Contesting practices in secondary schools: Implications for theory, policy and practice

Year: 2016

Author: Kemmis, Stephen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The final paper in this symposium draws together the implications of parallel studies of changing practices in secondary schools in New South Wales and Queensland for theory, policy and practice.The paper examines the necessary practice conditions that would permit excellent pedagogical practices to persist in secondary schools. In so doing, it seeks to understand the vexed question of how and why pockets of productive pedagogical practices are secured and persist in certain educational sites and others do not. This question lies at the heart of securing sustainable changes that will enhance overall learning and teaching practices in Australian secondary schools, particularly as secondary schools play decisive roles in allocating life chances for young people. As these are pilot studies, our findings are not generalizable across sites. However, they are suggestive of key changes occurring across the Australian education system as it grapples with increasing demands for enhanced student outcomes in an audit culture. Preliminary analysis of the studies suggests the following theoretical and practical points in regard to changing practices in secondary schools. Theoretically we argue that responding to the diversity of secondary schooling sites requires site based education development at every school: that is, education development that identifies and secures pedagogical practices that produce effective student learning practices (and thus ‘learning’) for the students at that site. To do so requires studying pedagogical practices as they happen. This in turn requires a theory of practice that explains how practices unfold and transform and with what consequences/repercussions. It also examines how they are interwoven and entangled with sites, not just ‘set’ in them as the ubiquitous word ‘context’ would suggest. Practically, the studies suggest that for excellent pedagogical practice to be embedded and sustained over time, communicative arenas need to be fostered that promote explicit dialogue between teachers and leaders’ interpretative categories including a space for the negotiation and renegotiation of practices to occur. This necessitates communicative action that promotes intersubjective agreements about the language educators use, recognition and understanding of differing points of view and uncoerced agreement about what to do. In terms of policy, this final paper explores at the level of the site (classrooms, schools and districts) how particular pedagogical practices were reproduced and transformed: how they were shaped by, and shape, the practice architectures that made them possible. The paper thus suggests lessons for local, state and national policies and programs, especially for initial and continuing teacher professional development, leadership, school research, and site based education development.