Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Education, Teaching-Learning Processes

Date of Defense

4-12-2018

Graduate Advisor

Gayle Wilkinson, EdD

Committee

Wolfgang Althof, PhD

William Kyle, PhD

Carl Hoagland, PhD

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to discover how pre-service teachers (PSTs), classroom teachers, and administrators in an urban charter school perceive their own professional autonomy and administrative support by the school, and how the balance of autonomy and support impact their instructional practices. I designed and implemented this research as a single case study of Highland Charter School (a pseudonym), in a Midwestern U.S. city. This study involved seven teachers, three pre-service teachers, six administrators, and the charter sponsor. The case is an independent charter school serving mainly students of low socioeconomic backgrounds, from Kindergarten through Eighth Grade. At the beginning, the interviews were loosely structured and informed by classroom observations. Later, the interview questions became more focused but remained open-ended. Constant comparison of participants’ approaches and their reflections helped to reveal their own beliefs about the importance of teacher autonomy in meeting student needs.

There were many lessons to be learned throughout this endeavor. Highland’s leaders had cultivated an environment which balanced professional autonomy with administrative support. However, the autonomy was defined differently by each player, depending on his or her role in the school. Overall, teachers felt supported by the school administration, but they desired more guidance in terms of classroom technology and preservice teacher training. Teachers explored creative teaching strategies for their diverse classrooms. Autonomy extended to teachers' use of technology, and was seen as a tool for learning. Finally, instructional planning was deeply impacted by the shared commitment to character education and project-based learning.

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