Anne Phelan


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


My supervisors are Dr. Anne Phelan and Dr. David Coulter. I couldn't think of any other teacher who is a greater teacher than my supervisors. I am so blessed and fortunate to have them both. For me, they exemplify how a great teacher could be. They not only inspire me intellectually, but also plant a seed of wonder in me, ignite the fire of my passions and keep them warm. 

Ying Ma (2018)


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Towards a genealogy of the mentor in early career teacher mentorship programs (2022)

This dissertation is an exploration of the aims and effects of early career teacher mentorship and the role of teacher mentors in public education policy and program contexts. This project was provoked by an ethic of discomfort (Foucault, 1994) with how teacher mentorship is commonly framed as a strategy for addressing a variety of new teacher ‘problems’ including career attrition, isolation, ineffective practice and lack of collegial support. In particular, the study aimed to problematize the invocation of teacher mentorship as a site for cultivating professional growth and lifelong learning.The purpose of this study was to construct a conceptual lineage of ECT mentorship in British Columbia, Canada in order to denaturalize normalized understandings of mentorship and mentor figures at work in one school district mentorship program. Through genealogical and discourse analysis of policy and programs documents and policy actor interviews generated between 1960-2019, the two research questions addressed were: 1) how a Foucauldian-inspired analysis of discourse-practices might illuminate dominant truths in circulation about the aims of ECT mentorship, and 2) how the teacher mentor is discursively constituted as a subject within mentoring programs and relationships. This study’s genealogical policy analysis showed how mentorship became thinkable as a professional undertaking and was assigned various purposes across shifting historical and political circumstances in British Columbia’s public education system. Meanwhile, discourse analysis of policy actors’ and mentors’ speech and written statements illustrated how commonly circulated imperatives of early career teacher mentorship and the mentor role remained open to critical contestation and reformation. Analysis indicated how teacher mentors working with a formal program structure became subject to particular discourses of ‘growth’ as good anddesirable, as the improvement of instructional competency, and as a regulatory strategy committing both mentors and mentees to a trajectory of lifelong learning. The study points to how those engaged in ECT mentorship research, policymaking and practice might submit normalized imperatives of ECT mentorship to regular critical interrogation and to reimagine mentors’ potential roles as creative, critical and reflective educators.

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Becoming a teacher does not come that easily: Aristotle, Confucius and education (2019)

One of my earliest memories was peering through my mother’s classroom window to watch her teach mathematics to middle school students. My mother inspired me to become a teacher and I believed that I had succeeded when I was appointed as a teacher and subsequently won district and national awards in China for teaching excellence. However, I found my “successes” unfulfilling: I felt more and more like a commander training her students for the battlefield of examinations where some would succeed and many would fall. I wondered why my mother had thrived while I floundered. My search for answers took me from Beijing to Vancouver for graduate study and the realization that I was actually searching for my practical identity, that is, an identity “under which you value yourself, a description under which you find your life to be worth living and your actions to be worth undertaking” (Korsgaard, 1992, p. 83) with associated ideals, roles and excellences (Lear, 2006). Searching for a practical identity is fundamentally a normative quest for ethical integrity; unfortunately the language currently available to describe teaching emphasizes teachers’ accountability for improving student test scores and assumes that higher scores indicate better preparation of the young for future jobs—the primary purpose of schooling. My search for a suitable ethical framework to understand what it meant to be a teacher quickly led to two of the most influential approaches in human history: Aristotle’s and Confucius’. I use their ideas about how to cultivate human virtue to create a dialogic interpretation of teaching that includes concern for educational purpose (eudaimonia and dao), teacher excellence and teacher-student relationships (phronesis, philia and ren) and teaching skill (techne and liuyi), continually testing my interpretations against my own experiences as student/teacher/daughter of a teacher/mother of a student. Despite my efforts, however, my thesis remains haunted by the sense of a whole without completeness, a conception of the good without closure and an aspiration without achievement—an aporia that, following Kierkegaard (1854) and Lear (2011), I now understand as the inevitable irony of any quest for ethical closure.

