Robert Hamm

Project Title: “Professional reflection processes of primary school teachers on rituals and ritualisations”

Researcher: Robert Hamm

Supervisor: Tony Partridge

“This project is a study of the professional reflection processes of primary school teachers on rituals and ritualisations. The published literature on rituals/ritualisations, and on reflection processes, in education is reviewed, in both English and German, and then a comparison is made between the reflection processes in Irish primary schools, German mainstream primary schools and free alternative schools in Germany. A series of research questions was framed and three methods were used to investigate these questions. A questionnaire was used to gather information on currently used reflection settings. Semi-structured interviews were used to provide material for a review of current practice concerning reflection on rituals in school. The issue of critical reflection on rituals in school was addressed in memory-work seminars in which teachers took part. Throughout the study, Catherine Bell’s suggestion of looking at ritual as human practice, and therefore as ritualisation rather than ritual, was used as a crucial point of reference in overcoming a number of specific difficulties in ritual theory.

 This study has found that national discourses have an impact on the understanding and use of the term ritual. Differences in the ritual cultures in the three school types are described, with rather coherent normative systems represented in Irish primary schools and free alternative schools, and more contradictory norms, value systems and beliefs represented in German mainstream schools. Teachers in general are found to use a range of settings in which they engage with a variety of reflection partners. It is found that teachers in free alternative schools spend significantly more time in formal reflection settings than their colleagues in the other school types.

 This scenario is then described against the background of varying decision making structures, and varying educational concepts, in the three school types. Concepts of reflection, as used in the educational sector, are introduced and a shift in perspective is proposed in which reflection is understood as a social act. On the basis of this, it is argued that the professional reflection processes of teachers on rituals are best understood as negotiations of defining, articulating and shaping reality. It is found that, in their professional context, teachers engage in these processes almost exclusively amongst themselves. In just one single strand of free alternative schools teachers were found to also engage with children in these processes.

 Critical reflection on rituals in school, which is understood as externalising and investigating power relations and uncovering hegemonic assumptions, is found to be largely absent from the current practice of teachers, this despite the connection of rituals to social order, norms and value systems. However, in the documentation from a memory-work seminar conducted as part of this study, it is shown that memory-work can be used to effectively arrive at critical reflection on rituals in school.

In a discussion of situational circumstances suited for achieving this same purpose the findings of the study are brought together.”