Degree Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education



First Advisor

Dr. Frederick Dressen

Second Advisor

Dr. Katherine Maguire

Third Advisor

Dr. Gwen Peyton


Instructional feedback offers a critical contribution to teacher professional development aimed at improving student learning outcomes. The most influential feedback comes from principals who have developed strong collegial relationships with teachers through observation-based understanding of their instructional practices, intentional interpersonal connection, and collaboration on shared goals. In essence, collegial relationships between principals and teachers nurture the development of trust, an essential element in the process of giving and receiving feedback. Unfortunately, instructional feedback has historically been delivered through teacher evaluations, which attempt to serve two contradictory purposes: To evaluate for retention and to nurture professional development. These dual purposes have led to an educational dilemma in ensuring teachers receive effective feedback that serves as a catalyst for professional development.

While there are numerous reasons for the feedback dilemma, this paper addresses teachers’ perceptions of trust and leadership, and the influence both have on receiving feedback and engaging in consequent professional development. Past literature addresses the near futility of using teacher evaluation as a basis for professional development; national and state policies all indicate a need for increased formative feedback based on frequent observations by principals. Thus, research and policy support the need for a different approach to instructional feedback, yet both are limited in their understanding about what teachers perceive as helpful in supporting their own professional development to advance student learning. This paper focuses on how teachers understand leadership, trust, and feedback, and how all influence their professional development decisions.

This case study research drew on the experiences of ten tenured, secondary teachers through semi-structured focus group interviews. All participants were drawn from a school district undergoing a practical shift in teacher evaluation and feedback cycles in order to provide more frequent, non-evaluative feedback to teachers. Participants emphasized the need for feedback from principals who knew them well as educators, powered with knowledge gained from frequent observations. They also discussed their perceptions of relevant and accessible feedback, how principals have contributed to their professional development aimed to improve student learning, and their understanding of the development of trust between teachers and principals.

Based on scholarship and collected data, recommendations have been made for principals, teachers, and local policymakers who are considering more effective approaches to teacher evaluation and non-evaluative feedback. This includes the development of principal-teacher relationships built on reciprocal trust and shared responsibility for feedback cycles.