Department of Educational Administration


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: Educational Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Marilyn L. Grady. Lincoln, Nebraska: October, 2010
Copyright 2010 Sandra Gaspar.


The purpose of this study was to describe the transformation of one small, rural school district’s professional development program. The study focused on the actions that school leaders took to replace a traditional, workshop-based program that was deemed ineffective with a new professional development model. The new model was designed to create professional learning communities by taking advantage of and further developing teacher leadership.

Within this mixed-methods case study, both survey data and interview data were collected. The study describes (a) internal and external factors that influenced the change, (b) selection and implementation of the model, (c) the cycle of transformation that occurred, including interactions among school administrators, teacher leaders and other professional staff as the program became institutionalized, and (d) outcomes that resulted after three years of implementation.

Findings indicate there were positive outcomes from the change. The initial effectiveness of the new model may have been enhanced if teacher leaders had been more involved in decision-making processes relative to its adoption and launch. Findings also indicate that schools within the district are above average on a developmental continuum that measures the maturity of professional learning communities. The effectiveness of professional learning communities is dependent in part on democratic leadership with teachers sharing power, authority and decision making. For schools within this district to continue maturing as professional learning communities, strengthening democratic leadership will be essential.

These findings have implications for the pre-service and in-service training of both school administrators and teacher leaders. They also suggest the potential for more inter-district sharing of successful change initiatives in the interest of improved learning for all students.

Adviser: Marilyn L. Grady, Ph.D.