Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Pamela A. Angelle

Committee Members

Bruce J. MacLennan, Susan Newsom, Gary C. Ubben


Within the broader context of accountability imposed from beyond our schools, this mixed methods, multi-site case study investigated the development of relational trust and trustworthy relationships as internal accountability structures within three independent schools replicating responsible independence on the scale of the school as trustworthy freedom on the scale of the individual. Interviews, observations, artifacts, sociograms, and surveys were analyzed to identify teacher and administrator perceptions of structures supporting relational trust, accountability to community standards, and sustainable trust-based cultures. Survey data were also analyzed for corresponding evidence of organizational conditions associated with school improvement: teacher orientation to innovation, teacher commitment to school community, peer collaboration, reflective dialog, collective responsibility, focus on student learning, and teacher socialization. Structures found to support responsible freedom at these schools included their historic honor systems, programs for character education, strategic planning, and policies and schedules guiding daily life. Neither structure nor freedom alone was found to be sufficient to sustain cultures built on relational trust and mutual accountability. Inflexible structures or inauthentic, coercive, or incompetent leaders diminished social capital over time at all three schools. Schools enjoying the best organizational conditions for school improvement built capacity by fostering macro-micro feedback loops of honor and trust between the scales of the individual and the school as a professional learning community. Findings were applied to develop a model for individual and organizational capacity building, relating the dimensions of relational trust and accountability to standards. The two-dimensional model for capacity building identified four categories of school capacity based on levels of both relational trust and accountability to standards: low capacity schools, compliant schools, complacent schools, and high capacity schools. The model further developed associated strategies for moving schools in each category towards developing or sustaining high capacity.

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