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The fragility of trust in the world of school principals

Keith Walker (Department of Educational Administration and Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada)
Benjamin Kutsyuruba (Faculty of Education, Queen's University, Kingston, Canada)
Brian Noonan (College of Education, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 16 August 2011




The purpose of this paper is to examine the trust‐related aspect of the work of school principals. The authors' exploratory examination of the Canadian school principals' perceptions of their moral agency and trust‐brokering roles described their establishing, maintaining, and recovering of trust in schools. This article is delimited to the selected perceptions of Canadian principals' regarding the fragile nature of trust in their school settings.


This study used the open‐ended responses from surveys sent to school principals (n=177), who responded to the authors' invitation to complete a survey, as part of a larger study, in the ten provinces and three territories of Canada. The data analyses included theme and cross‐theme analyses.


This study has pointed to the perception that trust‐related matters are an important, yet a fragile, aspect of the work of principals. Principals often have to deal with trust‐related matters, which have caused trustworthiness to be threatened and trusting relationships to be broken. Trust‐related problems contribute to the fragility of trust and frequently seem to pertain to relationships between principal and other administrators, staff members, parents, and students. Most of the time, principals as leaders felt personal responsibility to make sure relationships among all stakeholders were sustained and, if broken, restored. The prevalent belief among participants in the study was that trusting relationships, though fragile and often broken, are subject to the hope of restoration and renewal.


This study provided valuable findings that enhance the understanding of ethical decision making and trust brokering amongst the Canadian school principals. While the discussions of trust and moral agency are certainly present in the educational literature, not much is known about the self‐perceived role of a principal as both a moral agent and trust broker. Moreover, there is perceived need for qualitative studies in the area of trust in educational leadership.



Walker, K., Kutsyuruba, B. and Noonan, B. (2011), "The fragility of trust in the world of school principals", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 49 No. 5, pp. 471-494.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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