term. . Trust is frequently coupled with the words "shared goals" and "mutual respect" (da Costa, 1995; Riordan, 1995; Thorkildsen & Stein, 1996), with "rapport" (Wiedmer, 1995), with equalizing power and maintaining communication (Lewison & Holliday, 1997), with timeliness, mutuality, and results (Higgins & Merickel, 1997; Smith & Auger, 1986), and with making a personal and professional commitment (Chevalier, 1994). Trust building is seen as an essential skill that educators need for working together (Bercik, 1991; De Boer, 1995; Ferris, 1994; Heil,1986; Rothberg, 1984), but few authors attempt to delineate the factors involved in this process. [paragraph 6]

    In many cases trust in educational relationships appears to be intuitively valued. Noddings (1988) couples trust development with the moral value of caring, asserting that teachers and students should together model, dialogue about, practice, and confirm an ethic of caring in the classroom. As a result of these behaviors, Noddings and others (Deiro, 1996; Martin, 1992) believe trust will develop. [paragraph 7]

    Trust is treated to a much more nuanced and rigorous examination within the organizational sciences, a field in which systematic research on trust has been conducted for over 40 years (Deutsch, 1958; Mellinger, 1956). Contemporary researchers in this field view the development and maintenance of trust relationships essential to such business practices as managerial relations (McAllister, 1995;  McKnight, Cummings & Chervany, 1998; Whitener, Brodt, Korsgaard & Werner, 1998), business law (Koehn, 1996), customer service and marketing (Cowles, 1997), transaction cost economics (Bigley & Pearce, 1998), interpersonal cooperation and teamwork (Jones & George, 1998), and strategic alliances (Das & Teng, 1998). Numerous attempts to articulate and refine a definition of trust reflect the importance given to the concept. [paragraph 8]

    In the paper cited above (Kennett, 1999), I discuss in detail the literature of trust as it appears in organizational and managerial studies. Of particular interest in this study is the work of Jones and George (1998) who write that however individuals may come to the initial decision to trust, it still must be worked out in terms of its meaning for both parties and the process by which such trust will evolve. Jones and George (1998) approach these issues from a psychological perspective and look at the interactions among people’s values, attitudes, moods, and emotions to define the experiential nature of trust. They then go on to propose a model for the evolution of trust, differentiating among three distinct forms of the trust experience: distrust, conditional trust, and unconditional trust. In so doing, they conceptualize trust as a dynamic experience which allows for shifting from one state to another on the basis of changing values, attitudes, moods and emotions within and among the participants in a trust relationship. The authors’ discussion of trust and cooperation in organizations is particularly pertinent to the interpersonal cooperation and teamwork which are central to the successful functioning of such educational partnerships as professional development schools. [paragraph 9]

    Another paper which examines the "linked dimensions" of trust and distrust posits the two factors as "distinct but potentially coexistent mechanisms for managing complexity" (Lewicki, McAllister & Bies, 1998, p. 440). Rather than seeing trust and distrust as one bipolar construct, mutually exclusive and opposite, the authors argue for the multifaceted and multiplex nature of today’s network relations. They suggest that a more realistic and useful way to conceptualize the trust/distrust distinction is to recognize the inconsistent and sometimes conflicting ways in which real people in interdependent relationships actually experience collaborative co-existence. The theories developed by Lewicki, et al. (1998) bring into focus the ambivalence in beliefs, attitudes, and expectations that often arise in complex and developing partnerships where roles are unclear and structure is uncertain. [paragraph 10]

    Finally, the work by Bigley and Pearce (1998) explores interactions between unfamiliar actors, within a framework of dispositional theories of trust. These theories assert that individuals who have successfully completed the basic task of developing a sense of trust in self, others and the world (Erikson, 1959) are thus dispositionally equipped to enter an unfamiliar situation with the ability to choose to employ initial trust behaviors. In many cases, these individuals also exhibit a rational decision to trust in the short term based on an expectation for long-term rewards for cooperative behavior. Bigley and Pearce quote Shapiro’s (1987) definition of trust as "a social relationship in which principals – for whatever reason or state of mind – invest resources, authority, or responsibility in another on their behalf for some uncertain future return (p. 626). [paragraph 11]

