When teachers become musicians and artists: Teacher transformation and professional development

Upitis, R., Smithrim, K. & Soren, B.J. (1999). When teachers become musicians and artists: Teacher transformation and professional development. Music Education Research, 1, 23-35.

Abstract:

This study describes the results of two Canadian teacher professional development programs designed to improve participants’ artistic knowledge and skills. One professional development program was a school-based model in partnership with performing arts organizations and museums, and included a summer institute, workshops, and a teacher research project. The other professional development program was in partnership with local musicians and included all staff from a school who participated in music and visual arts workshops and conducted individual learning projects. Researchers analyzed data collected over a period of two years through surveys, observations, focus groups, and research reports. The researchers analyzed data using a research-based matrix that mapped the conditions necessary for the program to have impact on the teachers. Findings show that both programs affected participants’ skills and knowledge of the arts and helped some teachers (but not the majority) experience a deep transformation that affected their personal and professional lives, and will likely be sustained.

Key Findings:

Researchers developed a “transformation matrix” with three primary categories: (1) necessary conditions for transformation, (2) potential for sustained transformation, and (3) operationalized long-term transformation. Both professional development programs helped some teachers experience a deep transformation that affected their personal and professional lives, and will likely be sustained. However, consistent with the literature, this was not the case for the majority of teachers. For the school-based model, four of 20 teachers were classified as having a long-term transformation; transformation data for the other model was not provided. Although not all teachers experience such a long-term transformation, both professional development programs increased teachers’ artistic knowledge and skills. The effects of the program were still evident in some participants two years after program participation.

Significance of the Findings:

Regardless of the program format or content, professional development in the arts had a positive impact on teachers. Educators can benefit from professional development in the arts, and those benefits can remain several years after the original intervention.

Methodology:

Participants were classroom teachers who participated in one of two professional development programs in the arts. Researchers analyzed data collected over a period of two years through surveys, observations, focus groups, and research reports. Responses to surveys and interviews were analyzed by three researchers to identify themes and examples. Furthermore, data were analyzed using a research-based matrix that mapped the conditions necessary for the program to have impact on the teachers. The matrix outlines characteristics necessary for transformation (e.g., feeling of community, connections with prior experiences), those with the potential for sustained transformation (e.g., altered views of the role of the arts, greater understanding of self and community, enhanced images of artists), and those associated with operationalized long-term transformation (e.g., sustained pursuit of new arts forms, altered life practices, altered perceptions). Each teacher was placed into a category on the matrix based on the data collected.

Limitations of the Research:

The sample of participants is not adequately described. For example, the researchers report that in one program 20 teachers participated but do not indicate how many teachers participated in the second program. Of the 20 participating teachers only nine continued in the program. It is not clear why the others did not continue in the program.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What are the impacts of the programs on participants in the long term? What aspects of the two programs had the most effects on the participants?