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An Ethical Inquiry: Toward Education in an Infinite Condition (2014)

This study is a philosophical inquiry into the ethical conditions of modernity as these bear upon, and are expressed in, the educational project. In modernity, the ethical is assumed as both a juridical proceduralism (of codes of ethics for teachers, or of a broader legal context) and a moral result (of presupposed good and evil, vested in categories like humanity, liberalism, or difference). When ethics are assumed as completed in the form of codes or ideals, that is, as present and already acted upon, there remains little of an ethics of justice in the ancient sense of the pursuit of the right way to live. Supplanted by imperatives of management and morality, the ethical conditions of living are no longer vital to education. The problem is ontological. The revitalization of the ethical in education requires inquiry into the logics of being. These logics are widely implicated and thus the resources for this inquiry are necessarily historiographical, critical, and speculative. These are deployed in this study in three thematic movements: First to the question of education’s ‘emplacement’ within the modern ethos, or ‘of what’ is educational thought a consequence in the modern ethical settlement; second, how may this be seen to be expressed as ethical thought in contemporary educational discourse; and third, and on the basis of the previous two, to the question of how it may be possible to re-think education ethically. The modern ethical topography is articulated as an oscillation among the ontological forms of conceptual realism (the constructivist procedure of the adequacy of thought to being) and those of ethical idealism (the transcendental production of what cannot be thought). Expressed as ethics of phronesis (practical wisdom) and alterity in educational thought, these are contested on the basis of generic ontology, or that of immanent infinite multiplicity, toward a subjective ethics in education—one that refuses the idealist corruption of the ‘object’ where ethics are concerned. To do so, I propose to educational thought a concept of truth elaborated at the intersection of mathematical formalization (à la Badiou) and comic realism (à la Zupančič).

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Grasping Phronesis: the Fabric of Discernment in Becoming an Ethical Teacher (2014)

This study aims to contribute to scholarship on ethics and teaching with particular relevance for teacher education. The point of departure for the research is the problem of theorizing both teaching and ethics in universal terms, an approach that I suggest fails to capture the particular character of these concepts, their relationship to each other, and to explain how people learn to teach ethically. Following Aristotle’s writing on phronesis or ethical judgment, Martha Nussbaum’s concept of ‘discernment’ suggests that people gain the capacity for phronesis by learning to discern the ethically-salient features of particular situations, and this involves the priority of particular perceptions over universals, emotions as judgments of value, and a kind of insight that is gained through an interplay between particulars and universals in the exercise of phronesis. The questions guiding the research were: how do teacher candidates begin to discern the particulars of teaching while on practicum and how does this discernment help teacher candidates to construct their practices in more ethically-responsive ways? The methodological approach for the study drew on Nussbaum’s merging of ethical inquiry and literary criticism, and data was gathered through a series of life history interviews, classroom video-recordings with subsequent interviews with the participants, and a research journal. The main themes from the study were that learning to teach ethically involves seeing particulars, responding to particulars, and seeing new particulars, and these themes inform three issues in teacher education: (1) the kind of experience that teacher candidates gain while on practicum is a kind of practical knowledge that orients them to future experience in particular ways; (2) seeing and responding to particulars relies on an openness to surprise, ambiguity, and experience itself as a way of becoming discerning while on practicum; and, (3) wise practical reasoning is informed by human emotions because they enable teacher candidates to see and to respond to practical situations in ethical and educationally-valuable ways that our cognitive intellect alone cannot. The study concludes that teacher education should focus on the cultivation of educational discernment as the capacity to see and to judge and to act ethically in classrooms.

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The primacy of the ethical in a cosmopolitan education: Fukushima Daiichi and other global risks (2013)