Background to the Current Study

    As background to the current study, a brief reflection on the initial stages of the partnership between the School of Education at Trinity International University (TIU) and LHS is helpful. Because of his interest in school partnerships, the superintendent of LHS, nationally known for his work on schools as "learning communities," was predisposed to view with favor my request for a high school site for our course. Since several other area colleges and universities were already involved in a variety of collaborative relationships with LHS, a pre-existent culture of cooperation had already created a "space" for our proposed venture. The superintendent's support created the context for what is described by NCATE (1997) as a "pre-threshold" level professional development school (PDS) partnership. [paragraph 12]

    My primary contact at LHS was Ms. Marsha Wray, Director of Personnel, who had been asked by the superintendent to work with me to develop our program. As we worked together in person, by phone, and by email to shape the structure and curriculum of the course, I was amazed by the extent of her cooperation. She frequently reassured me that the new program was not an imposition and the school was honestly pleased to have us in their building. Since I was so intensely grateful for this opportunity to significantly improve the quality of service we were offering to our students as a result of the partnership, our mutually positive feelings seemed to enhance our working relationship and carry us through the awkward situations that occasionally arose. [paragraph 13]

    One such misunderstanding occurred at the beginning of the semester. Marsha had recruited teacher volunteers to work with the 16 students enrolled in the methods class. In communicating with these teachers about their responsibilities, Marsha did not mention my hope that the students would be able to teach at least one lesson during the semester. Although I had mentioned this in my initial letter to the superintendent and thought that I had clearly conveyed it to Marsha, she did not recall that aspect of the curriculum and was understandably hesitant about returning to the teachers with additional requests. I was disappointed and felt that this limitation would weaken the overall program. However, I decided not to press the point and simply asked Marsha if she had any objection to the students themselves asking their cooperating teachers for an opportunity to teach after they felt ready to do so. She felt that this was a reasonable solution to the dilemma and a potential breakdown of trust was thus avoided. [paragraph 14]

    From the outset of our interaction, Marsha and I appeared to have an extremely cordial working relationship. The assistance from this highly capable and gifted planner was invaluable in providing us the opportunity to begin our program with a minimum of procedural problems. We both corresponded effectively through email and wrote over 25 notes and memos to each other over the course of the semester, generally focusing on scheduling and curriculum issues. During these exchanges, our awareness of each other's values and our respect for each other's abilities allowed us to negotiate within what was for both of us a novel and relatively unfamiliar situation. When misunderstandings such as the one detailed above arose during the course of the semester, we worked together to find positive ways to resolve the issues. [paragraph 15]

    At the end of the year, Marsha and I met to discuss the program and to make suggestions for how we might improve it the following fall semester. The audiotape of this meeting underscores the cordiality and congruence that had grown between us throughout the year. There is much agreement, laughter, and completion of each other's sentences. We began the meeting with discussion of the one negative note which sounded in the student survey-assessment of the course: their sense that the teachers had not been clear about what was expected of them. I found myself anxious to put their comments into perspective and to assure Marsha that the students' overall response was extremely positive. I did not want her to see their reaction to this one element as an indication that they were unreasonably critical. Marsha replied:

Just the opposite. I was concerned that they were disappointed. I think that when they walk into a building for the first time they should feel very welcome and anxious to be here, and we really wanted them to feel that way…. So when they felt that when they went into the classrooms for the first time that the teacher wasn’t really sure what to do with them, I felt bad about that. Those kids should have immediately had a sense of belonging and fitting in…and I think, particularly when you’re looking at a school this size, we make such an effort so people don’t feel shut out…that was exactly the thing I didn’t want them to feel.1

This mutual concern for each other's feelings and the desire to own our part of the blame was one of the many ways in which our growing relationship helped us to find ways to work together rather than to pull apart. [paragraph 16]

    Because I was very interested not only in what made the partnership work but also what might have worked against its success, I asked Marsha what might have caused her to question her willingness to work together with us.

When you came in and introduced the program to us, even though there were the unknowns that come just by doing something for the first time, you did have a pretty clear idea about what you were hoping that your students would do and that syllabus that you presented to us was pretty clear in terms of where you were going and what you were hoping to accomplish with that.

