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Issues In Educational Research, Vol 16, 2006
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Crafting pedagogical change in schools

Suzanne Perillo
The University of Melbourne
Pedagogical change is posited as a crafting process constituted by the relational activity of social and material actors. A case study was used to investigate how pedagogical change becomes enacted in everyday practices in an independent boys' school in Australia. In comparison to a scripted implementation plan, the pedagogical change process was more accurately characterised by multiple, disparate patterns of activity. The use of a set of guiding principles for cultivating a school environment that enables pedagogical change is proposed.


The notion of pedagogy has generally been conceptualised in the research literature as the art of teaching and learning and the science and practice of knowing. From a practitioner's perspective, one possible translation may be that pedagogy is about the learning dynamic created and shared by student and teacher. However, the relationship between theoretical definitions of pedagogy and the activity that embeds the day to day work of practitioners is no certain matter. It is interesting to note that a crude search for 'pedagogy' in the Google 'education only' database will locate 197 results for this keyword and only 35 when the words 'change' and 'practice' are added.

Reflecting a postmodern research persuasion, the investigation of pedagogical change reported in this paper generally challenges the making of a priori assumptions about what does and what does not matter in practice. Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to explore practitioner accounts of pedagogical change. The applicability of any definitive conceptualisation of pedagogical change was not assumed in this study. Definitions of pedagogy, such as O'Brien's (2002) conceptualisation of 'new pedagogies' as changes in curricula, teaching and learning which promote lifelong inquiry for knowledge and conceptual understanding that is greater than the acquisition of content and information have been assumed to apply to investigations of pedagogy in schools. However, how accurate and relevant are such theoretically informed definitions to the lived experiences of teaching practitioners? To explore such a line of inquiry that ventures beyond defined research (and administrative) terrains, a research journey into murky waters is required. Working the space between academic research and the practical work of teaching professionals is an implicated issue. Indeed, it is the activity in this interstitial space that provides an opportunity for illuminating the complexity embedding pedagogy, change and practice.

Performing practice

An empirical focus on teaching practice that is consistent with a performance perspective on knowledge, learning and change was used to investigate pedagogical change deeply and complexly. Thus, pedagogical change is posited as being performed in practice and a broad definition of change is assumed. Accordingly, change is defined as "a generic term which subsumes a whole family of concepts such as 'innovation', 'development' and adoption" (Marsh, 2000, p.380). Such a generic definition of change may be criticised as being inconclusive. This paper seeks to make the point that a tolerance for ambiguity is required to gain an accurate insight into the complexity embedding the change process in schools. By implication, the applicability of global notions of (pedagogical) change, and metaframeworks for managing it, is questioned. As argued by McGregor, it may be idiosyncrasies (human and physical) that constitute a diverse repertoire of practice being performed at any one time.
In secondary education, where striking differences in teaching and learning may be found in classrooms in the same school, or even the same department, the importance of context is increasingly emphasised in writing on reform and policy. However, the orthodox understanding of context as either physical or social container fails to articulate the reciprocity of the mutual construction of physical and social space (McGregor 2004, p.367).
Acknowledging that there are numerous pathways one can take when using the 'umbrella concept of practice' to pursue the quest for knowledge, Silvia Gherardi concludes that "altogether, practice articulates knowledge in and about organising as practical accomplishment rather than as a transcendental account of a decontextualised reality" (Gherardi, 2000, p.217). It is this sense of practical accomplishment that the term performance is used to position both a theoretical and empirical focus on changes in pedagogical practice. As opposed to the notion of a single pedagogical reality, it is also assumed that in practice, there are multiple pedagogical realities, performed incompletely and imperfectly. A radical view of postmodern change would challenge any establishment of order whatsoever. Instead, postmodern aspects of multiple realities and the endorsement of heterogeneity, difference, fragmentation and indeterminacy were used to guide the development of a research methodology. Poststructuralist notions of intertextuality and the displacement of taken for granted binary oppositions, also provided a theoretical underpinning for the development of an inclusive research approach for investigating how pedagogical change becomes enacted in everyday practices.

