Ecologies of educational practices in supporting refugee children's learning: The role of leading practices

Year: 2017

Author: Wilkinson, Jane, Kaukko, Mervi

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Previous research demonstrates that caring, child-centred, contextually and culturally sensitive educational practices are decisive factors in supporting and enabling the learning of students of refugee background. These pedagogical practices have been shown to promote refugee students' educational achievement, school wellbeing and long-term adjustment (Graham et al, 2016; Kohli, 2011; Wilkinson & Langat, 2012; Major, Wilkinson, Santoro, & Langat, 2013; Wilkinson, 2017). However, such practices are not always the norm; with refugee education often constrained by ill-equipped schools and inadequately trained teachers (Pastoor 2016; Wilkinson, Forsman, & Langat, 2013). While research in refugee education helps us to understand the decisive impact of teachers and teaching practices on refugee students' learning, the leadership practices in schools which nurture the necessary conditions to foster refugee students' educational achievements have gained less research attention.

Addressing the complex needs of refugee students requires that teaching practices must be challenged which start from a premise of the print-immersed learner as a universal norm (Wilkinson, 2017). To challenge these norms necessitates leading practices that move beyond dominant approaches to educational leadership scholarship such as school effectiveness and improvement. The latter bodies of research focus largely on the practices of individual leaders (principals), or the interconnectedness of individuals within a discrete practice (e.g., teachers-students; teachers-principals). In contrast, however, in this presentation, we examine leading as a practice, connected up to and part of an ecologies of educational practices that include leading, teaching, professional learning, student learning and researching (Kemmis, Wilkinson, Edwards-Groves, Hardy, Grootenboer, & Bristol, 2014). We argue that fostering connections between these practices is a crucial means by which positive transformations to educational practice for refugee students can be enabled and sustained over time (Kemmis, Wilkinson, et al., 2014).

In this presentation, we draw on 15 qualitative interviews conducted with educational leaders (principals, assistant principals and leading teachers) in two urban primary schools in Melbourne as part of a larger qualitative case study examining refugee education in Finland and Australia. In particular, we argue that transforming the educational practices of refugee students requires understanding the interconnections between teaching practice and other practices in what we have termed the Education Complex of schooling, i.e., leading (professional learning, students' learning and researching). Changes in one set of practices need to connect up to changes in these other practices, with leading practices playing a critical role in this transformational agenda.