The other thing that I think really helped, and this may seem real silly to you – your kids were here when they were supposed to be; they did what they were supposed to do. Now I know that sounds silly, but we have had situations where people have said, "Yeah, we’d like to send some people over for observations" and they either don’t show up or they show up late or they think they are operating on their own timetable – and that’s a great way to create animosity in an organization where you’ve got 4,000 students to educate.  [paragraph 17]

    As a result of this meeting, both Marsha and I came away with a sense that we had cemented our initial relationship and moved it to the next level. We laughed together about how little we knew at the outset of the semester. "But it was fun!" We just plunged in. We had an opportunity to try something, and we did. It was all new, but we said, "You have to start someplace." We agreed that we had learned much in the process and were looking forward to getting an early start on our planning for the second year of our program. [paragraph 18]

    Unfortunately, Marsha and I did not have the opportunity to work together the following year. She moved to another district and in July, 1999, I received a notice that my new LHS contact would be Ms. Linda Garrett, a newcomer to the district who had been recently hired as Assistant Principal for instruction. Again, since I was out of the area for the summer, my initial contacts with Linda were by email. Marsha had spoken with her briefly and passed along her files on our collaboration. Based on our previous year's protocol, Linda took the steps necessary to find faculty willing to work with our students. She also helped me to set up an informational meeting with the cooperating teachers, an addition to the program that Marsha and I had agreed would be helpful in addressing the communication problems identified by students the previous year. To acquaint herself with the purpose of the partnership, Linda read the paper I had written on the first year of the program (Kennett, 1999). She agrees that the paper predisposed her to take the program seriously. She made copies for the teachers who would be working with our students and discussed its findings with me during one of our first face-to-face meetings. As an educator who is herself interested in research and involved in college-level instruction, Linda found the paper to be a point of contact between us and an indicator that the partnership's outcomes went beyond the benefit to students and perhaps also to the LHS faculty. It pointed to a connection with the broader educational community, an attempt to process our experience and communicate it to others who were interested in pursuing similar partnerships. In later discussion, we concluded that reading my paper early in our working relationship helped Linda to feel that she understood my perspective and goals. While we were yet relative strangers, we shared a desire to foster the school as a learning community, and in that shared vision we found a basis upon which to continue to build the partnership. [paragraph 19]

    Our program had now undergone its first transition of leadership and did so with a minimum of disruption. Linda recently reflected upon that first year:

Part of it was that I was trusting the system. I don't even know if I realized it was only in its second year. Everything was so new and overwhelming that I was trusting that this was an established program. I don't think until part way through that I realized that "Oh, this is just the second time through." And then it was real easy for me to sell it. I have to sell it to the directors, but I just sold it like "Oh, you've done this already" and they're like "OK," whereas if I had gone in like, "Well, I know you did it before and yet I wasn't so sure…." So I went with an attitude that I thought that this is what you do and so that made it easy…. So I guess part of it was just thinking the person before me had done that track work and trusting that this is what we do. And I think the relationship between you and I probably developed over the year as we worked together on it. [paragraph 20]

    At the end of the program's second year, Linda and I found ourselves with very little time to debrief despite an earlier-expressed desire to do so. Of the five junior-level students who participated in the program that year (down from 16 the year before), three of them decided not to remain in education following the LHS experience, and only two of them were going on to student teach at the end of their senior year. These decisions did not really surprise me; I believe that Linda and I both felt that this particular group had been somewhat of an anomaly (in fact, I made a point of stressing this to Linda since I knew that she had not had the experience of the previous year's far more committed students). We agreed that we would look forward to the larger group of students (13) who would be coming the following fall. Again I assured her that these individuals would be much closer in character to those who participated during the program's first year. Unfortunately I did not take the time to survey the LHS faculty or to generate the rich detail from students that I had gathered the year before. I think I was a bit embarrassed by the impression left by the majority of our students and felt that the less said, perhaps the better. I hoped that Linda and I had developed the level of trust that would enable us to work together the following fall despite the somewhat awkward nature of the past year's experience. [paragraph 21]

