Practices and communicative repertoires in a hybrid international school: Exploring the tensions between the pragmatic and the expected.

Year: 2019

Author: Bonar, Gary

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The number of international schools that offer a blend of local and international curricula to a predominantly middle-class sector of the local population has been expanding rapidly in recent years. While the students at these ‘type-C’ international schools usually share the same first language, the teaching staff is often a mix of monolingual expatriate teachers and bilingual local teachers. Within this hybrid space, questions around language choice and usage; about expected and pragmatic practices are of immediate concern to the everyday work of teachers and school leadership. This paper draws on empirical data from one such type-C school in China in order to explore the complexity of this linguistic landscape from the perspective of educators and school leadership.

The study draws on the concepts of communicative repertoires (Rymes, 2016) and practice architectures (Kemmis et al, 2014) as analytical and theoretical tools. Communicative repertoires are the myriad ways in which people use language to function effectively while operating in multiple communities. Though predominantly used as a lens for analysing classrooms interactions, this study broadens the terrain in order to explore how educators and school leadership in this school see and use language in their daily practices. Relating this to the theory of practice architectures, language is considered as mediating how practices are interactionally secured in the ‘sayings’, ‘doings’ and ‘relatings’ of the practitioners.

Data were collected through focus group interviews with local and international teachers working in a type C school in China, as well as classroom observation notes and an analysis of school facilities. The thematic analysis of the interview data has provided important findings about the role of language in informing, shaping and defining teacher practices, particularly in terms of the practice traditions of the site and the dispositions of the teachers.

The findings indicate that while matters surrounding language choice and usage are present in school policy, re-examining the bilingual education practice may mitigate the challenges students face when transitioning from a largely Mandarin-centred primary and junior secondary school education to the English-centred senior school. For locally-hired teachers there are issues related to the choice of language during instruction, while for expatriate teachers, challenges are centred around the dynamics of communicating and teaching almost entirely in English. Further findings indicate that language use contributes towards tensions between local and international teachers, thereby affecting their potential to collaborate and develop collegial relations.