The context of a rural professional learning community
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This dissertation is concerned with exploring the context of a rural professional learning community and the interactions between the context and participants, both teachers and facilitators. An interpretive, qualitative, instrumental case study, the format of data collection and analysis used an instrumental case study approach and interviews, classroom observations, field notes, and artifacts. Participants included four teachers across three different rural locales and two facilitators. Data on the six study participants was collected over the 2013-2014 school year. Findings from this study add to research on the understudied rural context as well as work of in-service educators and teacher educators working within and across these communities. First, this study elucidates nine components of the rural context: students, standards, and student learning needs; teachers and teacher learning needs; practices, curriculum instruction, assessment, and the learning environment; organizational culture; organizational structures and leadership; national, state, and local policies; resources; history of professional development; and parents and community. Additionally, this study identifies new roles for professional development facilitators and explores classroom the teaching practices in rural science classrooms. Finally, this dissertation highlights the importance of rural communities on the interactions of facilitators and participants who work in a rural context. Attention to the roles and interactions between facilitators, teachers and the rural context is of utmost importance towards understanding and ultimately improving professional development experiences for these predominantly isolated educators. This work has the potential to directly impact current and future STEM students and ultimately the STEM workforce by improving professional development for science educators and ultimately science students. Therefore, attention to who is working in and around these communities as well as what is happening within the context of the professional development of rural educations is of particular interest for all those working to improve science education.