Dissertation Defense – Rabia Shahbaz

July 17, 2014 @ 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm
College of Education, room 608
30 Pryor Street Southwest
Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30303

Leading an Online Professional Learning Community of Mathematics Teachers as an Impetus for my Development into a Teacher Leader: An Autoethnographic Study
by Rabia Shahbaz

Recently, the notion of educational leadership has expanded from school administrators to instructional coaches, department chairs, and teacher leaders. This expansion is the result of the 1980s education reform initiatives with which the concept of teacher professional development has evolved into building professional learning communities (PLCs). The PLCs play multiple roles by providing: (a) sources for ongoing instructional support; (b) forums for collaboration and reflection; and (c) platforms for developing leadership skills among teachers. Many studies emphasize the need for teacher leaders (TLs) to lead these communities. However, little is known about the reciprocal role of these communities in the development of TLs.

This study, which is a highly personalized account of my reflections, analyses, and interpretation, chronicles my experience of leading an online PLC mathematics teachers. The purpose of this study is twofold: developing self-understanding which leads to self transformation, and constructing a cultural understanding of how a TL develops in her role. Using an insider’s vantage point, I provide a retrospective analysis of the factors and processes that influenced my role as the lead teacher of an online PLC and evolved me into a TL outside the online context. The main research question that guides this study is “If and how did my experience of leading an online professional learning community contribute in my development as a teacher leader?”

To examine my development, I used Kegan’s (1980) leadership developmental framework based on constructive developmental theory. The study employed autoethnography, a recently emerging research methodology in which the researcher is the main character and the researcher’s experiences are the data. The method I used to analyze my autoethnographic data is qualitative content analysis. Using the themes emerged from the literature and Kegan’s developmental framework, I examined the factors that contributed in my development into a TL. The results showed that the online PLC played an important role in my development by providing ongoing support/mentoring, access to resources, and a positive environment open to experimentation. The study is unique in its approach of using developmental theory and autoethnography to enhance self-understanding and highlight the intricacies and nuances of teacher leadership.