The theory of practice architectures: Exploring high quality early childhood education through another lens

Mandy Cooke, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Leanne Gibbs, Charles Sturt University/Wollongong University, Australia (

Background: The notion of best practice in Australian early childhood education (ECE) is synonymous with high quality (Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority [ACECQA], 2017). Yet in our complex, diverse and information rich society, what is best is always contestable, always changing, and always individual. The theory of practice architectures, an ontological site-based practice theory, offers a framework for exploring what is best for individual children and families, educators, communities and ECE settings. The site-based perspective applied in the theory is drawn from Schatzki’s site ontology, which states that practices are always situated within the particularities of the site of their unfolding.

Method: In this presentation, we give a brief overview of key aspects of the theory of practice architectures and share findings from two Australian early childhood education studies.

Results: In these two doctoral studies, the use of the theory of practice architectures revealed insights on what is ‘best’ within high quality early childhood settings—specifically in the areas of educator risk-taking and leadership development. The case study methodology explored how practices unfold and the unique arrangements within the sites that shaped those practices.

Conclusions: Findings have implications for educators, early childhood education services and the broader early childhood education sector as they plan for, enact and promote high quality early childhood education.

Implications for children: You will have the benefit of high quality early childhood education.

Implications for families: You will better understand what educators do and why they do it.

Implications for practitioners: You will be able to use the findings from these studies to reflect on the conditions in your setting that support high quality early childhood education.

Key words: the theory of practice architectures, high quality early childhood education, leading, leadership, risk-taking, educators’ risk-taking

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

SDG 4: Quality Education