Rebecca Smith

Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, Ed.D.



First Advisor

Dr. John Watzke

LC Subjects

Career development; Catholic high schools; Education, Secondary;


The purpose of this mixed methods study was to investigate the professional learning experiences of Catholic school educators and compare these experiences to national learning standards. This study aimed to better understand how professional learning could be meaningful and relevant for educators. Participants in this research included 223 educators from four Catholic high schools who took the 50-item Standards Assessment Inventory (SAI) survey (Learning Forward, 2011), which was grouped into seven Professional Learning Standards: learning communities, leadership, resources, data, learning designs, implementation, and outcomes. Additionally, nine educators participated in focus group interviews at three of the participating schools. The majority of teachers (79%) were White, 53% were Female, and 82% had at least a Master’s Degree.

An extensive literature review on teacher professional development revealed reform efforts to redefine professional development within the context of adult learning. Despite years of research on effective professional learning characteristics, teachers report little value in professional learning experiences and overall low job satisfaction. Furthermore, professional learning research specific to Catholic education is scarce. This study utilized adult learning theory and national standards of professional learning to explore the efficacy of teacher learning in Catholic high schools. Participants rated the SAI survey items on a frequency scale from Never (1) to Always (5). An ANOVA with repeated measures revealed that the Leadership standard (M = 3.71; SD = .63) was statistically significantly higher (p < .05) than all other standards. The Data standard was statistically significantly lower (p < .05) than all other standards (M = 2.88; SD = .78). Qualitative feedback revealed several key characteristics of effective professional learning at Catholic schools that reflect findings in prior research, including: collaborative, reflective, relevant, content-focused, and self-directed. Data analysis also revealed barriers to effective learning.

This research can serve as a model for school leaders to measure the efficacy of professional learning in any educational context. The findings call for further research on data usage and integrating an equity lens into professional learning. Finally, this research highlights the need to use research-based best practices to plan and implement effective professional learning experiences for educators.


Copyright for this work is retained by the author.

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