Amazing Grace and powerful medicine: A case study of an elementary teacher and the arts

Patteson, A. (2002). Amazing Grace and powerful medicine: A case study of an elementary teacher and the arts. Canadian Journal of Education, 27(2/3) 269-289.

Abstract:

Queen’s University conducted a study of its professional development program for teachers “Teachers as Artist” (TAA), which entailed surveys, interviews, focus groups, and observations gathered from 1996-2000. This paper documents the case of one teacher chosen from the broader inquiry. The researcher examines whether the case teacher’s development over the four years of enrollment in TAA mirrors the theoretical framework of transformation theory, an articulation of the complex process involved in life-altering adult learning. The case teacher undergoes transformational effects that do mirror the theory, illustrating how institutional, curricular, pedagogical, and personal issues combine to influence the course of teacher change in relationship to the arts. The lasting effects of this teacher’s learning on her students, her school, and her own personal and professional life attest to the transformative potential of experiences with the arts.

Key Findings:

The case study teacher experienced effects which mirror transformational theory as documented over the teacher’s involvement in the four-year TAA program. Over this period, three phases occurred:

Transformational Theory is comprised of ten steps summarized in three phases: 1) an adult will encounter a new experience that prompts reflection of previous notions of self; 2) adult enters an experimentation stage; 3) adult emerges from reflective experimental stage with an enlarged sense of self and possibilities.

In the first phase, the case teacher felt disconnected from her students. She felt burned out and discouraged. She was resentful of being required to participate in TAA. Her early experiences in the program were negative prompting her to engage in deep self-reflection identifying her feelings of inadequacy as a teacher and skepticism of her art abilities. Despite this, she acquires new skills and attitudes, developing an appreciation for art materials and processes. She recognizes the capacity of the arts to engage and sustain. In the middle phase, she tests out applications of her new learning, feeling like each level of achievement posed new challenges. By her third year in TAA, there are profound changes in her attitudes and practices with the arts. She has shown a growth in artistic capacity and connects this growth to her classroom. By the end of her program, she demonstrates the final phase of Transformational Theory, having a renewed energy for teaching and transfers her passion for the arts to the students. There is a shift in her classroom and beyond into the school at large.

Significance of the Findings:

Transformational theory offers a model by which to consider tying professional development experiences to the arts. This study implies that if organizers of professional development are cognizant of the stages an adult goes through in their learning, experiences of professional development can be tailored to developmental needs. The study also concludes that the arts progress along a similar trajectory and that professional development experiences in the arts hold potent potential for transforming teachers’ practice.

Methodology:

Researchers at Queen’s University in Canada implemented a four year program, Teachers as Artists. They then initiated a study of teachers in the program, conducting:
  • baseline survey;
  • follow up survey;
  • semi-standardized audio-taped interviews;
  • focus groups;
  • photo and video-documentation;
  • analysis of teacher artifacts; and
  • observations of TAA professional development sessions.
Out of this larger study, this researcher has followed one teacher’s progress through the TAA program, analyzing if and how the teacher’s experiences reflect that of transformational theory of Jack Mezirow (1975, 1978, 1989, 1996, 2000), Brookfield (2000) and Coffman (1989). For purposes of triangulation of data, the author interviewed three graduates of the teacher’s class and distilled information from reflection papers that all of her students wrote in 1999 about the learning they had valued most while in her grade five class.

Limitations of the Research:

While the notion of transformational theory as an idea for structuring professional development programs through the arts is compelling, a broader number of participants are needed to determine if a broad range of participants also experience similar growth trajectories.

Questions to Guide New Research:

  • How can professional development arts workshops be constructed to address the developmental needs of adult learners?
  • What are the constraints that teachers who attend professional development workshops in the arts typically find in their schools when they try to implement the new techniques?
  • How can school administrators get involved in the same arts teaching workshops to better align school logistics, spaces, resources and schedules to the requirements of dynamic arts infusion in the classrooms?