    As we ended our methods partnership in Fall1999, I did not know that we'd be facing yet another transition in Fall 2000. A new faculty position in the School of Education provided me with additional administrative time and led to my turning the secondary methods course over to the new staff member, Steve. Whereas the first transition (from Marsha to Linda) appeared to be almost seamless, this second transition (from myself to Steve) proved to be surprisingly difficult. Despite my attempts to acquaint Steve with the project as it had developed to date and to ensure that he and Linda met prior to the beginning of the school year, communication problems arose resulting in misunderstanding, misgivings, and awkwardness. It is this second rather rocky transition that prompted my desire to study the factors that created the tension. I was particularly interested in how the transition in leadership affected the level of trust that had developed between the two schools and what that might mean for the future success of our partnership. In addition, I hoped that what I might learn would be useful in identifying issues that should be considered during periods of transition in any ongoing collaboration, as well as furthering my attempts to describe the construct of trust in educational partnerships. [paragraph 22]

The Study

    The first hint of trouble came shortly before the group was scheduled to have their initial class meeting in the high school. Since students were giving presentations, Steve wanted to know if an overhead and VCR would be available in their assigned classroom or if he should bring the equipment from our campus. An email message to Linda asking for that information resulted in what seemed to Steve to be a somewhat terse reply. Several weeks later two members of the LHS special education department gave a presentation to the students. They enjoyed this experience and mentioned to Steve that they'd be happy to come again to continue the discussion. Steve tried to check in personally with Linda to see how she would respond to their suggestion, but because she was off campus he later wrote her an email asking for her input. Shortly thereafter Randy, one of the LHS teachers who was working with a Trinity student, met with Steve and offered to speak to the student group, along with a colleague, on teaching as an art (a topic of which he was especially fond). Again, Steve tried to see Linda to determine whether she would approve of Randy's suggestion. Since Linda was not in her office when he stopped by, he wrote another email requesting her response. [paragraph 23]

    At this point, two things happened, almost simultaneously: Steve came into my office concerned about Linda's level of commitment to our partnership. He told me of the difficulty he had seeing her and the briefness of her responses to his emails. Steve is a very sensitive individual, and he seemed to be sensing a relative coolness in Linda's response to his overtures. He felt that something was wrong but could not put his finger on what it might be. Several hours later, I received a call from Linda who expressed frustration at what she perceived to be a higher level of program oversight than she remembered from the preceding year. She wondered aloud if Steve understood the program as it had been designed since he seemed to be making one request after another. Since I had so recently been talking with Steve about this very thing, I was able to somewhat moderate her concerns, and assured her that Steve had only wanted to clear any changes to the schedule with her. In his view, he was merely following the appropriate channels. I underscored my respect for Steve's professionalism and suggested that she should arrange to talk with him directly about her concerns. I assured her that he would welcome her input. At this point, Linda appeared reassured. [paragraph 24]

    Following my conversation with Linda, I told Steve that she had called and recommended that he arrange to speak with her as soon as possible. Linda and Steve's meeting took place a week later in Linda's office. In our subsequent interviews, both Linda and Steve used the word "awkward" to describe the primary nature of the experience. Steve was seated in a chair across from Linda's desk when she arrived, a bit late for their appointment. Linda recalls,

I felt bad for him. I think he felt like he was on trial, sitting on that chair [Linda gestures to the chair on which I am sitting, which is significantly lower than her own desk chair].  I hate that chair. I hope no one put that in here on purpose [laughter]. It was very awkward. I felt horrible for him. It was not comfortable…. I felt like he was coming into the principal's office to be scolded. That's what I felt like, and I didn't want it to be like that. 

From Steve's perspective, the meeting was equally awkward. "I felt very awkward and responsible. I kept asking myself, 'How did I mess this up?' " But at the same time, he felt that he had been trying to be sensitive to the dynamics at LHS and to Trinity's position as a guest there. Because he himself had spent 8 years as a high school assistant principal prior to joining the Trinity faculty, he was clearly aware of the pressures Linda was facing in her position. Normally very much of a people person, Steve was uncomfortable with their misunderstanding and the resulting need to explain his actions. Faced with his own personal transition from high school administrator to college faculty member, Steve struggled to find his place in this encounter. [paragraph 25]

    It was at this point that I stepped in and requested the opportunity to use these transitional challenges as a vehicle for my ongoing study of trust relationships in educational partnerships. Using initial and follow-up interviews, I attempted to make sense out of the ways that Linda and Steve experienced their roles in the partnership. I also explored with them the role of trust in fostering increased cooperation and deeper involvement between participants in collaborative ventures such as our methods program. I am grateful for their input. [paragraph 26]

