Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership


George Marnik

Second Committee Member

Sarah Mackenzie

Third Committee Member

Janet Fairman


This study offered an opportunity to explore teachers’ knowledge and use of service-learning as an instructional strategy that offers promise for transforming young peoples’ educational experiences in schools. The conceptual framework for this study was the National Youth Leadership Council K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice. The 2008 evidence-based standards provided the service-learning field with a framework for principles of effective service-learning practice that, if embedded into service-learning experiences, lead to improved student outcomes.

The study sought to understand implementation difficulties that teachers experience as they develop knowledge about service learning and as they use it in their classrooms. The researcher used a qualitative approach to explore teachers’ knowledge and practice of service-learning, to understand if and why teachers applied variations to standards of service-learning practice; and to explore how schools as organizations support teachers service-learning work.

Eight middle school teachers from three Maine schools were selected using a criterion sampling method. Interview questions elicited detailed descriptions about teachers’ knowledge and practices of service-learning and about the organizational supports that facilitated their service-learning implementation. In addition, principals at each school were interviewed. The researcher developed portraits of teachers that described their service-learning knowledge and practice, which contributed to the development of a continuum of service-learning knowledge and practice.

Four major findings came from this qualitative study of eight teachers, first, those at the early stages of using service-learning lacked awareness of the intended goals, student outcomes and practice standards of service-learning and as a result, they were unable to fully attend to the outcome-bearing aspects of the practice. Secondly, teachers’ knowledge and perceptions about the SL practice standards affected the types of variations they applied in their practices. Thirdly, teachers believed their service-learning practices benefitted from opportunities to observe other teachers, work with mentors, receive ongoing professional development, and have access to a professional network of service-learning colleagues. Lastly, administrative leadership played an important role in providing a supportive organizational environment for teachers’ increased understanding and effective implementation of service-learning. This study contributes to the field by providing a detailed description of how teachers gain an understanding of service- learning.