A relational view of pedagogical change

Although there is no consensus about the precise relationship, a postmodern attitude is deemed to be consistent with the use of Actor Network Theory (ANT) as an analytical method in empirical work that seeks to disentangle elements of workplace practices. ANT provides a perspective of pedagogical change as a relational accomplishment of a network. The study reported here is grounded in such a relational view of pedagogical change and reflects Massey's (1999) explanation of relational thinking as an attempt to recognise interconnections that construct any identity.

ANT grew out of semiotics and is now used in a growing number of disciplines. As a research method, ANT has its roots in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and initially emerged through the work of Bruno Latour, John Law and Michel Callon. ANT denies that purely social or technical explanations for practice are possible and does not consider these relations as potential contexts for each other. Instead, ANT provides an impartial framework for analysing network effects in which neither social or technical factors are given priority explanatory status (Tatnall & Gilding, 1999). According to classical ANT notions of translation, human and non-human actors engage in a politically charged series of negotiations during which acceptance of a viewpoint is arrived at via persuasion and trade offs. The notion of translation can thus be used to understand why a particular version (of pedagogical practice) gets established. A detailed explanation of this translation process can be found in Callon (1986).

The application of classical ANT notions of translation is not without its critics. McLean and Hassard (2004) identify various problematic issues that have been described in the research literature. The first issue relates to an 'inclusion/exclusion' debate about the requirement that researchers continually must decide which actors to follow and where to draw network boundaries when applying ANT. As Law (1991) acknowledges, there is a price associated with following actors that includes problems associated with maintaining analytical distance and the risk of obscuring other significant actors. As demonstrated by Lee and Brown (1994) relations, negotiations and resistances may lie outside of the researcher's translations, meaning difference is simplified and marginalised. Thus, this 'inclusion/exclusion' issue requires the extension of actor status to the researcher.

Further, the ability of ANT researchers to practice generalised symmetry (the impartial view of the status and power of material and social actors) has also been questioned. This problem of representation has also been extended to historical ANT accounts involving concerns about the accuracy of contemporary interpretations. ANT has also been criticised for focusing attention on local levels of analysis and insufficiently attending to the broader social structures that influence local practices (McLean & Hassard, 2004).

These problematic issues have been considered by contemporary ANT notions that abandon the notion of coherence in and around networks and take a performative or practice turn by moving away from the idea of objects or networks as single entities. Instead, networks are consistent with precarious patterns of ordering and arrangements of space with no clear centre (Hetherington & Law, 2000). When investigating hospital relations, Mol and Messman (1996) demonstrated that when ANT is applied in a way that includes the 'noise' of entities which do not fall within an emergent pattern of ordering, the translation process can give rise to different, co-existent patterns of ordering. It is this application of ANT that is deemed particularly appropriate for providing for the possibility of multiple pedagogical change experiences in schools.

Learning spaces

The incorporation of notions of spatiality can be used to complement ANT. As noted by Mulcahy (2005), space is not given, it is made or spun. Rather than being an arena within which social relations take place, space can be viewed as an articulation of relational performances and mobilised in schools as a resource for constructing and mediating power relations (McGregor, 2003). A detailed review of space as reported in the literature has been recently published in Hubbard, Kitchin and Valentine (2004). For the purposes of this paper, the point about spatiality to make is that the inclusion of an ANT-spatial analytical lens is based on the assumption that a conceptualisation of space is something not defined by any natural law of ordering but rather a space in the making. As Jane McGregor notes,
ANT predicates the existence of network space or spaces as performed through a network. Such networks are spatial configurations of heterogeneous actors brought together in an active relationship (McGregor, 2004, p.353).
Moreover, as elaborated by Eric Laurier when commenting on the spatial direction of the work of ANT researchers,
... space and time come about as consequences of the ways in which particular heterogeneous elements are related to one another. The term 'topological' is therefore used to capture this sense of space being made out of relations between its parts (Laurier, 2004, p.203).

