Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, Ed.D.



First Advisor

Julie Kalnin

LC Subjects

Educational change; Educational research; Identification (Psychology); Organizational change; Social role


In the current educational context teachers are called to take leadership roles, formally and informally, by school districts, researchers, and policy makers. Increased emphasis on STEM/STEAM education and the introduction of new science standards have amplified the importance of the district-based science specialist. This study’s purpose was to explore: (a) the changing role of teachers by investigating paths teachers take from science classroom teaching to district-based science specialist; (b) how professional identity of teachers is affected by this transition; and (c) organizational factors of the role within districts. Utilizing Marcia’s (1993) ego identity statuses, Ebaugh’s (1998) role exit theory, and Wenger’s (1998) social learning theory, role transition from classroom teacher to district-based science specialist was qualitatively explored through organizational and individual perspectives.

Seventeen science specialists (11 teachers, six administrators) from seven geographically diverse states participated in two semi-structured interviews (via free, online video-conferencing platforms) and a participant questionnaire (via email). Data established two distinct district-based specialist roles: teacher science specialist and administrator science specialist. Primary roles and functions of the teacher science specialists were identified as forms of teacher support (i.e., curriculum, professional development, coaching) while administrator participants’ roles and functions were primarily identified as organizational leadership (i.e., partnerships and grants, district and department meetings, budget). Teacher specialists expressed a high level of commitment to the role of teacher that administrative participants did not. Through exploration of how teachers described their evolving professional identity, seven characteristics of the transition including gaining clarity on role expectations, negotiating district politics, managing work time, re-establishing relationships with the science teacher group, were established. Common paths to teacher leadership were also identified.

Experiences of evolving teacher identity indicated individual acceptance of formal teacher leadership that may contribute to organizational efforts to distribute leadership in ways that are not only structural--establishing positions--but interactional (expanding definitions of teacher role). Organizationally, understanding the complexity of the role transition could allow for all involved to better prepare for the transition. Implications for future research include further exploration of the transition to district-based teacher leader and the effect of the change on professional identity.


Copyright for this work is retained by the author.

Included in

Education Commons