Date of Award

Spring 2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


College of Education, Doctoral Program

First Advisor

Marie A Donovan, PhD

Second Advisor

Gayle Mindes, PhD

Third Advisor

Amira Proweller, PhD


There is growing concern over why so many U.S. teachers are leaving the profession before retirement. Researchers studying this phenomenon theorize how future attrition rates will be determined by working conditions that either foster or squelch teachers’ sense of professional autonomy. What is unclear from the literature is an understanding of specific intrinsic and extrinsic factors affecting this autonomy development during a critical period in teachers’ careers, years 5-15. This study highlights the specific factors that influence the professional autonomies of nine early childhood elementary public-school teachers’ and how their sense of their professional autonomies interact to affect their instructional choices. Two decision-making frameworks formed the basis for this interpretive qualitative study: self-efficacy and self-determination. Data were collected through three one-on-one interviews of each participant. Teacher Agency, School Ethos, and Policy and Accountability about teachers in the context of self, school and broader realities emerged as themes across their stories. Teachers expressed how collegial relationships and perceived professional value within their buildings most influenced their sense of autonomy and led to effective as well as personally satisfying, self-motivated instructional decision-making. Relationships and professional value must be cultivated for a teacher to feel in control, and therefore motivated to respond in positive and self-fulfilling ways. If the teachers feel valued, they are more likely to remain connected to their work and stay in the field.