“Can you look after us?”: the influence of organisational culture for children's experiences in an early childhood centre

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Theses / Dissertations
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Doctor of Philosophy
University of Canterbury
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Radford, Sandra Robyn

This thesis explores the influence of organisational culture for children’s lived experiences in an early childhood centre in Aotearoa New Zealand. Organisational culture, or ‘the way we do things around here’, has not been the focus of comprehensive research in early childhood settings, yet my research has shown it to be a powerful influence for children’s experiences. Understanding the nature of organisational culture in the early childhood education context, and how it arises and endures, is therefore important for a fuller understanding of children’s experiences in such settings. A case study approach within a qualitative research paradigm is taken, including individual interviews with staff, children and parents, a focus group interview with teachers, observations, artefact analysis and reflective notes. The analysis takes the form of a grounded theory approach, beginning with the identification of enacted centre norms, which were found to be the linchpin of the centre’s organisational culture. My study uses two frameworks for analysis to explore the organisational culture of the case study centre in terms of influences for children’s experiences. The first is Schein’s (2010) model of organisational culture, which identifies three progressively deeper levels from visible actions and artefacts, through espoused core values, to deeply held assumptions and beliefs revealed by norms that were enacted but unacknowledged. The second is Foucault’s conception of power, particularly disciplinary power and biopower, and his notion that specific patterns of social norms serve to integrate people into social entities. Findings from Schein’s lens showed how espoused values contributed to enacted norms, which directly influenced children’s experiences in the case study centre. The espoused value of child choice was traced as a specific example, for its influence for children’s experiences. This value arose not from the founder of the organisation, as Schein suggests, but from the teaching team, with the designated centre leader contributing to its endurance through ensuring a strong level of fit with new members of the teaching team, and to a lesser extent with incoming parents. Analysis from Foucault’s lens revealed that while younger children were coming to grips with the content and context of centre norms, the older children were able to predict that adults would act according to centre norms, and to use that knowledge to meet their own desires of the moment. Surveillance as a commonly employed technique of disciplinary power, intersected with a core centre value of child safety, leading to a child perceiving that she was unsafe unless being watched by an adult. This is an example of biopower inserting itself into the psyche of the child. Thus, organisational culture becomes a curriculum issue, because it is shaping children’s experiences in early childhood education as children make their own sense of norms and way things get done. To continue to ignore it is to close our eyes to critical aspects of what children are learning in our early childhood settings.

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