Education and Human Sciences, College of (CEHS)


Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Interdepartmental Area of Educational Studies, Under the Supervision of Professors Ruth Heaton and Jon Pedersen. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2011

Copyright (c) 2011 Chris Jay Schaben


At its heart, science teachers’ professional development is about continual growth and improvement (Yager, 2005). Conducting research to understand what constitutes effective professional development is inherently complex (Hewson, 2007). The imperative to link research on professional development to student achievement (Fishman, Marx, Best, & Tal, 2003) increases complexity of research on the topic. These complexities require multiple research approaches and indicate that all stakeholders could provide insights to identify what constitutes effective professional development. District-level science supervisors’ voices are missing from the data on effective science teachers’ professional development and this provides a potential gap in the literature (Banilower, Heck, & Weiss, 2007; Elmore & Burney, 1999; Shroyer, Miller, Hernandez, & Dunn, 2007).

The purpose of this multiple-case study was to gather information from six district-level science supervisors from six different school districts in six different states to gain a deeper understanding of their insights on what constitutes effective professional development. The empirical data examined in this study resulted from interviews, participant drawings, observations, and document review. The major finding was that the district-level science supervisors mostly confirmed what was known in the field. However, this finding could be used in a variety of ways to support future research; such as providing a potential data source to corroborate self-reported teacher survey data. The findings from this study also identified a few nuances to what is known about effective science teachers’ professional development research. Specifically, a finding suggests that researchers may need to reconceptualize the amount of time before which science teachers’ professional development can impact student achievement. Another nuance identified relates to the, already known, understanding that district-level science supervisors’ beliefs (Borman, 2005) and position power can impact their actions (Spillane, 2000). This nuance suggests that district-level science supervisors may desire that the teachers in their districts teach as they taught. If so, future research should identify what teaching approaches the district-level science supervisors utilized when they were teaching.

Advisors: Ruth Heaton and Jon Pedersen