Exploring the Role of Collaborative Reflective Enquiry in Promoting Teacher Professional Development and Learning
: A Mixed-methods Study of Teachers’ Perspectives in Rural Sichuan Province, China

  • Dini Jiang

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teacher collaborative reflective enquiry is a job-embedded and collaborative approach to teachers’ professional development and learning, which builds on their evidence-based enquiry about a shared problem of educational practice. Collaborative reflective enquiry can enable teachers to collaborate with each other, use research and evidence, and reflect deeply and critically on their professional practice for improving teacher and student learning. However, the theoretical foundations of collaborative reflective enquiry need to be strengthened and consolidated. Insufficient attention has been given to the context specificity of collaborative reflective enquiry. There is a lack of conceptual and empirical research on this topic in China.

Informed by complexity theory and framed within the frameworks of professional development and PLCs, the concept of collaborative reflective enquiry is investigated in this study on the basis of teachers’ perspectives to examine its role in promoting their professional development and learning in a rural district of Sichuan Province, China. This study explores the nature, extent, concept, typical features and perceived benefits of collaborative reflective enquiry, and the challenges and strategies for teachers’ collaborative reflective enquiry in rural Sichuan Province, China. A sequential mixed methods design has been employed to collect survey data from 355 teachers in three secondary schools of rural Sichuan. The survey data has been complemented by interview data from 14 teachers. The survey findings of this study have suggested teachers’ generally positive responses towards their participation in their professional development, PLCs and collaborative reflective enquiry practices. In terms of collaborative reflective enquiry, the survey findings have indicated a need for promoting teachers’ “use of research and evidence” in relation to evaluating their professional development activities, reading relevant research literature, and looking outside the school for inspiration. Furthermore, the interview findings of this study have shown that collaborative reflective enquiry is understood as “to explore and research collaboratively for improving teaching and learning”. The typical features of collaborative reflective enquiry are identified regarding focus on teaching and curriculum, relevance to student learning, formal and informal collaboration, collaborative and individual reflection, use of evidence and academic research, iterative process of enquiry, and leadership support. The challenges and strategies for teachers’ collaborative reflective enquiry are outlined.

The research findings of this study have indicated the important role of collaborative reflective enquiry in promoting teachers’ professional development and learning, thereby supporting the significance of collaboration, reflection and enquiry as key elements of professional development and PLCs. The study has challenged the typically Western approaches to promoting teachers’ collaborative reflective enquiry and professional development in the literature within a context which is more structural and directive in nature. It advocates a hybrid approach to promoting teachers’ professional development and learning in China which builds upon both bottom-up and top-down approaches. Particular attention needs to be given to the wider contextual, cultural, system-wide and other barriers to change on teachers’ and schools’ professional practice in China.
Date of Award26 Nov 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SponsorsChina Scholarship Council
SupervisorSally M Thomas (Supervisor) & Guoxing Yu (Supervisor)


  • Collaborative reflective enquiry
  • PLCs
  • teacher professional development

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