Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership


Gordon A. Donaldson, Jr.

Second Committee Member

Richard Ackerman

Third Committee Member

Paul Knowles

Additional Committee Members

Sally Mackenzie

George Marnik


Educational research over the past 15 years shows that schools and school districts have, on a large scale, failed to translate reform goals into improved teacher practice and student learning. Although classroom teachers are central to successful school reform, research has rarely examined how teachers experience reform initiatives and how that experience shapes their capacity for improved teaching that leads to greater student achievement. Without a more thorough understanding at the teacher level about the impact of reform initiatives, schools and school systems will continue to waste valuable time and resources implementing well-intentioned reform initiatives that do little to improve student learning.

The goal of this study was to explore teacher perceptions about the impact certain school and school system initiatives had on their classroom practice and on student learning in literacy. This was a qualitative study involving seven teachers at the Kennebec River Valley Elementary School in Martinsville, Maine. Through multiple interviews, the research explored each teacher’s understanding of how district and school reform activities shaped their teaching and student learning, and which conditions were most responsible for deepening their knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Data analysis examined how these conditions represented various types of capacity-building influences on teachers’ human capacity.

This study found evidence that teachers believed certain types of school/system initiatives had supported growth of their knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The study revealed important interdependent connections among four types of capacity-building activity reflected in the reform initiatives: human, organizational, structural, and material capacity types. It found that changes in the organizational capacity of the school/system were most influential in changing teacher practice. The study revealed two powerful conditions in teacher learning: opportunities to learn practices teachers found relevant to their classrooms; and the ability to choose among learning opportunities.

This research suggests that school districts' efforts to improve instruction and student learning will benefit from the systemic alignment of human, organizational, structural, and material capacity initiatives, with a particular emphasis on building a strong organizational culture that provides teachers with choice in directing their learning.