32 SES 12 A, School Culture (in the context of COVID and more)
Practice theory “normalizes” crisis (Schatzki, 2016b) in many senses. For example, it highlights the fact that crises and disruptions happen all the time and adaptation in those situations is ubiquitous. Furthermore, it is also stressed that the way of adapting is not associated with the characteristics of crises. Schatzki (2016b, p. 26) argues that “adjustments to the world form a spectrum that cannot be neatly segregated into unreflective or reflective, practical or cognitive, or acting or thinking (etc)”. Even though crises are accordingly “normal”, they are important occasions to reconsider everyday practice and provide interesting insights into the functioning of schools. School lockdowns due to the pandemic represent a crisis which is stimulating a lot of conscious (being-aware) thinking and also highlighting many other (non-reflected) coping mechanisms. In the present study we conducted group discussions to find out more about schools’ coping with this special crisis: lockdown.
Research about school improvement deals with the questions, how do schools change and how can required changes be introduced to schools? School improvement is seen today as not an entirely steerable or predictable process (Spillane et al., 2002). The enduring nature of routines, making change difficult, was considered early in organizational sciences (Powell & DiMaggio, 1991) and it was also realized that routines are not only durable causing stability but they are also responsible for changes in organizations (Feldman & Pentland, 2003). The perspective of practice theory is a theoretical approach that can explain this phenomenon emphasizing the emergent and contingent nature of practice influenced by participants, context variables, and artifacts. Although routines as a bundle of actions reproducing itself again and again, those bundles are never identically performed, so the routines can also be transformed. Practice theory (Reckwitz, 2002; Schatzki, 2016a) deals intensively with this special and apparently contradicting nature of routines and tries to arrive at a differentiated understanding of continuity and change.
In this study we focus on teams forming part of the local school practice being responsible to cope with requirements and changing conditions of daily school life. Lockdown as a crisis posed significant challenges for schools requiring that they adapt quickly to the new situation. Each school team had to find its own way forward. According to Schatzki's "flat ontology”, what happened in the schools during lockdown can be seen as part of (general) school practice that is both (re)producing and thereby constantly changing (with or without lockdown). This is because practices are not independent, but as an “open-ended, spatially-temporally dispersed nexus of doings and sayings”(Schatzki, 2012, p. 14) always related to each other and part of a bundle of practices. In this paper we use practice theory as a theoretical background to describe and understand how school teams continued to fulfill their tasks during the time that schools switched to distance learning due to the pandemic. Further, data provide the opportunity to gain knowledge of school team routines and their potential for change in general.
To better understand the special situation in schools we used the open group discussion setting (Przyborski & Wohlrab-Sahr, 2014). To obtain a comprehensive insight (six to ten) educators with different professional backgrounds (Principals, class teachers, specialist subject teachers, daily care specialists, teachers for special needs, school social workers) participated in the group discussions. These were conducted in seven schools in the city of Zurich which experienced and coped with lockdown under similar regulatory conditions. Group discussions took place in two secondary schools, one comprehensive school, two primary schools and in a school for students with special needs. Group discussion – other than (semi-)structured interviews – provides an open start impulse and asks participants to engage in a self-dynamic discussion on a given topic (Przyborski & Wohlrab-Sahr, 2014) – in our case on the school teams' experiences during lockdown. Without further interventions of the researcher, participants discuss their relevant topics and structure conversation according to their own interaction rules. Group discussion can therefore be understood as a small excerpt providing insights into the discourse practice of the school team (Lefstein et al., 2020). The recorded group discussions were transcribed and analyzed first using structuring content analysis (Kuckartz, 2014)and then the documentary method (Bohnsack, 2014; Przyborski & Wohlrab-Sahr, 2014). The documentary method, widely used in German-speaking countries, allows us to reconstruct implicit, embodied, and tacit knowledge shared among the participants. The reconstruction happens “in a methodically controlled way by direct observation of the performance of interaction or talk” (Bohnsack, 2014, pp. 6–7). The analysis emphasizes the underlying orientation frame within the school leading to the established, shared school practice. The method includes discourse analytical steps, where sequences with unfolding discourse steps are identified. This is done by separately analyzing the content and the performative level of conversation and reconstructing the communicative knowledge (explicit) and conjunctive knowledge (implicit). The tension between these two forms of knowledge allows conclusions to be drawn regarding the orientation frame of the group (Bohnsack, 2017, p. 103). This reflects the shared experience of the entire group – in our case the school team – beyond the small group participating in the discussion. By comparing the orientation frames of the seven schools according to a practice-theoretical perspective, it is possible to achieve a differentiated understanding of school team routines during the crisis.
