Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations

Collegial Trust For School Improvement: A Case Study of K-12 General and Special Education Teachers

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Christy Galletta Horner (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Dryw Dworsky (Other)

Third Advisor

Kristina LaVenia (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Chris Willis (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Kelly Jo Wohlgamuth (Committee Member)


Closing the gap between academic achievement of the highest and lowest performing students has been a target of state and federal legislation for almost two decades. Currently, public school leaders and teachers operate in a system in which student achievement data are tied to the performance evaluations of districts, schools, teachers, and principals. This high-stakes environment has engendered a climate in public education in which leaders and teachers must collaborate to deliver effective instruction or suffer ramifications for their failure to do so.

Because relational trust supports effective collaboration between teachers, leaders of school reform should attend to relational trust to support reform efforts. But building relational trust during times of school reform may be difficult because a high stakes environment may not be conducive to collaboration. Therefore, school leaders may be faced with a paradox: trust building may jeopardized by the reform efforts for which trust is needed.

The purpose of this study was to explore collaboration among teachers during school reform. Specifically, this study investigated collaboration between general and special educators, teachers’ perceptions of leader support for collaboration, and leaders’ perceptions of teacher collaboration. Participants in this study included 35 teachers and nine leaders from elementary, middle, and high schools in one school district.

Results indicated that general and special educators often struggled to build relational trust. General and special educators who experienced trusting relationships, however, promoted symmetry between their roles and developed norms to support collaboration. Further, leader and teacher participants in this study both supported the notion that a trust paradox exists, suggesting that accountability pressures complicate trust building among colleagues. Participants identified several leader behaviors that were supportive of collaborative relationships among teachers as well as leader behaviors that did not support trust building. Findings from this study may offer guidance for leaders who want to support teacher collaboration to improve student achievement.