Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Sue Poppink

Second Advisor

Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer

Third Advisor

Dr. M. Scott Korpak


Professional learning, teacher leadership, distributed leadership, professional development, low performing schools, learning communities


A cross-sectional survey was utilized in this study to explore the perceptions of teacher in low performing schools. These perceptions concerned the influence of teacher leadership and professional learning on their changes in knowledge and instructional practices. Research advises that in order to help students grow, teachers must engage in professional learning activities which help them to develop and master new instructional strategies (Bredeson & Scribner, 2000; DuFour & Marzano, 2012; Harrison & Killion, 2007). Research also suggests that distributed leadership can have a positive influence on the professional culture in a building, creating a positive learning environment for both teachers and students (Donaldson, 2007; Harris & Spillane, 2008; Lattimer, 2007; Muijs & Harris, 2006; Timperley, 2005). As a key component of distributed leadership, teacher leadership helps to influence positive change within a school (Reeves, 2006, 2008; Kinney, 2008).

Within the research there is minimal information about informal teacher leadership and informal professional learning. This study was designed to begin to fill this gap by surveying teachers about their experiences connected to both formal and informal teacher leadership as well as formal and informal professional learning, and the relationship between the two.

The findings suggest that both formal and informal teacher leadership positively influence what teachers perceive as change in their instructional knowledge and practice. Formal leadership was slightly more influential. Further findings suggest that informal professional learning occurs more frequently then formal professional learning. Teachers’ perceptions of knowledge and change in instructional strategies vary by level: high school are different than both middle school and elementary school.

For the purpose of practice and organizational structure the more professional learning time that can be dedicated to working collaboratively and reflecting on instructional strategies the more teachers will know and feel confident in their instruction. Moreover, it is necessary to have leadership spread among both formal and informal teacher leaders to allow the knowledge and support to be infiltrated into the system of a school. Lastly, teachers appreciate being able to work closely with colleagues and feel supported which creates a healthy environment for professional learning to take place.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access