Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Louann Bierlein Palmer, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

LaSonja Roberts, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Pamela Pugh, Ph.D.


Flourishing, PERMA, professional well-being, teacher retention, teacher well-being, urban teachers


Historically, urban public schools with high concentrations of high-poverty, low-achieving students, report having difficulty attracting, developing, and retaining qualified and effective teachers (Ansley et al, 2019; Petty, 2012; Simon & Johnson, 2015; Wilder, 2012). A common explanation to the attrition crisis in urban schools is that teachers are suffering from stressors (e.g., student characteristics, school climate, concerns for safety, lack of parental support, accountability measures), that leaves them burnt out. Yet, there are experienced and qualified K-12 teachers who are committed to working in these schools. Advances in the field of positive psychology, has spilled over into the educational arena and has shifted the conversation about the occupational health of teachers, from a deficit view, to looking at teachers’ professional well-being through a lens of flourishing.

This qualitative study explores the experiences of 10, K-12, teachers to better understand how they perceive their professional wellbeing and how have they flourished enough to have stayed teaching in high poverty, lower performing schools for at least a decade. Through one-on-one interviews, supported by data collected from the Workplace Wellbeing Survey (WWS), seven major themes and three minor themes emerged as these teachers describe various aspects of their professional wellbeing using Seligman’s (2012) PERMA model on flourishing (e.g., positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment).

The data reveals these experienced urban teachers still find joy and pride working in high poverty, lower performing schools, and that for them, participating in the teaching and learning process is engaging. Over the years, these teachers have built positive and supportive relationships within their school community—which includes other teachers, their principals, students and parents—that have contributed to their overall professional well-being; creating flourishing environments. While working in urban school districts, they have gained the pedagogical skills and cultural competence that allows them to advocate for their students’ academic, social and emotional needs as a way to help improve their students’ academic outcomes and quality of life. For these teachers, this level of advocacy transcends their own personal and professional needs, making teaching in such settings meaningful despite the complexities they face daily, even while attempting to navigate through a national health pandemic.

Through the voices of experienced urban, K-12 teachers, the findings from this research contributes to the literature related to professional wellbeing and workplace flourishing at a time when attrition rates are causing large scale teacher shortages nationally. Stronger quantitative approaches and more qualitative studies are needed to add to the body of knowledge to offer a better understanding of teachers’ professional wellbeing and their ability to flourish in urban public-school districts across the United States of America.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access