Changing Practices, Changing Education: A Practice Theory Approach To Educational Leadership

Year: 2015

Author: Wilkinson, Jane

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A major problem with understanding how to change existing practices of leading is that most research privileges leaders as individuals (with the associated danger of methodological individualism); or as role incumbents in organisations (privileging systems above lifeworlds). An emphasis on leaders as sovereign individuals trains the lens on personal attributes and agency, while silencing the role that local, national and international contextual conditions play in change and change processes. However, in current Anglophone nations, leadership practice and scholarship is dominated by managerialist notions of leading as a technicist activity, whose primary imperative is to render educational sites and systems more efficient and accountable.

Taking a cue from practice-philosopher Theodore Schatzki’s notion of site ontologies, I examine how a practice-informed approach to theorising leadership can provide valuable insights into the problem of changing existing practices of leading. In order to explore the materiality of practices of leading and transformation, this paper adopts a site ontological perspective to schools as organisations, that is, an approach which emphasises that human coexistence is inextricably tied to the context of which it is a part. Hence, in order to analyse and understand an organisation such as a school, the site in which it occurs needs to be examined in its particularity.

A site ontological approach suggests that a site is to be apprehended as not simply the context which surrounds a practice, but as that which prefigures, enables and/or constrains (but not determines) the conditions by which, particular practices of leading – but not others – come to be realised. Moreover, a site is not only a particular spatial location or practice but also to be understood as simultaneously delimiting the intersubjective spaces in which people, material objects and things can encounter one another in semantic, physical space-time and social space.

One of the crucial implications of a site ontological approach to the study of leading practices is that it forces us to attend to what actually happens in particular sites and practices, for if we wish to change existing practices of leading, then we need to change those things that unfold in these sequences in their particularity. Hence, it opens up spaces for more situationally useful forms of research.