A critical ethnography of teacher development and change in a collaborative group setting to improve practice

  • Hairon Salleh

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The research study provided a cultural description and interpretation of how Teachers Network Learning Circle’s participants related, worked and learned with each other, and how they developed and changed within a predominantly symmetrical or consensual power relationship. The participants, consisting of six Singapore primary teachers at grade 4, were engaged in group discussions that were spread over a period of one year to complete an action research project which is integrated in day-to-day work. Teachers Network Learning Circle, a formal professional development platform, employs distinctive tools for dialogue and inquiry based on the principles of voluntary participation, reflection, change and trust. The fundamental reason for choosing this site is its potential to empower and emancipate teachers evident from not only the principles and practices it espouses, but also its vision and mission that is consistent with its motto “For Teachers, By Teachers”. The literature on education change and reforms has point towards teacher empowerment for successful education change. In this regard, investing in teacher professional development and professionalism is important. The literature also point towards embracing a sociological perspective evident in the notions of community and socio-cultural theory, and bringing to bear emotions, values and identity in teacher learning – and thus investing in the ‘whole person’ (Day, 1997). As power underlies all social relations and activities including teachers’ learning, the research study took into consideration the perspectives of critical theory of Habermas, Brookfield and Mezirow. The findings of the study found that symmetrical power relation contributed to teacher development and change. First, it had contributed to a collegial collaborative relationship that took into account of emotions, moral, identity development and group solidarity. Second, it had contributed to the consciousness, critique and co-construction of professional knowledge. Third, it had empowered participants insofar as it built participants’ capacities to act successfully within an existing system and structures of power. The symmetrical power relation was undergirded by rules and principles of democratic participation as outlined by Habermas’ discourse ethics. The findings also revealed the importance of support given by the school principal and Teachers Network personnel in protecting democratic spaces, or Habermas’ concept of the lifeworld, from the system imperatives of power and money.
Date of Award1 Feb 2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorFelicity Wikeley (Supervisor)


  • teacher change
  • critical theory
  • professional development
  • ethnography

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