The Journal of Educational Administration, the first international journal in educational leadership and management and still one of the most prestigious, is celebrating its 60th anniversary. To celebrate this milestone, the journal is publishing a special issue reprinting the ten most cited articles from its six decades of publication. The work of Professor Megan Tschannen-Moran, of the Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership department, has been highlighted in this issue with the top most cited article and also the fourth most cited article. No other scholar had more than one article recognized. Both of these frequently cited articles grow out of her scholarship on the importance of fostering trust in schools.
Tschannen-Moran says that the inspiration for her scholarship grows out of her experiences starting and running a small school in an underserved neighborhood in the city of Chicago. Despite the negative reputation of the neighborhood, the school had a positive and productive vibe that was palpable even to casual visitors. Today, when you walk into her office, the walls are filled with photographs of former students to remind her of that special place.
After 14 years of leading her small school, Tschannen-Moran moved on to graduate school at The Ohio State University with a burning desire to discover what made that small school so special and to discover how to share those learnings with others. Her first course at OSU was with Professor Wayne Hoy and focused on his research on school climate. She realized with delight that this concept of school climate was part of the answer she was looking for.
As Hoy's research assistant, her first assignment was to explore the construct of teacher self-efficacy, and Tschannen-Moran discovered yet another key ingredient to the productive climate of her small school. Hoy tasked her with gathering all of the articles she could find on teacher self-efficacy. Hoy, together with his wife Anita Woolfolk Hoy, invited her to collaborate on a review article which was later published in the Review of Educational Research that sparked a groundswell of new research on the topic that continues today. Tschannen-Moran calls this moment “a life-changing invitation” because it fostered her own self-efficacy to pursue a career as a scholar.
With two significant constructs in answer to the burning question that brought her to graduate school, Tschannen-Moran might have been content to focus on those. However, she recognized that there was yet another construct that seemed essential to the success of her small school and that was trust. She also realized that, at the time, there was very little scholarly research being done on the construct, apart from several articles Hoy had published some years earlier.
Because of the dearth of research on trust in schools, Tschannen-Moran explored the construct more broadly, tapping into the work of scholars in psychology, management, economics, and philosophy. She conducted her dissertation research on trust in schools and published the two articles that are being highlighted by the Journal of Educational Administration from that research.
Published in 1998, Trust in Schools: A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis reports how teacher trust is connected to how teachers treat each other, and trust in the principal is connected to how the principal behaves. One of the philosophers whose work Tschannen-Moran drew upon was Annette Baier, who noted that we tend to notice trust as we notice air, only as it becomes scarce or polluted.
Tschannen-Moran observed that her research on trust coincided with a decline in trust in all institutions both in the United States and around the world, so people started to take notice of trust in schools. Because of the interest generated, at least in part, due to this decline this publication is recognized as the top most cited article as the Journal of Educational Administration marks its 60th anniversary.
Not far behind, another of Tschannen-Moran’s articles on trust, Collaboration and the Need for Trust (2001), is also being featured in the anniversary edition as the fourth most cited article in the journal’s history. This article shows empirical evidence for a correlation between trust and collaboration in a school, giving school leaders evidence for the importance of trust if they want a collaborative school culture. This article also stemmed from Tschannen-Moran’s mixed methods dissertation research as well, a product of the study’s quantitative results. Tschannen-Moran concludes this article with the observation that trusting environments that support collaboration will lead to vibrant schools.
Tschannen-Moran is currently working to refine her measure of school climate, The Vibrant School Scale, to explore the degree to which a school nurtures enlivened minds, emboldened voice, and playful learning. With a team of colleagues, as well as former and current students, she is undertaking an international study on vibrant schools.
When asked if that concluding sentence two decades ago was a hint to readers, Tschannen-Moran was surprised she named vibrancy so early in her career. But she connects it back to her little school in Chicago, “It was a beautiful experience and the motivation I had to learn lessons from that comes out in ways that surprise me,” she says.
Tschannen-Moran grounds her work in her passion from her days at her little school in Chicago, connecting the pieces to understand what made it so positive and productive. From that experience came her work in self-efficacy, trust, collaboration, and school vibrancy. Tschannen-Moran offers advice to young scholars to follow their passion. She notes that “if you don’t feel it, it’s hard to persuade others it’s worth their time and participants’ time as well.” Tschannen-Moran followed her passion and was able to provide so many scholars and practitioners the evidence and tools they needed to build thriving schools.