Seeing what matters

The recent work of Bruno Latour (2004), Karen Barad (2003) and John Law (2004a) pursues the idea that the world is experienced as a process of mattering. Barad proposes that "the world is an ongoing process of mattering" (Barad, 2003, p.817). Similarly, Latour posits the notion of "matters of fact as a bewildering variety of matters of concern" (Latour, 2004, p.247). Law builds on both of these notions by positing six modes of mattering as ways in which multiple contributions that matter are made. Common to these three works on mattering is the assumption that mattering is messy and moves about. The notion of an overall reality is also rejected. It is assumed that an analytical toolbox consisting of ANT notions (especially contemporary ones) will provide a research lens that can see what matters when untangling changes in pedagogical practice.

Method: One case, multiple matters

The key aim of this research was to investigate (untangle) local experiences of pedagogical change. Specific research goals included the identification of practices and enabling factors that teachers associated with pedagogical change, as well as the attainment of greater insight into the conditions that cultivate pedagogical change. Research methods underpinned by positivist research assumptions, explicitly or implicitly attempt to operationalise definitions of constructs they seek to investigate. In comparison, in this study, practitioner perceptions of 'what counts as pedagogical change' were used to orientate the analytical focus of the researcher. As such, there were no prescribed parameters for including or excluding activity embedding change at the site researched.

An intimate story

Case study "is the method of choice when the phenomenon under study is not readily distinguishable from its context" (Yin, 2003). This paper reports on the activity constituting pedagogical change in one school. This case study was part of a PhD project investigating innovation and change in schools. Pedagogical change was one of the windows of practice through which the enactment of change in everyday experiences was analysed. The school studied was an established, religiously affiliated, independent boys' school with a stable enrolment base approximating 1000 students. largely from middle and upper socioeconomic, Australian families. The selection of it as a research site reflected a purposeful sampling process as outlined in Patton (2002). In the words of Michael Patton,
Case studies become particularly useful when one needs to understand some particular problem or situation in great depth, and when one can identify cases rich in information - rich in the sense that a great deal can be learned from a few exemplars of the phenomenon in question (Patton, 1986, p.205).
In Australia a range of initiatives have been developed under the Federal Government's Spotlight on Boys policy ambit. These include 'Success for Boys', 'Boys Education Lighthouse Schools', 'Motivation and Engagement of Boys Research Project' and the 'Review of Gender Equity Framework'. Having publicly announced its commitment to addressing the challenges facing boys, engagement and learning, it was determined that the activity taking place in the selected case study would be information rich. The school was also generally referred to in the wider community as undergoing a period of change.

Tuning into detail

Data triangulation was used to support the study design (Patton, 1990). A combination of in depth individual interviews and group interviews, direct observation and the examination of documents was used to explicate and unfold the complex arrangements that shaped and constituted changes in pedagogical practice. Data were collected via key informant interviews, group interviews, informal observations of the physical school environment and the analysis of school documentation. Key informant tape recorded, semi-structured interviews were conducted with the four members of the Senior Leadership Team and two middle managers (school coordinators). Two groups of 5 and 6 participants also participated in tape recorded, group interviews. The interviews took between 60 and 90 minutes each. Interview participants were invited to think of examples of pedagogical change that they had experienced while working at the school. During the interview, open ended questions were used to prompt discussion. Examples of these questions included 'What is an example of pedagogical change that comes to mind?', 'How does pedagogical change happen here?', 'What should be done differently?'. In the spirit of emergent qualitative interviews, conversations did not strictly follow the list of interview questions. An analysis of relevant school policy documentation, including the strategic plan, professional development policy and programs, program reviews and support materials, curriculum guidebooks, marketing materials and the website was also undertaken. An observation checklist was used and included reference to such things as the formality of the physical environment, meeting places for students, teachers and administrators, and artifacts.

Emergent relations

Consistent with qualitative methods of content analysis, themes were identified in the interview transcripts, informal observation records and school documentation. It is interesting to note that during interview discussions a local code for the notion of pedagogy emerged. The word pedagogy was (with the exception of one of the key informants) displaced with phrases related to 'ways of improving learning'. The idea that terminology must be accessible to the lived realities of practitioners is also implied in the following comment made by one of the school's middle managers at the commencement of an interview.
I think people have got the idea about pedagogy or whatever you call it. We get people from university coming out and they use a word that we don't use at the coalface. It just turned off 90% of the teachers and they were like kids. Big words, no practicality. It's got to be very delicate. It's got be about what it could be here, and about people like me modelling to show it can be done without turning to tears (Interview 1).
The case study data that follows is structured according to (relational) themes that emerged. Conventional research methods report data 'findings'. Consistent with a postmodern approach, a 'data story' describing the activity constituting lived experiences of local conceptualisations of pedagogical change is reported in this paper.

