Date of Award

Summer 8-8-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Jami Royal Berry, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Nicholas J. Sauers, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Robert C. Hendrick, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

RaNae M. Fendley, Ed.D.


Professional learning communities (PLCs) have been adopted and implemented in many schools as a strategy for ensuring teacher capacity building, job-embedded professional learning, improved teacher effectiveness, and data-driven decision-making for the selection and use of instructional strategies. The focus of this study was on the latter; decision-making regarding the selection and use of instructional strategies. This qualitative study investigated how teachers who are members of professional learning communities described their ability to utilize their decision-making skills in the selection and use of strategies to improve instruction. The study included individual interviews, observations, and artifact analysis. The site of the study was an elementary school (PreK-5) located in a suburban school district in which professional learning communities are utilized. Data were analyzed and compared to grounded principles from which informed conclusions were drawn. Findings from the several sources were compared to principles that support theories about organizational change and adult-learning. Not only did study participants report having the autonomy to make decisions about instruction, but they perceived PLCs as a great forum for ensuring that they made the best decisions. Every study participant valued the opportunity to meet on a regular basis to discuss their work with colleagues to improve instruction. It is the critical link between adult learning and student learning that professional learning communities capitalize upon. Both teacher learning and student learning must be supported for a school to thrive. Four themes emerged from this study; (a) shared personal practice, (b) the cyclical nature of improving student learning outcomes, (c) collaboration, and (d) teacher autonomy in the selection of instructional strategies. The dissertation underscores the need for leaders to understand concepts related to organizational change and adult learning.