Collegial coaching conversations and action research as arenas for translating practices for school change

Year: 2016

Author: Wilkinson, Jane

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper examines how one rural primary school in New South Wales took on the challenge of enhancing their pedagogical practices through translating a district-wide coaching initiative into a series of Action Research studies. The paper draws on a larger ARC Discovery study, Leading and Learning: Developing Ecologies of Educational Practice which examined the interconnections between what we have termed the Education Complex: leading, professional learning, teaching, students’ learning and researching in enhancing pedagogical practices in ‘exemplary’ primary schools in New South Wales and Queensland (Kemmis, Hardy, Wilkinson, Edwards-Groves, Grootenboer & Bristol, 2014).In this paper, I examine how a principal and her leading teachers in one school acted to translate a district initiative of coaching into a professional learning practice that was appropriately contextualised to the specific local conditions of practice or ecological niche of the school site. In this school, there was a collaborative model of school leadership in which teachers and principal were committed to working as a learning community with and for students and their rural community. The dilemma for the principal as a middle leader and translator between district and school fields of practice was how to translate and contextualise a district coaching practice which appeared to be highly instrumentalist and individualistic in its focus. Staff meetings and collegial coaching/action research conversations in which staff reflected on their teaching practices became the two arenas in which the principal and her leading teachers worked with staff to translate coaching into what the school termed ‘collegial coaching conversations’. These conversations took place as part of school-wide action research studies, in which teachers, working in self-chosen pairs or trios, and with a university researcher as a critical friend, focused on an aspect of their practice they had chosen to enhance. Drawing on audio recordings of staff meetings, collegial coaching conversations, focus groups and interviews with the principal and teachers, this paper examines how the principals and leading teachers employed staff meeting and collegial coaching conversations as crucial sites of practice in informing and influencing how changes to professional learning and teaching practices were contextualised and translated into classroom practices. It adds to a rare body of empirical work which is exploring how translation theory may assist in understanding how leaders as translators of new ideas operate in local educational contexts.