Complex Silences: Exploring the Relationship Between Teacher Change and Staff Development in The Arts
The purpose of the study was to examine the experiences of an intact group of urban elementary school teachers as they participated in a long-term and multifaceted arts education staff development program. Ethnographic research documented a five year staff development project in the arts which took place in an urban elementary school deeply engaged in school reform. The staff development project was designed to impact the arts experiences of the entire school community through long term teacher training in the arts, and included collaborative relationships with several arts in education organizations and cultural institutions.
Participant observation documented development of teachers’ perspectives as participants, and examined emergent issues as teachers engaged in: (1) learning arts content and skills; (2) arts creation and performance; (3) crafting and teaching arts lessons; and (4) staff development experiences. Findings are presented according to design, necessary support , and context.
Design issues included: (1) the importance of multi-year efforts in teacher change; (2) steps teachers make toward changes in belief, attitudes, and habits of practice are extremely fine-grained; (3) progress is very slow, and must occur first, and continuously, at the level of the individual teacher in the individual classroom; and (4) the support required is both time-intensive and labor-intensive.
Necessary support issues included: (1) the amount of support required to effect teacher change is significant; (2) subject content is best presented through careful construction of shared experiences in learning, reflecting, and implementing lessons and activities; (3) common experiences facilitate the development of collaborative skills necessary to counteract the isolation found in urban schools; (4) when professional collegiality has been established teacher leadership can emerge and shape the nature of the arts experiences from within the school; (5) an internal sense of collective responsibility is critical in sustaining professional development; and (6) external collaborators can be effective in providing necessary support.
Context issues included: (1) the importance of school context; (2) effects of policy churn; (3) extensive teacher turnover; (4) the constant lack of time to work thoughtfully and incrementally, and (5) interruptions. Implications for effective staff development design and further research were included.