A study of professional development for arts teachers: Building curriculum, community, and leadership in elementary schools.
Burnaford, G. (2009). A study of professional development for arts teachers: Building curriculum, community, and leadership in elementary schools. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 5(1).
This study examines the impact that network-based professional development has on arts specialists and their schools. Professional development instituted as part of the study engaged arts specialists from 59 schools as community and curriculum builders in collaboration with non-arts teachers, all the while building their own leadership capacities. Through quantitative and qualitative measures, researchers spent three years working with the study’s schools and concluded that arts specialists in the program became leaders supporting change in their schools through collaboration with principals and non-arts teachers. Participants developed a deeper understanding of the value of an arts integrated curriculum in which their own arts expertise contributes to the design of learning and teaching, particularly in the area of literacy.
This study examines professional development emphasizing curriculum, community, and leadership, and examines how these elements of a professional development program affect arts teachers. Professional development sessions focused on school improvement, arts teacher involvement, literacy in arts classrooms, process documentation, and collaboration with classroom teachers.
Community was created across the 59-school network. Often isolated, arts teachers from the study schools emphasized the value of the community built across the network. The professional development in the study allowed them to develop a peer group, which positively affected their work.
The professional development emphasized the building of new curriculum that crosses interdisciplinary lines by using the “Big Idea and Big Understandings” approach, in which curriculum is designed around a big idea that teachers want students to understand. Teasing out key, big ideas, arts specialists developed curriculum that worked with multiple grades, ages, and abilities. The “Big Idea” approach was also valuable in fostering interdisciplinary collaboration.
The study utilized arts integration as a tool for teaching literacy. Arts specialists were given literacy training and then reinforced and introduced literacy concepts through the arts. As a result of the instruction, students were given the tools to examine each other’s work and their own, learning to discriminate, practice writing skills, and use arts vocabulary.
Another critical element was the use of process documentation to illuminate steps in the learning process. By analyzing planning materials, curriculum and student work, teachers were able to make valuable connections between the students’ learning in relation to what they were teaching.
Arts specialists in the study learned through their monthly professional development session and they in turn taught their school peers. Through the arts specialists’ new role in working with non-arts teachers they became recognized and valued for their role in the school. Non-arts teachers became open and willing to engage in interdisciplinary collaboration.
All of these findings point to the conclusion drawn by the researchers that arts specialists in the study are spurring school change through their work.