In the first part of the 21st century there has been a turn to practice in the social sciences including organizational studies, critical management sociology, philosophy, and some domains of education inquiry. Despite a rich tradition of epistemological and ontological debates, educational leadership scholarship has been slow to recognize the productive nature of the practice turn. This is partly due to its historical location in North American pragmatic traditions and a concomitant privileging of more instrumentalist, positivist, and functionalist accounts of how we come to know, be, and learn to go on in the social world that constitutes educational organizations. Educational leadership scholarship has had two dominant tendencies when it comes to explaining the phenomenon of organizational change. The first relies on individualist and frequently decontextualized accounts that privilege individuals, for example, the hero leader who turns around a “failing” educational organization. The second draws on dominant societist accounts that foreground systems, for example, principals as role incumbents in schools. In so doing, the latter privileges the system above the lifeworld of educational organizations. In contrast, a practice account of leadership or leading draws our attention to the materiality and “happeningness” of leading practices as social phenomena, unfolding in the ontological specificity of particular sites at particular times, rather than as a set of espoused ideals. It foregrounds the cultural-discursive, material-economic, and social-political arrangements or practice architectures that hold in place particular educational practices, and that in turn create the kinds of enabling or constraining conditions for educational transformation to occur. By understanding the practices and arrangements that hold particular kinds of educational practices in place, we are better able to understand possibilities for educational change and transformation.
It is generally understood that a stable external environment around educational organizations is a thing of the past. Currently, in the 21st century, educational organizations are living in highly volatile environments, and various political, economic, social, demographic, and ecological forces are putting pressure on these organizations to change their structural and functional characteristics. Educational change as a field of research is a relatively new area and metalevel thinking about educational change has largely been inspired by theories and models that are borrowed from the broader field of organization science. The broader field possesses a multitude of theories and models of change but the same theoretical and practical plurality is not evident for educational change. However, there has always been a convergence of ideas between educational change and organizational change. As a result, educational change scholars and practitioners have borrowed the models and theories from the broader field of organization science. Parallel to the understanding in organization science, educational change interventions reflect a planned change understanding. Planned change is triggered by an external force, introduces change, and terminates the process. Although different models count on different steps to depict the process, these three phases delineate the planned change process. Many change models count on political, economic, social, or ecological forces of change for organizations. However, educational organizations have more specific and unique forces of change. Global student achievement comparison programs (e.g., Program for International Student Assessment), inequities in education, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) 21st-century skills, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) movements, the trends in internationalization in education, and political conflicts around the world are putting pressure on education systems and schools around their structures and functions. Despite a conceptual plurality and richness in practical models, both organizational and educational change experience a high failure rate, which results in human, financial, and managerial issues for educational organizations. Considering the high failure rate in educational change, it is argued that conceptual and practical issues exist in educational change approaches. A broad review of both educational and organizational change suggests policy borrowing, a political rationale dominating educational change, a static organizational perspective, a loss of sight of the whole organization, and the ignoring of the human side of change as the main issues in change interventions. Assuming change as a top-down, planned, stage-based, hierarchical, and linear phenomenon, conceiving it as an extraordinary practice in the life of organizations and perceiving it as involvement of a distinguished group in the organization are some of the common problems in the dominant approach to change. These criticisms suggest a need for a fundamental shift in its conceptualization, which in turn suggests a shift in the ontology of change. According to the alternative understanding of change (i.e., continuous change), change is a small-scale, bottom-up, ongoing, cumulative, and improvisational process. The new understanding provides valuable insights into the conceptualization and practice of change. Continuous change perspective provides effective insights into the missing aspects in change implementation rather than suggesting totally replacing the planned change perspective.
Diana Gonçalves Vidal and André Paulilo
Over the past several decades, scholars have focused special attention on the relationship between schooling and culture. The first forays focused on curriculum matters, trying to understand how educational policies affected the selection of content and its dissemination in schools. More recently, the concept of school culture has emerged as a frame for researchers, thanks to its ability to problematize how teachers and pupils experience school in terms of time and space. Placing these individuals in the center of the schooling process, the concept of school culture enables scholars to create a more comprehensive analysis of what happens inside classrooms and schoolyards. This tool offers an opportunity for researchers and teachers to debate the merits of tradition and innovation in education, pay attention to material culture as a part of school practices, and consider school community as a social actor. The concept has become commonplace in the academic production in many areas, such as educational sociology, history of education, educational anthropology, philosophy of education, and educational psychology.