Jodi G. Zeis

Date of Award

Summer 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Christine Lotter


High poverty rural schools face teacher turnover at a rate higher than average schools. Perceptions drive decisions. Workplace circumstance affect what drives the leadership of STEM teacher leaders in high poverty rural schools. Therefore, when STEM teacher leaders leave, they take their unique skill sets with them. Research shows that engagement and self-efficacy, along with professional appreciation lead to a higher retention rate of teachers. Often that is achieved through distributed leadership. This study aimed to determine how leadership experiences shape the professional perceptions of STEM teacher leaders in high poverty, rural schools. Building on previous research this study asked: In what ways do administrators at high poverty, rural, schools perceive they are utilizing STEM teacher leaders; How do STEM teacher leaders perceive that they are utilized to provide and support professional development of other teachers; What administrative factors and teaching conditions promote STEM teacher leadership in high poverty, rural districts?

In this research, the term STEM teacher leader was defined as an educator whose primary responsibility is teaching students in either science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, but works formally and or informally to continue to support other teachers on an on-going basis (Wenner & Campbell, 2017). This research included surveys and interviews of administrators of STEM teacher leaders and STEM teacher leaders. Analysis of their responses showed that turnover of not only STEM teacher leaders, but of administrators, affected the perception of engagement in leadership roles of those STEM teacher leaders. The research also showed that teacher leaders with high personal efficacy participated in roles of supporting and this encouraged the teachers to continue leading. On this basis, it is recommended that districts actively engage in the development and facilitation of on-boarding processes for schools when new principals arrive. It is suggested that such a process allows for the stability of on-site teacher leadership to continue for an introductory period of time by establishing procedures that allow for some consistency during transition years when new principals arrive. It is also recommended that all teachers receive responsibilities through the practice of distributed leadership, to increase their agency and to allow teacher leaders more time to provide professional development support.

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