    As Linda and I discussed the factors which might have led to the misunderstanding, she offered her explanation after a pause for reflection:

Maybe it's higher stakes for me this year. Because now I understand more of the pressures across the board and the things that we're doing…. And then I coordinate all the student teaching observations and that has sky-rocketed just because of the change in certification for students and so it's unbelievable how we're getting deluges. I spend probably one or two hours a day answering questions about observing and trying to explain… So that what's going on is I guess I have a better idea of the scope of what we're doing -- the stresses and strains. I think being new it was easier because I just did it because it had been done before. Now I'm not sure I want to expand things…I just don't know how much is too much. 

At this point, Linda spent quite awhile sketching out for me the many pressures being faced by faculty and administrators alike because of LHS's excellent, national reputation; she underscored the desire of its top leadership to foster the culture of a learning community, one which invites continual learning, reflection, and professional development. "All of the directors every week are visiting outsiders and so I think part of it is me trying to make sense of when is enough or what's a good balance here of what we're doing." [paragraph 27]

    When I interviewed Steve, he had suggested that perhaps part of the problem was that, while he felt that he understood the basic goals of the partnership and was initially very positive about it, he was still an outsider taking over an already established program.

When we first talked, I thought, "This is really exciting! This is what we should be doing!"  I think I had a pretty good handle on what would happen between the kids and the supervisors. I had some assumptions based on the fact that I worked with pre-student teachers in my previous position. The model just made sense to me.

However, as he began to assume his role as the course instructor, he ran into difficulties.  He reflected aloud on the nature of the difficulties:

It might have helped if I had more contact with Linda during the first weeks. Since we didn't build the program together, it would have been important to implement it together…to see it as a joint venture. What I felt like was that I'd taken over a high school program, but still I'm very much the outsider…. We had the tour together, but then on the 28th and the 5th I tried to see her. She wasn't in the building. If she had been there, it might have been different. 

Interestingly, what appeared to Steve to be Linda's distance from the program caused him to question the level of her ownership. At the same time, Linda felt that perhaps part of the problem was that Steve "didn't have ownership into the whole process." Because both questioned each other's ownership, neither felt a shared commitment to the collaboration. [paragraph 28]

    By the time they realized there was a problem, neither Steve nor Linda could immediately point to the source of the misunderstanding. Both desired a positive working relationship, but each realized that this was not what they were experiencing. During our interview, Linda provided a personal reaction that could account for part of what Steve perceived to be her protective stance.

I guess part of it is just my attitude in general, thinking "What are we getting out of this?" Every week I give up an hour or two to work with visitors. And so you have that inside of the normal job you are doing. Also I'm worried about the classroom teacher and the kids. And so when Steve is…it seemed to me he was asking for more and I know I didn't know where he was coming from and I didn't know teachers were asking him until that conversation we had.

At this point, Linda remembered that most of their initial communication was done by email.

...and maybe part of it is that's the problem with email…even though it's a good way to connect, maybe not until you've established a relationship, because he'd be very straightforward and again I'm reading my thoughts into it like, "Oh, I don't know that we need to do more, and why do we want to do more." And you know, that's a LOT. 

I recalled Steve's awareness of his own self-admitted tendency towards wordiness, and his subsequent intention to be straightforward and succinct in his written communications with Linda. "I knew how busy she was, and I tried to keep my requests simple and to the point." [This is] an example of a well-meant decision backfiring because of a failure to establish a relationship which can provide the "voice" behind the written words of an email message. [paragraph 29]

    Linda's decision to call me when she recognized her growing frustration with Steve's requests underscores the benefits of a trust relationship.

I wasn't sure how to handle that…I thought about it for a while. I said [to myself], "Do I call Steve directly? Do I call Carol?" I didn't want to go over his head and put you in the middle…but then I thought there IS the relationship between you and me…I thought it'd be easier if I found out from you how to go ahead with it. And that's what I was looking for…But I felt bad there wasn't a trust in Steve enough to just go directly to him. 

