Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Teacher Education and Teacher Development

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Suzanne McCotter

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Kathryn Herr

Committee Member

Jeremy Price

Committee Member

Monica Taylor


Laws such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and the Every Student Succeeds Act have shaped the landscape of education in many ways, including how professional development is structured. As a result, professional development has become increasingly limited to training teachers to carry out top-down mandated reforms based on subject-knowledge rather than concentrating on teacher learning efforts focused on the growth of adults as learners (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2006, 2009; Hirsch, 2006; Mertler, 2010). Organic, teacher-driven professional development, such as action research, provide teachers with opportunities to disrupt the often paternalistic power structures that currently exist. The purpose of this practitioner action research study was to examine professional learning within a teacher-driven study group. The study group consisted of seven secondary level English and social studies teachers, including myself, where we self-selected topics to examine that we believed were important. I was guided by the following research question: What does professional development look like when we, as teachers, gather to examine elements of classroom practice that are meaningful to us? I utilized James Paul Gee's (2004, 2007, 2015) affinity space concept as a useful lens to make meaning of these organic, collaborative learning experiences. I found that despite conducting professional development without administrative oversight, the group initially found it difficult to avoid replicating traditional professional development structures. However, once the group was able to break the unspoken rules that govern traditional professional development, concepts such as expertise, space, and funding could be challenged. Additionally, I found that not only did the study group adjust to meet our changing needs but we also grew professionally as our work created ripple effects as we shared what we learned with others.