Date of Award

Fall 2013

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Ruth Wharton-McDonald


Change is often expected as the logical outcome of large scale investments in professional development, yet research studies (e.g., Tyack & Cuban, 1995; Lipson, Mosenthal & Woodside-Jiron, 2000; Schraw & Olafson, 2002) note wide variations in instructional practice despite such efforts. This qualitative inquiry was designed to understand factors that support or undermine teacher learning and to examine how change in instructional practices took hold for members of one school community exposed to radically different thinking about the teaching of writing. The participants were teachers and an administrator who collaborated with Donald Graves in Atkinson, New Hampshire during his groundbreaking research project on the writing process of young children (1978-1980). This study also explored the evolution and sustainability of instructional practices developed in the classrooms at Atkinson Academy. The research questions that guided this project addressed how change took hold for teachers in this school community and what factors influenced their professional learning.

Grounded Theory (Charmaz, 2006) methodology was used for this study as it allows for a focus on individual beliefs, personal motivations and interpretations of experience from the perspective of the participants themselves. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 teachers and the school principal. Information was gathered regarding background, experiences, epistemology, and collaborative interactions. Following extensive coding and analysis of data (Saldana, 2009), three major themes emerged that were found to be significant in the facilitation of change in instructional practice for individual participants: (1) the redefinition of school leadership to facilitate change; (2) the existence of multiple mentor-apprentice relationships; and (3) the development of a stance of inquiry as a vehicle for learning. Three case studies explore social interactions found to be critical in the complex and dynamic process of change.

Though no isolated catalyst was identified, a combination of pivotal experiences, interpersonal supports and differentiated opportunities propelled and sustained this learning community. At the very core of this process was collaboration with a strong school leader and time for teacher learning to take place. Implications for professional development and future research are discussed in relation to the results of this study.