Once I assured her that Steve was aware of the pressures she faced and rather than generating additional involvement was simply wanting her input on faculty members' suggestions, Linda's concerns were relieved. Trust between members in a partnership can be transferred, although it may at times be with difficulty. [paragraph 30]

    As we neared the end of the interview, Linda and I had come to a place where we felt the ripples which threatened our collaboration were being stilled.

And it's not Steve. Steve's a very nice guy…it's nothing personal against him. It's just…I haven't seen him. There is no relationship built there. It does make a difference. I find that one-on-one with people -- that if they have to disappoint a person it's a lot harder than a system or somebody they haven't … It's so much nicer to make the connection when there aren't those issues and then you have a face to call on when…. 

She was hopeful that once this awkward encounter is over between them their relationship will have a chance to grow. "I think we'll move on fine from here. It's not an issue with him, really it's not." And then she thought again about the final "straw" -- Randy's offer to speak to the Trinity students.

Actually, with Randy, it was more my issue…where do we want to go with this…how much? I just needed to hear from Randy what he wanted to do. 

Linda went on to share her concerns for other teachers at LHS who, like Randy, "give their all" and yet do not always know how to build in time for themselves.

That's what's fun and exciting about this place…the people are very professional and they're very open to all this because it's going on constantly so I feel that I have to protect them a little bit too from not being… because they won't even realize they're overstretched until it's too late. 

At this point in our interview, I wanted to return to her earlier comment about "What are we getting out of it?" Earlier she had said that Randy's response to the partnership was a partial answer to that question.

I mean Randy is the perfect example. He reflects back how it… I wish I had saved his voicemail for you. He says that this program causes him to be much more reflective of his practice weekly. He's thrilled to be participating in it. [paragraph 31]

    At the end of our discussion, she hearkened back to Randy as an example of one of the benefits of the program, to which I replied that it helps that our students are much more committed this year than last. And then she shared something that could have easily accounted for much of her uneasiness at the start of the semester.

Well… see..there's this other thing, too. I had feedback from people last year like why are we doing this? John (the principal) picked up on it right away. He asked that in front of other administrators and department directors. I thought it was interesting that he could size the group up so quickly…he was like "oye." 

"I told you that this would be a whole different ball game this year," I commented with a smile. Last year really was difficult.  Linda said how the principal's response has affected her view of the program: "That's what I told him… 'Carol assured me that it's different…' So then I'm also sensitive that I have to sell this program to people to keep it going… They now see it as 'my program' and that makes me feel more on the line with it." 

I appreciated her support and assistance and Linda responded to my appreciate with a positive remark:  "All we have to do is get one good teacher out of your program and it hooks us…. That's where we start to see the value. " [paragraph 32]


    I am truly concerned about the various tensions that are sure to occur, especially in suburban areas with proximity to several colleges and universities, as a result of the current push by state boards of education for additional and significant pre-student teaching field experience. As important as this experience is, the dynamics of finding placements for large numbers of students several times throughout their college career is daunting. Classroom teachers quite rightly give preference to the needs of their students. While they may be willing to open their rooms to observers and even participate in an occasional pre-clinical placement, they are not willing to sacrifice their students' learning by allowing large numbers of novice teachers to disrupt the flow of their instruction. On the other hand, principals who face the challenge of staffing their schools see such arrangements as a means to train the next generation of educators and, incidentally, to perhaps identify future teachers for their schools. Add to the mix many post-secondary field placement coordinators and individual instructors who are now trying to locate schools who will work with their education majors. These factors present a considerable challenge and highlight the importance of identifying the elements that foster the development of a successful educational partnership. [paragraph 33]

    There is little dispute that relationships are a key element both in the exploratory phases of such partnerships and as the glue that holds the partnership together through the inevitable difficulties that will be encountered wherever inexperienced, would-be teachers begin to test their wings in the classroom. An intuitive sense that trust is very important in such relationships runs through the educational literature, but what it looks like and how it is fostered is often taken for granted. From the study above, I would like to propose three aspects of trust and highlight their importance as guiding principles of a successful educational partnership. [paragraph 34]