While this dissertation responds to and builds upon various iterations of why cosmopolitanism?, I also articulate the meaning of a cosmopolitan education in ways that are different from previous arguments and descriptions: as actually existing global phenomena and as an ethical response to such phenomena. Drawing upon Ulrich Beck’s writings on world risk theory and cosmopolitan realism, I discuss the Fukushima nuclear disaster as a case of actually existing cosmopolitanism, or world risk turned catastrophe. At once a local and global environmental disaster that has consequences for a “non-excludable plurality,” the irresponsibility that contributed to and continues to be at play regarding fallout from Fukushima summons a transnational, planetary ethic of responsibility. Whereas nuclear meltdowns and warfare, pandemics, and global financial crises are world risks turned catastrophes whose consequences can be validated empirically, I also consider world risks that are intangible, impossible to ascertain with evidence-based research. By way of the faculty of the imagination, I draw a link between Chernobyl heart deform and United States “school deform”; I also read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, specifically Raskolnikov’s dream of a worldwide plague as an allegory for the breakdown of the faculty of judgment across time and place. What might an ethic of responsibility in response to world risks look like? Drawing upon theoretical writings on cosmopolitanism and empirical realities that solicit responsible actions, I contend that acting with the faculty of judgment and a compassionate heart are vital to re/creating the world. In writing upon judgment, I turn to Hannah Arendt whose style of writing about totalitarianism and its antithesis, freedom, is just as important for understanding what it means to judge and to act responsibly as is the content of what she writes. I question if judgment is the only faculty needed to live an ethical life, to act ethically toward others in an increasingly interconnected, codependent world. While Arendt is critical, even dismissive of the role that compassion has played in politics, I contend that a both/and rather than either/or ethic which includes judgment and compassion ought to work together to re/fashion a world habitable for all.

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Aporetic openings in living well with others: the teacher as a thinking subject (2012)

This dissertation is a philosophical inquiry that addresses two questions: First, what does it mean to live well with others in educational contexts? And second, what might the way we engage with this question mean for the possibility of the teacher as a thinking subject? In support of this exposition, the author draws from the work of Jacques Derrida, Jean Luc Nancy, and Roberto Esposito and, to a lesser extent, Michael Hardt and Alain Badiou. This dissertation is concerned with the predeterminations and determinations that arise from particular conceptualizations of what it means to live well with others in educational contexts and how these may prevent or create conditions of possibility for the teacher as a thinking subject, and for the event of thinking. It responds to such commitments in education by engaging with a critique of the concept of community as one of the key concepts that animate educational practices today. It further presents the importance of the recognition of the constitutive aporetic character of community, and also of education. Such recognition, the author argues, is necessary for a conceptualization of the teacher as a thinking subject, and for the teacher as subject to the event of thought.

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Teachers' practical judgement : acting in the face of uncertainty (2009)

The current educational context in British Columbia is characterized by standardsbasedcurriculum mandates that are narrowing teaching and learning practices, and auditorientedpolicies that are causing ‘accountamania’ amongst educators. This study is basedon the belief that such directives not only restrict conceptions of teaching and learning, butby attempting to impose certainty in an inherently uncertain endeavour like teaching, theydisregard the critical role of teacher deliberations and judgment.The purpose of this research study was to illustrate and examine the highly complexdeliberative processes in which teachers engage. More specifically, the study sought tounderstand the considerations that teachers take into account when teaching, and, howteachers conceive of their deliberative processes. Drawing on the Aristotelian notion of“phronesis,” a key assumption was that there is a relationship between teachers’ overtactions and their tacit deliberations, and that both are key to children’s learning. This studyinvolved three case studies of teachers engaging in conversations about their practicaljudgments as they observed video-recordings of their teaching.When deliberating on their actions, participants prioritized: student connections,individual student accommodations, time constraints, lesson momentum, valuing students,and instructional pacing. These particulars were all considered to be in the best interest ofthe students but they frequently presented dilemmas for the teachers (i.e. meaningfulstudent connections vs. curricular time constraints; and individual accommodations vs.class momentum). The participants understood their deliberative processes to involvemanaging the resultant tensions by drawing on their practical judgement, which was largely based on their experience. In phronetic terms, their “practical judgment” allows them todetermine what is significant in classroom situations and gives them intimate knowledge ofthe particulars so they can reason correctly and act appropriately (purposively andresponsively).Given that the participants understood their practical judgment to be integral to theirpractice, the study outlines some possible implications for teacher education programs,professional development and educational policies. The study concludes with a call forstakeholders to actively work towards cultivating a culture of trust, which would not onlybe beneficial for the current educational context, but future challenges of education in anincreasingly uncertain world.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Becoming anew as an educator: thinking with Arendt through narrative (2022)

