Although professional development (PD) is critical for teachers to develop as professionals, many teachers do not receive PD that is beneficial to their learning. Research demonstrates that effective teacher PD is PD that promotes active learning, emphasizes collaboration, is sustained over time, is correlated to teachers’ specific contexts and curriculum, and is coherent with the school as a whole. For the purposes of this study, the theoretical framework of constructivism was used, focusing on the learning theories of Dewey and Vygotsky. Problem-based learning (PBL) is an approach to learning that draws on the principles of constructivism. A PBL approach to teacher learning incorporates the characteristics of effective research-based PD. The researcher used a multi-case study design to explore the phenomenon of how PBL as an approach to teacher learning can be used to develop effective PD at XYZ Elementary School. This study also investigated how teachers’ epistemologies may be interrelated to how teachers make sense of a PBL PD approach to learning. Data was collected by means of teacher interviews, teacher belief vignettes, teacher beliefs questionnaire, and PBL PD meetings. The three teacher participants’ case studies provided data for making sense of a PBL approach to teacher development. The first conclusion of this study was that a PBL constructivist approach to teacher PD can be used as a meaningful approach to teacher PD. The second conclusion was that teachers need the following supports to assist their progression through their ZPD: assistance from a supportive other, pressure from respected leaders, intersubjectivity of the learning goal, and coherence with the school. Teachers also need continuity and critical reflection of their experiences. Without these supports, learning conflict and a lack of progression through the ZPD will occur. The third conclusion of this study was that teacher epistemology plays a factor in how teachers participate in a PBL environment. If the PD does not match the teacher's epistemological beliefs on how people learn, teachers may retreat to the familiarity of their beliefs. Teachers with conflicting epistemologies may only focus on a small portion of the learning task. Also, if teachers believe that the PD is not aligned with the critical contexts of the school, they will most likely not change their existing theories of learning.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Learning technologies; Teachers -- Training of; Career development; Active learning

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Kledzik, Judith