A contemporary classic

A strong sense of tradition and innovation emerged as a characteristic of the interview discussions. At this school, changes in learning were shaped in part by relations between traditional approaches (to planning, working with colleagues, educational priorities and landscaping) and contemporary concerns (with new government initiatives, increased risk taking and the meeting of expectations extending beyond academic excellence related to student engagement). For example, the school coordinator commented that
... traditions value behaviour. We've always reflected on our results, for a private school is driven by results, and what's been happening in the last eight to ten years, we've been reflecting on total teaching time, on structures of the day, length of periods so, that's been in the back of the mind - how do we get better results through better learning. So that's been driving change in teaching styles (Interview 1).
In this description it was the traditional concern with results that was viewed as a mobilising factor for changes in pedagogical practices. Similarly, tradition is also implied as a characteristic of the activity embedding changes in pedagogical practices in the following description of the management of change as deliberate and respectful, provided by a group of teachers.
They're not afraid to try anything, even if it is has not been something that they have always done - which is good. But it is not necessarily an aggressive approach. It has always been well thought out, it's calculated and then we proceed. I think there has always been a lot of respect for staff that work here and your opinion about something is really valued (Group Interview 1).
Thus, in the space between tradition and change, familiarity and novelty, enactments of pedagogical change can be seen as being constituted, in part, as matters of concern.

A not so social tale

The notion of relationality was also lived out in tales about materiality and sociality as co-constituents in patterns of activity embedding changes in pedagogical practice. For example, technology, documentation, buildings, classrooms, structured spaces, doorways and offices all emerged as things that played a constitutive role in shaping the pedagogical change process. Here is how a member of the Senior Management Team described an attempt to change pedagogical practice that involved computing and information technology.
We decided to introduce what is called an International Computer Driver's Licence to improve student learning in the classroom. It's a series of seven modules relating to IT competence. Now some staff were magnificent and undertook five, six, seven. But I had underestimated the fear of some staff; if I were to have my time over again I'd do it a different way (Interview 2).
The rejection of the Computer Driver's Licence did not mean that pedagogical change involving information technology ceased. Rather, the nature of the process attempting to influence the change was transformed through what was locally described as 'Benchmark Classrooms'. Thus, as suggested in the following description of a relatively more successful experience with the use of computing technology to provide better learning experiences for students, the 'different way' may be one that is informed by a perspective that sees changes in teaching and learning practice embedded in a complex web of human and technological relations.
To meet the goal of helping teachers with this technology, we could bring it to them, so we have a data projector now and a video and a DVD and a computer network in these rooms as well as new furniture, nicer colours to brighten up because they were pretty dull - grey, cream type rooms - now we have a blue one and a yellow one and a green one and the boys have all commented when they've walked in - saying wow, yes, this is good (Interview 1).
Benchmark Classrooms were literally there waiting (and not necessarily silently) for the teachers to experiment with a change in pedagogical practice. Teachers did not have to find extra time to attend training in computing and associated technology such as projectors. Benchmark Classrooms could be used simultaneously to conduct a lesson and experiment with new skills. What started out as a prescriptive, technology focused Computer Licensing process had been translated into a process that would see pedagogical change enacted in fluid ways.

In addition to technology, materiality in the form of architectural buildings played a constitutive role in influencing the nature of the change process. In relations with the activity of teachers, staff common rooms as well as smaller spaces between classrooms were identified as sites for pedagogical change. As noted by a senior school leader when reflecting on pedagogical change in a Junior School environment,

