Hays Moulton, Ph.D. is a 2021 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dr. Hays Moulton at his Dissertation Defense.

From L-R: Dr. Jon Wergin, Committee Chair, Dr. Philomena Essed, Committee Member, Dr. Todd S. Hawley, Committee Member

Dissertation Committee

  • Jon Wergin, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Philomena Essed, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Todd S. Hawley, Ph.D., Committee Member


teacher retention, sensemaking, sense making, school accountability, Self-Determination Theory, teacher motivation, leadership

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The purpose of this research study was to examine how novice teachers make sense of the realities of their chosen profession, given their initial motivations for entering the profession. My research into teacher motivation and retention provided evidence that teachers did enter the field for altruistic reasons and that as many as 50% of all new teachers in urban schools did not last beyond five years. When they begin teaching, they find a field that is heavily impacted by strict accountability standards and required mandated testing. I used Sensemaking Theory and Self-Determination Theory to examine how beginning teachers make sense of their chosen profession, how the principles of Self-Determination Theory interact with sensemaking to influence teachers’ decisions to stay or leave teaching, and whether teachers would indicate points of influence that school leaders had used to help them decide to keep teaching. I used narrative inquiry to interview 21 teachers who were in their 3rd to 6th year of teaching from public schools at different grade levels and specializations. My interviews suggest that teachers who decide early in their lives to become teachers were more likely to have trouble making sense of the urban school classroom compared to teachers who decided to become teachers as adults, especially after working in a different field. This suggests that school leaders should consider teachers’ motivation to enter teaching as they design professional development opportunities and assign teachers to teams. This dissertation is available in open access at Antioch University Repository and Archive (AURA), and OhioLINK ETD Center,


Hays K. Moulton

ORCID Scholar ID #: #0000-0002-3873-9340

Dr. Moulton started teaching in public schools as a way to effect change one person at a time. He has taught special needs children, middle schoolers, and served for ten years as a school building administrator. Since 2012 he has been on the faculty at Antioch University, first in the school administration and teacher licensure program, then in the Masters in Change Leadership and MBA programs, and currently as Chair of Undergraduate Studies for Antioch University Online. As a public school teacher and administrator he was exposed to “research” of all kinds, usually associated with an expensive textbook series or professional development being offered. He was assessed annually on the scores that his students received on standardized tests and tried to understand how to use that data to improve his own classroom and the schools he was a part of. Somehow the numbers never told the whole story of how his students were doing in school.

As a faculty member at Antioch University for the last nine years, he has worked with teachers, administrators, and people from many other fields, coming to understand that his definition of “data” was far too narrow, and did not express the stories of his students’ lives. His passion now lies in trying to understand individual stories that tell about their experiences and how that can inform all of our lives, helping to celebrate the diversity of our existence.