Inspired by Hannah Arendt’s concept of narrative, this thesis examines my becoming anew as an educator in relation to others and within the context of historical events. As autobiographical inquiry, the study interweaves fragmented life stories based on my memories of growing up in Iran during the monarchy era, revolution and war, coupled with my experience of immigration to Canada, motherhood, and teaching. These life stories provide insight into my self-formation, influenced by social, cultural and political context and inter-generational relations. A life full of indelible events between birth and death can appear in narrative. Narrative becomes an act of remembrance that reveals who-ness of the actor. Narrative affects, incites and calls for further action; however, the outcome of the initial act is not guaranteed. Life stories in various forms have been fundamental in understanding the past, and illuminating the path to the future. Stories reveal the significance of words and deeds with which “we insert ourselves into the human world, and this insertion is like a second birth” (Arendt, 1998, p. 176). The role of narrative in education throws light on the contingency and complexity of subject-formation. Through this thesis, I explore ways in which early childhood educators can support the young in becoming subjects. Becoming a subject means having the capacity for freedom of thought and action in relation and response to others. I inquire how narratives in education—a site of tension between the old and new—can support the young generation in their renewal of the world. This investigation portrays the role of narrative/pedagogical narration in the process of living inquiries, reflective dialogues, and pedagogical engagements with children in early childhood spaces.

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Exploring beginning teachers' agency: a case study of three Chinese secondary school teachers (2022)

The purpose of this research was to explore beginning teachers’ agency at a time of curriculum reform in China and in the context of an early-career mentoring program. Guided by a subject-centered sociocultural approach (Eteläpelto, Vähäsantanen, Hökkä, & Paloniemi, 2013), this qualitative study utilized a case study design. Data sources included semi-structured interviews with three secondary school chemistry teachers, signed mentorship agreement documents, and reflective mentoring/teaching journals. The findings revealed different forms of novice teachers’ agency in educational change, i.e., proactive agency and passive agency, manifested as acceptance and resistance to curriculum change. Beginning teachers’ pedagogical decisions and actions were the result of their critical analysis of multiple factors. On the one hand, school culture and structure must be carefully considered if agency is to be realized in a professional setting. Specifically, sociocultural factors included the status of the exam-oriented education system, mentor power, and work cultures. On the other hand, although novice teachers were embedded in similar sociocultural contexts, their identity impacted the different ways in which they exercised their agency. This study strongly supported the interrelationship between teacher agency and teacher identity. Teacher identity factors involved work history and experience, professional knowledge and competence, professional commitment, motivations and interests, and professional goals and ideals. This study provides rich perspectives on beginning teachers’ agency and its manifestations in the context of curriculum reform and in relation to early-career mentoring; findings serve as a strong scaffold for future research on how mentoring better promotes novice teachers’ agency and ultimately, professional development. The findings also offer lessons for those interested in investigating novice teachers’ agency in other educational settings undergoing similar changes.

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Being in grief: a teacher's autobiographical exploration of pedagogy in postcolonial India (2018)

In this thesis, grief is explored as a way of being in teaching. Drawing on Heidegger’s concept of Dasein, meaning presence or human existence, and informed by the autobiographical approach of currere, the author explores grief as an intergenerational phenomenon that occurs as a result of traumatic historical events (Partition 1947), profound personal loss (death of close family members), and the dehumanizing impact of postcolonial education in India. By relating and reflecting on stories from lived experiences, the author illustrates the ways in which the entanglements of family grief and national history can impact a child’s educational experience and a teacher’s practice. Through memory work, grief reveals itself as burdensome, a weight to be carried; practice is revealed as a site and source of grief. Invoking curriculum as ‘a complicated conversation,’ the study contends that being in grief is a reality to be embraced and discussed because of its impact on educational relationships. The significance of the thesis lies in acknowledging the intersection of the personal and the professional dimensions of teachers’ lives and the manner in which the associated emotions of grief and loss—shame, guilt, numbness, vulnerability, fear, and denial—are lived and worked out in and through pedagogy.

