Inquiry within and against: The experiences of four new teachers in an urban professional development network

Anne Burns Thomas, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation is a practitioner research study that explores the experiences of four beginning teachers who are members of the Philadelphia Teachers Learning Cooperative, an urban professional development network. Although support for new teachers and teacher retention are paid much attention in research and policy literature, the focus is typically on large scale programs with mandated participation, such as induction programs or mentoring. Teacher networks—such as the network that I studied which has a more than twenty-five year history of weekly meetings—are able to offer professional development that is flexible and based on the needs of participants. Through participation in this voluntary teacher network that uses formalized oral inquiry processes, the four new teachers were encouraged to develop an inquiry stance toward classroom practice as one dimension of support. The new teachers also began to turn that stance onto their practice within the network, a process facilitated by this dissertation research. Working dialectically within and against the traditions and processes of the network, the new teachers pushed for a more active, equal role in the network and in their own professional development. This engagement led the new teachers to the creation of an event that embodied a new vision of social justice that was grounded in shared generational experiences with service learning during the 1990s. Through a practitioner research design grounded in feminist research and social justice literature, this study is posed to expand current ideas of professional development, supporting new teachers, and the development of a professional identity. In this study, I made use of qualitative research methods, including participant observation and structured conversations, over the course of one school year to look closely at the participation of the three other new teachers and myself in this professional development network. The findings of this study center on the ways in which the new teachers and the network shaped and were shaped by each other, including in the ways the new teachers experienced support and silencing within the network. During a year of unprecedented school reform in this urban district, the new teachers' personal beliefs and participation in this research project which encouraged inquiry into their practice within the network complicated their experiences, further troubling the ‘one size fits all’ conceptualization of support for new teachers.

Subject Area

Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Burns Thomas, Anne, "Inquiry within and against: The experiences of four new teachers in an urban professional development network" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3138081.