We have completed the content analysis of all interviews showing several features of the lockdown phase in a general sense: overall leadership behavior, students’ learning situation, collaboration and exchange with parents, teamwork, and educators’ own learning experiences by using digital tools etc. While the content analysis helped to realize insights across all schools, the documentary analysis focused on the individual schools., In so doing, individual cases are permanently compared in order to derive a typology. For example, for one school’s team, it seemed important to keep moving. During the crisis period they therefore chose a pragmatic approach. The aim was not to make the best of the situation, but rather to avoid being paralyzed. Not being to able to act at all was a very frightening option and had to be prevented at all costs. For another school team the highest imperative was maintaining good personal relationships with students and among educators. In their understanding, the school represents a (familial) place that provides support and structure for students. The fact that they were cut off from school throughout lockdown poses a potential threat to their well-being and development. This is reflected in their conversation, where the group speaks as if from one mouth and no one wants to stand out or contribute a divergent opinion. The culture of unity (or even sameness) seems to be a common implicit value providing orientation in their school practice. Despite experiencing similar regulatory conditions, school teams followed different underlying orientation frames. Coping strategies during the crisis can be understood as emerging processes shaped by the contingency of practices, which is interpreted here as a central element of school improvement.
Bohnsack, R. (2014). Documentary method. In U. Flick, The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis (pp. 217–233). SAGE Publications Ltd. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446282243.n15 Bohnsack, R. (2017). Praxeologische Wissenssoziologie. Verlag Barbara Budrich. Feldman, M. S., & Pentland, B. T. (2003). Reconceptualizing organizational routines as a source of flexibility and change. Administrative Science Quarterly, 48(1), 94–118. https://doi.org/10.2307/3556620 Kuckartz, U. (2014). Qualitative Inhaltsanalyse. Methoden, Praxis, Computerunterstützung (2., durchges. Aufl.). Beltz Juventa. Lefstein, A., Louie, N., Segal, A., & Becher, A. (2020). Taking stock of research on teacher collaborative discourse: Theory and method in a nascent field. Teaching and Teacher Education, 88, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2019.102954 Powell, W. W., & DiMaggio, P. (Eds.). (1991). The New institutionalism in organizational analysis. University of Chicago Press. Przyborski, A., & Wohlrab-Sahr, M. (2014). Qualitative Sozialforschung: Ein Arbeitsbuch (4., erw. Aufl.). Oldenbourg. Reckwitz, A. (2002). Toward a theory of social practices: A development in culturalist theorizing. European Journal of Social Theory, 5(2), 243–263. Schatzki, T. (2012). A Primer on Practices. In J. Higgs, R. Barnett, S. Billett, M. Hutchings, & F. Trede (Eds.), Practice-Based Education: Perspectives and Strategies (pp. 13–26). SensePublishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6209-128-3_2 Schatzki, T. (2016a). Praxistheorie als flache Ontologie. In H. Schäfer (Ed.), Praxistheorie. Ein soziologisches Forschungsprogramm (pp. 29–44). transcript. Schatzki, T. (2016b). Crises and adjustments in ongoing life. Österreichische Zeitschrift Für Soziologie, 41(1), 17–33. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11614-016-0204-z Spillane, J. P., Reiser, B. J., & Reimer, T. (2002). Policy Implementation and Cognition: Reframing and Refocusing Implementation Research. Review of Educational Research, 72, 387–431.
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