    Trust development is an evolutionary process. Faced with the need to find ongoing placements for multiple levels of clinical experience, today's teacher educators are turning to educational partnerships with local K-12 schools. Developing such collaborative programs is often a challenge, since at first glance the benefit seems to rest mainly with the sending institution. The teacher educator's first task is to present her program as an "opportunity" for professional development and as a means of ensuring well-prepared candidates to meet the growing need for teachers. It is easy to see how such initial contacts could raise issues of mistrust and uncertainty about motives, values, expectations, and commitment. These issues need to be addressed before a possible partnership can begin to take shape. And then, as the program develops, they are continually revisited during times of difficulty, change, and transition. [paragraph 35]

    Jones and George (1998) discuss the reality of the "distrust, conditional trust, unconditional trust" continuum and posit its dynamic quality within any developing interpersonal collaboration. In the early stages of a collaboration, sometimes even things which might later seem "silly" can derail an otherwise positive beginning. As Marsha observed after the program's first year, had our students failed to arrive on time, they would have delivered a tacit message of irresponsibility and lack of commitment which could easily have resulted in distrust. The positive outcome of that first year ensured its continuation in year two. When Marsha turned the leadership of the partnership over to Linda, her perspective as to its value enabled Linda, as a newcomer at LHS, to confidently "sell" the program to her department directors. An initial willingness to trust, coupled with early success, generally leads to a deepening of the trust relationship. [paragraph 36]

    As Linda and I worked together during the program's second year, several factors contributed to our successful transition. Linda's interest in educational research positioned her to see value in the paper I had written and to appreciate the multifaceted outcomes of the program as Marsha and I had envisioned it. Thus, we connected as researchers. We are also both highly task-oriented individuals who share a similar work ethic. Our leadership styles worked well together. Even when we encountered some problems with the particular group of students who were part of that year's program, we didn't allow these difficulties to derail our efforts. I knew that the next year's class was far more capable and committed, and Linda trusted me enough to allow that assurance to calm whatever concerns she might then have had. The initial trust that existed between Marsha and myself as we designed the program had successfully transferred to my relationship with Linda as we implemented it during its second year. [paragraph 37]

    When a second change in leadership occurred in the third year, the relationship I had developed with Linda held the program together during the early misunderstanding that arose with Steve. Faced with mounting frustrations, Linda was comfortable enough to bring her concerns to my attention and to ask for input on how to proceed. And, because I had also been able to build a level of trust with Steve during his first months on our faculty, I was able to encourage him to meet with Linda. I was certain that face-to-face communication would begin to lay the foundation upon which the two of them could continue to build our program. [paragraph 38]

    In such ways, the meaning of trust must evolve in practice as program participants, who by the very nature of their jobs often see very little of each other, work through their difficulties, confront their misapprehensions and concerns, and respond to the changes that will inevitably occur. Seeing the development and maintenance of trust as a dynamic experience makes it possible for us to move along the distrust-unconditional trust continuum, making adjustments and responding to personality issues in ways that enable us not only to preserve but also to improve the partnership. [paragraph 39]

    Trust is a mechanism for managing complex collaborations. Any partnership, however initially positive, will encounter times of difficulty. Early enthusiasm wanes as the need for daily maintenance and oversight increases. Leaders of the program may begin to wonder, as did Linda in the above study, "What are we getting out of this?" The nascent trust that was present between the participants at the program's inception may falter in the face of such challenges as unmet expectations, procedural difficulties, or as is seen in the Trinity-LHS partnership, a change in program leadership. [paragraph 40]

    In their examination of the concepts of "trust" and "distrust," Lewicki, McAllister, and Bies (1998) suggest that, rather than being polar opposites, they are "linked dimensions" which often coexist in interdependent relationships. As such, they can be seen as mechanisms for dealing with the complexity inherent in cross-cultural partnerships such as those that exist between universities and K-12 schools. Collaborations are inherently messy according to Lewicki et al.:  for any steps forward, there may be some corresponding steps in reverse. A recognition of such messiness and the need to continually anticipate and grapple with difficult issues will assist the collaborators to respond to whatever crises may arise in the course of their partnership. [paragraph 41]

