Expectations and assumptions: Examining the influence of staff culture on a novel school-based intervention to enable risky play for children with disabilities

Patricia Grady-Dominguez, Jo Ragen, Julia Sterman, Grace Spencer, Paul Tranter, Michelle Villeneuve, Anita Bundy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Risky play is challenging, exciting play with the possibility of physical, social, or emotional harm. Through risky play, children learn, develop, and experience wellbeing. Children with disabilities have fewer opportunities than their typically developing peers to engage in this beneficial type of play. Our team designed a novel, school-based intervention to address this disparity; however, our intervention yielded unexpected quantitative results. In the present study, we qualitatively examined divergent results at two of the five schools that participated in the intervention. Specifically, we aimed to explore how staff culture (i.e., shared beliefs, values, and practices) influenced the intervention. To explore this relationship, we employed a retrospective, qualitative, multiple case study. We used thematic analysis of evaluative interviews with staff members to elucidate the cultures at each school. Then, we used cross-case analysis to understand the relationships between aspects of staff culture and the intervention’s implementation and results. We found that staff cultures around play, risk, disability influenced the way, and the extent to which, staff were willing to let go and allowed children to engage in risky play. Adults’ beliefs about the purpose of play and recess, as well as their expectations for children with disabilities, particularly influenced the intervention. Furthermore, when the assumptions of the intervention and the staff culture did not align, the intervention could not succeed. The results of this study highlight the importance of (1) evaluating each schools’ unique staff culture before implementing play-focused interventions and (2) tailoring interventions to meet the needs of individual schools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1008
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This work was funded by the Australian Research Council, grant number DP140101792.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Disabilities
  • Play
  • Risky play
  • School culture
  • Staff culture
  • Teacher perceptions


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