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Exploring curriculum as an experience of consciousness transformation (2016)

The purpose of this study is the exploration of curriculum as an experience of consciousness transformation. Moved by a deep concern over education’s inappropriate reliance on classical science, which I believe has contributed to the radical commercialization of human values, I argue for curriculum imbued with spiritual wisdoms. My argument has three parts: First, drawing on the curriculum scholarship of Dwayne Huebner, I identify openness to the transcendent and a non-dualistic worldview as two of the most prominent aspects of spiritual truth that can counter absolutism and objectivism. Second, I explore the relationship between truth and education in light of Martin Heidegger’s interpretation of Plato’s allegory of the cave and assert that the essence and purpose of education can be found in the four-stage transition of the essence of truth assumed by an individual—from taking the mere shadows as the ultimate reality to suspecting and penetrating the pretended and disguised, and then returning for the ultimate liberation of all the others. For the purpose of verifying the truthfulness of Plato’s allegory of the cave and its existential significance for human beings, my third move is to conduct a dialogue between Buddhism and quantum physics and to demonstrate a startling convergence of the two branches of thought regarding the true nature of consciousness, self and reality. On the basis of Huebner’s and other curriculum theorists’ works, Heidegger’s explication of Plato’s allegory of the cave, the dialogue between Buddhism and quantum physics, I propose the transformation of consciousness as the essence and purpose of education. Drawing specifically on the concepts and process of Buddhist spiritual practices, I explore six elements of consciousness transformation that may be helpful to educators, including understanding the nature of consciousness, self and reality, learning to appreciate human temporality, cultivating impartiality and bodhicitta, becoming responsibly responsive, cultivating selflessness, and learning to embody a non-dualistic worldview.

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Living inquiry as pedagogy (2010)

This thesis details a journey of three teachers and eighteen grade six and seven students as they explored a curriculum that valued and interpreted lived experiences. Entitled Living Inquiry, this curriculum invited participants to attend to their being-in-the-world through an inquiry into four guiding, existential themes. The intention of this phenomenological/hermeneutical study was to interpret the participants’ responses to Living Inquiry and further, to begin to understand the possibilities and vulnerabilities of Living Inquiry as a pedagogical/curricular experience within an often imposing neoliberal teaching/learning context. The teacher researcher is the primary storyteller as she documents her own introduction as a student of Living Inquiry, the impetus of the thesis, to the translation of the course for her grade six and seven students in a local public elementary school classroom, and finally to the research process of documenting, interpreting, and understanding this journey. Spanning over two years of classroom experience and formal research, Living Inquiry as Pedagogy brings together the voices of children, education theorists such as Aoki, Jardine, Smith, and van Manen, and teachers, including a professional photographer and a curriculum consultant/university professor, as they begin to make sense of the relevance and significance of Living Inquiry as a practice and a pedagogy. The study culminates with a discussion around the teaching implications and responsibilities of Living Inquiry as well as a consideration of how the inquiry served to transform the researcher’s thinking about the purpose of education and living well with children.

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The Classroom and the Polis: Political Action, Dialogue and the Project of Pedagogy (2010)

This study explores students’ experiences in a dialogue-based program and what these experiences reveal about the possibility of creating dialogic classroom spaces that engage the political and support the emergence of students as political actors. The case study was a semester-long, undergraduate program in a comprehensive university in western Canada. The theme for dialogue was “Indigeneity in Canada: Past, Present, and Future.”In a qualitative case study, I observed classroom interactions, wrote field notes and interviewed students and instructors over the course of thirteen weeks. Working hermeneutically, I interpreted the data by placing it in conversation with the political theory of Hannah Arendt. The students’ experiences revealed the dialogue-based classroom as a pseudo-public space repeatedly under threat from the larger social pressures of conformity, utilitarian thinking and emotional self-interest. The students’ experiences in the program tell a story marked by profound struggles for political voice, authentic relations, and a sense of equality. Confounding students struggle to appear in the dialogue was the potentially volatile psychological dimension of learning. The inherent unpredictability of the classroom as a public space cast the teacher, not as ring-leader or director, but as one who attempted to hold open the spaces so that the students could continually return, willing to take the risk that speech and action are in the public realm.

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