Dissertations, Theses and Capstone Projects

Date of Award

Summer 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Teacher Leadership (Ed.D)


Teacher Leadership for Learning

First Advisor

Dr. Reta Ugena Whitlock

Second Advisor

Dr. Corrie Davis

Third Advisor

Dr. Harriet Bessette


This study is a qualitative phenomenological exploration of the curriculum of experiences with environmental elements that contribute to, or mitigate, stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout among educators that work with special education students. A convenience sample of 24 participants representing 10 different job types was drawn from four schools in a single school district adjacent to a large metropolitan area in the Southern United States. Focus groups, semi-structured interviews, and prompted journal writings provided data that was systematically analyzed through holistic and contextually sensitive inductive processes to reveal seven emergent themes. Findings include narratives telling the stories of: how participants found their way to the field and what it means to them to be an educator; sources and impact of stress, and related coping strategies consistent with symptoms of compassion fatigue, and burnout; elements that mitigate and balance stress; and advice for new teachers reflective of participants’ coping strategies. The study concludes with theoretical, practical, and future research implications.