    The performance of our students in the second year of the partnership created doubt among LHS faculty and staff about the program's value, the doubt that, when expressed by LHS's principal, put Linda as the program's perceived owner in an uncomfortable position. When Steve took over in the third year, his attempt to communicate with Linda via succinct email messages was misread as intrusive and demanding. Without a relational foundation, Steve began to feel increasingly awkward in his interaction with Linda. Linda, perhaps unconsciously picking up on that awkwardness, found herself unsure of Steve's intentions and wondered if he understood how the program was meant to work. When these difficulties are seen as normal, collaborators are able to resist the temptation to throw in the towel; from their understanding of the complexity of the partnership, they can acknowledge the often coexistent nature of trust and distrust and make necessary adjustments to continue to move forward. [paragraph 42]

    Trust is a choice. One definition of trust which appears frequently within the business literature is proposed by Shapiro (1987), who speaks of trust as "a social relationship in which principals -- for whatever reason or state of mind -- invest resources, authority, or responsibility in another on their behalf for some uncertain future return" (p. 626). Certainly, educational partnerships reflect this perspective. In today's K-12 schools, teachers and administrators are investing their time and effort to assist in the development of future educators, often without a clear sense of what their schools are getting in return. In programs such as the one described in this paper, their investment can be substantial. As a university-based teacher educator, I can attest to the challenge of locating schools and like-minded administrators who are willing to explore the development of collaborative programs to provide clinical experience for our students. Such partnerships seldom arise naturally. I am frequently reminded of the public relations aspect of my job as I make cold calls to area schools attempting to sell a program idea to an already overworked principal or superintendent. [paragraph 43]

    It is in these risky first encounters that I am reminded of the earlier cited work by Bigley and Pearce (1998) which stresses the importance of one's basic disposition to trust. I am continually amazed by the openness to explore partnership ideas that I encounter in the relative strangers to whom I present my ideas. The dispositional theory of trust offers an explanation for this openness. It may be that a majority of individuals who choose teaching as a career and subsequently move into an administrative role are predisposed to employ trusting behaviors. Perhaps it is the hope that educators must have to sustain them in their teaching that leads to an initial positive and trustful response. In any event, it appears that trust is indeed a choice, and one which many of us appear ready to make. [paragraph 44]

    When Linda asked, "What are we getting out of this?," when the principal queried, "Why are we involved?," when Steve wondered about Linda's commitment to the program, all were at a pivotal point in the professional relationship. At such points, people need to decide if it's worthwhile to persevere or if they should simply exit a partnership in which the costs outweigh the apparent benefits. When Linda and Steve endured the awkwardness of their meeting, they were making a choice to believe that doing so would repair their misunderstanding and result in an improved working relationship. Linda's comment, "I think we'll move on fine from here," underscores her predisposition to trust. Her appreciation for the program's ability to energize teachers such as Randy highlights her commitment to the big picture. When she adds, "All we have to do is get one good teacher out of your program and it hooks us…. That's where we start to see the value," she illustrates the choice that many K-12 administrators are being asked to make: To enter into collaborative partnerships with schools of education for the purpose of preparing caring, competent, and qualified teachers to serve children in the 21st century. [paragraph 45]


    The primary goal of this paper is to explore trust development in school-university partnerships, especially as it is affected by the transitions in leadership that so frequently occur in such settings. It proposes three elements of trust and highlights their importance as guiding principles of a successful educational partnership. By understanding the evolutionary nature of trust development, collaborators see the value of early attention to relational foundations upon which they can then build their program. By acknowledging trust as a mechanism for managing complex collaborations, partnerships are not easily derailed when encountering periods of mistrust and misunderstanding. Finally, by viewing trust as a choice, participants retain the sense of power and ownership which enables them to continue to make that choice over time. The results of this study both underscore the fragile nature of educational partnerships and support the importance of trust relationships in preserving such programs during times of transition. [paragraph 46]


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*** This paper was originally presented at the session entitled "The Changing Culture of Teacher Education: Shifting Relations of Power, Partnership, and Practice" at the 99th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in November 15-19, 2000.  

1. All the direct quotations from the interviews have been minimally edited to capture the authenticity of what the interviewees said in particular verbal contexts.

Dr. Carol Kennett
is Associate Professor and Director of Education in Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL.  Her research focuses on trust building in cross-cultural relationships and teacher education.

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Recommended Citation in the APA Style

Kennet, C. (2000). Trust in the transitions: Changing leadership with an educational partnership. Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education [online], 2(2),  46 paragraphs. <Available: http://www.eastern.edu/publications/emme/2000fall/kennett.html> [your access year, month date]


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