... even things as basic as the structure of the staffroom has an enabling impact, if you like, on teaching and curriculum change, curriculum discussion even. Because staff are in one common room there's more opportunity for primary teachers to share professional dialogue in an incidental way - morning tea, lunchtime, after school (Interview 2).
Building on this notion of architectural space and learning, another senior school leader compares the activity taking place in the staff common room and smaller spaces between classrooms.
I think in the common room you don't talk about kids much. Whereas if you're in the rooms between classes you've got the other Grade 3 teachers, the way we teach is more relevant to all of them, something that you might be doing. In the staff room talk is very, very general (Interview 4).
Further, reinforcing a strong presence for materiality (here, classrooms) as a constitutive force in shaping changes in pedagogical practice, a school coordinator notes that
... what we tend to do is try and give each year level the opportunity to present to the other classroom teachers about what their environment is like. So we rotate and teachers give a five or ten minute presentation of things within their classroom which may be of interest to other year level teachers (Interview 1).
In other sections of the school (Middle School and Senior School) classrooms were not identified as an enabling factor for assisting in pedagogical change. For example, the way furniture was organised, in relation with perceptions of power, was described as a factor responsible for obstructing the learning dynamics between staff. In a group interview there was consensus on this.
I think sometimes it's the structure of the meeting, everyone sitting in rows at desks, instead of facing each other. It is like someone is there to control the meeting rather than it happening as an opportunity to flesh out ideas (Group Interview 2).
During another group interview 'proximity' was identified as a key factor enabling changes in pedagogical practice. In particular, the role of offices and building locations were identified as influencing person to person encounters.
Physical spaces, where we sit, passing pieces of paper over the carrel, having a quick word as we bolt off to class, these are the ways we adapt lessons ( 'a discussion on the run'. It is not a formal forum where we discuss these things. That's also the good thing about sharing an office (Group Interview 1).

Disparate realities

Diverse and sometimes disparate accounts of the role formality played also emerged during interview discussions.
We used to have small meetings that were completely informal, voluntary. Departments focused on pedagogical practice. There would be no agenda and people would bring things with them. This sparked from a book a Head of department had read about pedagogical practice. We shared the book and then the informal meetings started. It all stemmed from that book and basically went from there (Group Interview 1).
As opposed to 'completely informal meetings' formalised documentation, including meeting agendas, were very much a part of the way in which the Junior School experienced and performed pedagogical change. This was identified in numerous interviews.
There is a newsletter which has in it probably seven or eight articles based on reflections on classroom situations. (Interview 3) We have an official session where staff get up and talk about things that worked well for them. (Interview 2) We have curriculum summary to record all of this. (Interview 1) Then there's the maths enrichment document that the Maths Coordinator puts together (Interview 5).
In addition to disparate versions of the role formality played in shaping pedagogical change, in the following snapshots of practice, it is clear that the strategic plan also mattered differently. The strategic plan featured prominently on the school's website and other publicity materials. Consistent with this strong presence in marketing materials, a teacher, recently promoted, identified a powerful role for the strategic plan in establishing a research orientated environment for pedagogical practice.
My new position is a direct result of strategic planning that took place and where the headmaster I think, in particular, really wanted to incorporate a research component into the school. It came as a result of the Council's and the School's change, promoting itself as a school of excellence in boys' education (Interview 3).
Similarly, for some teachers working in one part of the school the strategic plan was perceived as playing a formative role in influencing teaching practice.
We have a long look at the strategic plan twice a year when we have a staff meeting just on that. We get updates and as a group say we are going to look at this. I've never felt that I haven't been able to contribute but I can't actually say exactly when and where (Group Interview 1).
However, for a group of teachers spending most of their time working in another part of the school.
The strategic plan is not in the conversation. We don't tend to talk about it. I do know we have one. There is not a theme where we say we are working towards 'X' and this would contribute to 'X'. It's fairly random (Group Interview 2).

Interstitial activity

Interstitial activity has been an undercurrent in the themes discussed above. The pedagogical change process was enacted in the space between formality and informality, policy and practice, classrooms and desks and meetings and professional learning spaces. It was not just between physical spaces that such interstitial activity shaped the ways in which pedagogical practice changed. Pedagogical change was also constituted between more abstract spaces, such as perceptions of tradition and newness, maturity and youth and attractive and unattractive decor. The following example illuminates an interstitial character for the change process. A powerful translation of Ethno Drama as an agent for pedagogical change emerged in the space between a teacher's classroom activity with students and professional learning with staff.
And we're now seeing her in a new light because of the fact that she was just a drama teacher. But now, all of a sudden, she's become a university researcher, reflective practice, and it's been great. She's been able to get staff thinking and doing. She's using her skills as a drama teacher and producer to sort of actively engender some activity in the school (Interview 2).
Interstitial activity between research and practice was also implied in this account of change. Consistent with Richard Edward's identification of research as an 'intellectual technology', ethno drama in this school can be described as a mobilising agent that materially grounded practice 'in order to gain spatial and temporal endurance' (Edwards, 2004, p.436).

