Date Approved


Embargo Period


Document Type


Degree Name

Ed.D. Doctor of Education


Educational Services and Leadership


College of Education


Carol C. Thompson, Ph.D.

Committee Member 1

Sarah Ferguson, Ph.D.

Committee Member 2

Carmelo M. Callueng, Ph.D.

Committee Member 3

Carol A. Sharp, Ph.D.


Critical Pedagogy, Pandemic, Performativity, Professional Learning Community, Social and Emotional Learning, Student Autonomy


Middle school students; Middle school teachers


Secondary Education | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education | Teacher Education and Professional Development


The purpose of this PLC-informed qualitative interview case study was to explore middle school teacher methods for cultivating student autonomy and the rationale behind their instructional choices. Here, student autonomy was defined as learners taking ownership of their academic performance and scholastic responsibilities (Holec, 1981). The unforeseen emergence of COVID-19 impacted the format of this study and provided a rare opportunity for a six-week, nine-member professional learning community (PLC) focusing on the topic of student autonomy. A survey questionnaire, PLC transcripts, and 30-minute semi-structured qualitative exit interviews underwent thematic coding analysis to place teacher responses in the context of predominant voices found in academia today. Themes are examined from a leadership perspective, through the social justice lens of critical pedagogy (Freire, 1970; Giroux, 2011; McLaren, 2015). This study evolved to capture the teachers' lived experiences during the pandemic in order to gain their perspectives on how autonomy shifted along with the traditional means of instruction during this time of seismic change. Discussed are themes of performativity, teacher authenticity, social and emotional learning (SEL), PLCs as professional development (PD), motivation, constructivism, adaptive expertise, and metacognition, along with several others, nesting teachers' practical experience in the rich context of pedagogical theory, specifically when navigating new roles in remote and hybrid instruction.