Date of Award

Spring 5-22-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


John Tillotson


Effective Professional Development, Q Methodology, STEM Professional Learning

Subject Categories

Education | Science and Mathematics Education


The design and implementation of secondary teacher professional development (PD) has been a focus of researchers for decades. Often viewed as the way to increase the quality of teaching and to improve student achievement, billions of dollars are invested in PD within the United Stated every year. As such, researchers continue to seek new avenues to understand and to improve the benefits of PD.An area of inquiry that has drawn specific interest amongst some investigators are the characteristics of effective PD. Numerous studies purport the need for these characteristics to be included in the design of PD. Yet, teachers’ perspectives regarding these characteristics are lacking from the many studies that exist. Additionally, the growing list of characteristics in the research literature poses a challenge for PD facilitators who are trying to design professional learning activities as they cannot necessarily incorporate all characteristics. As such, this study employed the use of Q methodology to examine teachers' perceptions of the characteristics of effective professional development PD to identify those characteristics teachers identify as most important to their professional growth. National standards emphasize the importance of integrated STEM instruction at the adolescence education level. The practices called out in the standards are in many ways new and novel for teachers. As such, contemporary research has emphasized the importance of PD for STEM teachers. Hence, this study focused on science and mathematics teachers in grades 7-12. Three research questions were explored for this study: (i) What do science and mathematics teachers in grades 7-12 view as important to their learning when reflecting on the characteristics of effective PD? (ii) What connections exist between the characteristics of effective PD science and mathematics teachers view as being important to their learning and the core adult learning principles? (iii) To what extant can the continually growing list of characteristics of effective PD be narrowed down to specific factors that can be considered when designing professional learning activities for science and mathematics teachers. To better interpret the teachers’ views of these characteristics, andragogy and its six core adult learning principles, as researched by Malcolm Knowles et al. (2015), was used as the theoretical framework for this study. Participants in this study consisted of science and mathematics master teachers (n=30 and n=13, respectively) that teach in grades 6-12. Teachers were presented with 44 statements (Q sample) and asked to force-rank these statements onto a Q sort distribution grid from +5 to -5. Participants also completed a supplemental questionnaire that gathered information regarding the choices teachers made in the sorting process and collected demographic information from the teachers. As Q methodology is a mixed-methods approach to study subjectivity, factors were extracted from the correlated sorts of participants and those factors were interpreted using the supplemental information collected from the teachers. Results revealed there were specific characteristics teachers valued more for their growth over others (e.g., engaging in active learning; time to collaborate with peers). Based on the factor extraction and interpretation that was conducted, five factors were identified for the science teachers and three factors were identified for the mathematics teachers that participated. While similarities did exist between the two groups, some differences were encountered as well. Findings from this study suggest that there may be specific factors that PD facilitators could consider in the design and facilitation of PD. There were several connections identified between what was important for teachers’ growth and adult learning theory. Researchers may benefit from the instrument in this study when focusing on the professional needs of teachers in other disciplines.


Open Access