Date of Award

Winter 2-18-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Jeffrey Lee, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Keith Larick, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Marcie Plummer, Ed.D.


Purpose: The purpose of this phenomenological study was to identify and describe behaviors exemplary superintendents practice during leadership team meetings to build and maintain trust with their principals based on the facets of trust defined by Tschannen-Moran and Hoy (benevolence, reliability, competency, honesty, and openness).

Methodology: The qualitative use of phenomenology was utilized in this study. Respondents were able to tell their stories, providing semistructured feedback in order for the researcher to gain a deeper understanding of trust building during leadership team meetings. The researcher interviewed 16 principals from Sonoma and San Mateo Counties.

Findings: Examination of qualitative data from the 16 principals participating in this study indicated a variety of findings and themes. These themes were (a) following through consistently on next steps and requests; (b) creating a nurturing environment; (c) fostering open and honest conversations with members of the leadership team; (d) being open to discussing difficult or controversial topics; (e) having the “backs” of their principals; (f) having strong communication before, during, and after meetings; (g) using past experience in demonstrating knowledge about complex topics; (h) listening with an open heart and open mind; (i) modeling their own humanness and vulnerability; (j) creating a “safe space” for all principals to have a voice; (k) serving as an inspirational leader who cares about all staff; (l) providing community building and welcoming activities; (m) following up with individual principals after the meeting; (n) making decisions after taking all input into consideration; and (o) being forthcoming in owning and accepting their own errors.

Conclusions: The study supported eight conclusions including (a) initiate a communication plan with principals, (b) develop intentional meeting structure, (c) share past experiences in decision-making, (d) seek multiple perspectives from principals, (e) prioritize the needs of principals, (f) model vulnerability and empathy, (g) turn missteps into opportunities, and (h) empower principal voice and agency.

Recommendations: Future qualitative or mixed methods studies exploring trust building throughout school districts are recommended. A longitudinal mixed methods study following principals throughout their careers and their trust-building partnerships with their superintendents would be highly informative.