A complicated plot for the crafting of multiple pedagogical realities

The daily activity experienced in this school cannot accurately be described by the use of definitive, clean cut classifications for the ways in which practitioners performed and organised their pedagogical work. Contemporary ANT notions have provided an analytical method for describing the character of multiple, local learning experiences that constituted changes in pedagogical practice. In the words of John Law, ANT's commitment to translation has turned "from an array of small stories into a patchwork of similarities and differences that performs not one but many worlds" (Law, 1997, p.10).

Further, in addition to multiplicity, the ways in which changes in pedagogical practice emerged were consistent with Solomon, Boud and Rooney's (2003) notion of 'hybrid space' to describe a connected, contested space that enables/generates new ways of working, learning and being. At this school, pedagogical change was experienced in multiple and sometimes disparate ways between categorical spaces. These experiences of pedagogical change can be posited in terms of a complex crafting process constituted by the activity of multiple objects, entities, effects, or as conceptualised in ANT terms, actors.

Specifically, the notion of crafting is taken from the contemporary work of John Law (2004b) that reflects on the (in)sufficiency of analytical methods to account for messy practice. 'If realities are being enacted multiply, then I have argued that it becomes important to think through modes of crafting that let us apprehend this multiplicity' (Law, 2004, p. 152). At this school, pedagogical change was enacted in everyday practices in ways that are consistent with Law's positing of practice as the crafting of many realities. (A comprehensive account of the notion of multiple realities can be found in Annemarie Mol's (2002) work, The Body Multiple.)

In accordance with an assumption of pedagogical change as a crafting process, an appropriate strategy for managing pedagogical change is one that involves the development of a guiding set of enabling principles. The data story told in this paper suggests that such principles may include the following ideas.

The positing of such guidelines implies a change in role (and mindset) for school administrators from that of management to cultivation. That is, to manage pedagogical change effectively, school administrators may need to see themselves as cultivators of an environment in which pedagogical practice lives its own life, learning and growing as multiple experiences of pedagogical change are crafted. Silvia Gherardi's notion of learning resonates
... learning takes place in the flow of experience, with or without our awareness of it. In everyday organisational life, work, learning, innovation, communication, negotiation, conflict over goals, their interpretation, and history, are co-present in practice (Gherardi, 2000, p.214).

Moving on and in-between

It is hoped that the positing of multiple pathways, including the nurturing of in-between spaces, as enabling characteristics of the pedagogical change process will assist in addressing the elusiveness of teacher-friendly ways for engaging in pedagogical changes, noted by David Hargreaves (2003). The story of pedagogical change reported in this paper supports Michael Fullan's proposition that the challenge for school leaders is to implement strategies that do not seek to control practice (Fullan, 2001). Moreover, the endorsement of the use of a guiding set of principles, as opposed to a scoped action plan as a change management strategy in schools, may help to achieve what Engestrom (1999) describes as the reclaiming of 'imaginative space' (or perhaps, the in-between space) in an era of attention to calculable and measurable aspects of work.


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Author: Suzanne Perillo is completing a PhD research study within the Faculty of Education, at the University of Melbourne, investigating innovation practice in the domains of pedagogical change and professional learning in schools. Her postgraduate qualifications include a Graduate Diploma in Education, an Honours degree in (Psychology) and a Masters in Organisational and Industrial Psychology. She is currently working in the Independent school sector as a Director of Teaching and Learning and has also worked as a Senior Government Road Safety Policy Adviser and Organisational Psychologist. Email: rsperillo@bigpond.com

Please cite as: Perillo, S. (2006). Crafting pedagogical change in schools. Issues In Educational Research, 16(1), 80-94. http://www.iier.org.au/iier16/perillo.html

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