Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Lawrence G. Shelton


Vermont’s Flexible Pathways Initiative (2013), also known as Act 77, and changes in the Education Quality Standards (EQS) of 2014 required a paradigm shift in how middle and high school students meet graduation requirements. A compelling promise of the new paradigm is high school education will be more engaging and equitable and that all students will graduate “college and career ready” (Flexible Pathways Initiative, 2013). The “three pillars” (Bishop et al., 2017) of the new policy are flexible pathways, personalized learning plans, and proficiency-based education requirements. Middle and high schools are now required to help each student develop a personalized learning plan and make available a wide range of learning pathways (including but not limited to taking courses) for students to demonstrate their learning. Students graduate from high school not by accumulating course credits based on time spent in class, but by proving that they have developed, at minimum, the required knowledge and skills or proficiencies. In the context of Act 77 and EQS, students are active co-creators—with educators, parents, and other stakeholders—of their learning trajectories and learning experiences. At the heart of Vermont’s educational shift is a profound change in how high school students and teachers are expected to relate to each other. This collective case study (Stake, 1995) explores the experiences of seven Vermont high school teachers who worked in different schools in spring 2019, near the end of the phase-in of flexible pathways, personal learning plans, and proficiency-based education. Collective case study does not result in generalizable findings; it allows for exploration of a change or adaptation in specific contexts. The unit of analysis in this study is each individual teacher. Using Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological systems framework as explicated by Shelton (2019), this study seeks to understand how these seven teachers perceived and interpreted the new policy demands, the “ecological transition” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), and factors that enhanced or inhibited change in their professional practice especially related to interactions with students. A contribution of this study is use of metaphor to describe and analyze how the participants positioned themselves in relation to their students as they navigated the paradigm shift in what it means to be a teacher. Findings of this study include four broad groupings of the metaphors for how the seven teachers were enacting their relationships with students: 1. Understanding the territory and journeying with students (Harbor Pilot and Coach) 2. Setting the stage for learning and stepping back for students to perform (Youth Orchestra Conductor and Acrobatic Troupe Leader) 3. Leading students down a specific learning pathway, ensuring they have fun along the way (Cheerleader and Educational Entertainer) 4. Wanting to focus primarily on content, yet unsure how to motivate students or integrate disciplinary practices (Tightrope Walker)



Number of Pages

187 p.

Available for download on Tuesday, April 22, 2025