Professional Dilemmas in Sustainable Schools: A Research Question Looking For A Setting

Vare, Paul ORCID: 0000-0003-3182-9105 (2013) Professional Dilemmas in Sustainable Schools: A Research Question Looking For A Setting. In: ECER 2013: Creativity and Innovation in Educational Research, 9-13 September, 2013, Istanbul, Turkey. (Unpublished)

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For many there is a moral imperative to ensure that education does not ignore current ecological and socio-economic crises. Yet education for sustainable development (ESD) involves a clash of values between those who emphasise education as a means of extending opportunity and critical thinking and those who seek the promotion of pro-environment behaviours. Before UNESCO launched the Decade for ESD, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) launched its own ESD Strategy. As a member of the UNECE Strategy Drafting Group and subsequent ESD 'expert groups', I was concerned that such high level debate was detached from reality. This prompted my EdD thesis to investigate how far the introduction of ESD by teachers in a school is professionally self-contradictory. To investigate this question, I turned to Cultural-historical Activity Theory because: 1. It views an institution as a system – sustainability is underpinned by systems thinking 2. It looks explicitly for contradictions within the system – reflecting my research question 3. The methodology involves practitioners working together in a ‘change laboratory’ – a form of action research I was keen to attempt After several months cultivating relationships with senior staff at a local secondary school, we agreed a programme of change laboratory meetings. The school then ‘failed’ a Government inspection resulting in a moratorium on all non-teaching activity. My research was stopped. I re-started the process of negotiating a research programme at a local university but institutional leaders called a halt to this because such research raised ‘reputational issues’ for the university. With time slipping away, colleagues helped me identify teachers who would agree to be interviewed. As a result I conducted fifteen one-to-one, semi-structured interviews in twelve schools. My research setting had become a mix of primary, middle and secondary schools (with varying degrees of experience in introducing sustainability) across two local authority areas. Although I could not use a change laboratory, the key elements of an activity system provided the framework for my question guide. The data was also organised into thematic groups under the activity system headings. In this way, a ghost of activity theory remained, like an archaeological relic only visible to the trained eye. Talking to individuals rather than a group of colleagues made contradictions hard to identify. Each teacher appeared to have resolved contradictions in their practice to their own satisfaction. Instead I began to seek contradictions between the data and information found on the school websites and within the reports of school inspectors. ‘Dilemma analysis’ (see Methodology section) allowed me to sort context-specific, qualitative data into a ‘perspective document’ that, if agreed by the majority of respondents, could be deemed to be generally representative of the situation across similar schools (see Output section). By focusing on decision points, the resulting document reflects the understanding that social practices are ‘structured’ by rules, resources and power. Rather than suggest a routemap to a sustainable school, this output informs some key options. As Giddens’ concept of Structuration suggests, the possibility for change is ever present as rules are used.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1501 Primary Education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary Education. High schools
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Education and Science
Research Priority Areas: Society and Learning
Depositing User: Paul Vare
Date Deposited: 11 Sep 2019 10:59
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2023 08:43

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