Date of Award

Summer 8-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Rhetoric, Composition and Discourse Studies

Committee Director

Kevin DePew

Committee Director

Ruth Osorio

Committee Member

Karen Sanzo

Committee Member

Louise Wetherbee-Phelps


Teacher effectiveness is recognized as the most prominent in-school influencer of student learning, and professional development (PD) of in-service educators is seen as vital to improving teachers’ effectiveness throughout their careers. Professional development is often studied atheoretically and with a linear view in which PD providers deliver instruction and teachers receive and apply that instruction as it was delivered to them. By casting them as passive, blank-slate receivers and automatic appliers of the PD, this view obscures the complexities of teachers’ role in PD. Examining educator PD through the lens of rhetoric, and viewing the PD experience as a rhetorical situation, allows us to tease apart the highly connected ecology of roles and text(s) present within any PD situation. Understanding more about the roles teachers take in PD–as PD provider or receiver, and as rhetorical audience and rhetor–opens up opportunities for engaging educators fully in their own and one another’s development.

This collective case study of four educators used interviews and collection and analysis of PD-related Twitter activity in order to discover how the participants embrace, resist, and shift between the roles of PD receiver and provider and the roles of rhetorical audience and rhetor. The resulting study demonstrates that rhetoric acts as a rich lens for bringing to light the ways educators bring their own expertise and experiences to PD activities, make a number of complex choices within those activities for both their own enrichment and the enrichment of others involved, and embrace methods of PD, such as using social media platforms, that give them full access to all roles. The conclusion of this dissertation offers three tools for use by readers: 1) the rhetorical lens constructed in this project and used to view PD as a rhetorical situation; 2) a set of recommendations for educators who wish to seek PD using social media, including both composition methods to try and mindsets for shifting between the rhetorical roles available through social media; and 3) a set of recommendations for those offering PD to educators, with an emphasis on accounting for the complexities of their roles as learners with their own expertise, as audience members with an audience’s inherent power, and as potential rhetors when given access to the role.


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