University’s program keeps art teachers’ skills sharp

University’s program keeps art teachers’ skills sharp

As research continues to show the importance of art in learning, educators are encouraging further training and upskilling of teachers to improve their confidence and quality of teaching art classes.

In partnership with the Tasmanian Art Teachers Association and the Department of Education’s Professional learning Institute, the University of Tasmania (UTAS) recently held Art Works, a professional learning day for K-12 visual art teachers.

UTAS held the workshop in its Inveresk precinct, which houses the University’s many creative spaces, such as its School of Creative Arts and Media, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, as well as the Launceston Big Picture School.

Around 50 teachers from government, Catholic and Independent schools took part in the program which sought out to connect the art teaching community to UTAS’ Northern Transformation, a $300m project to boost educational attainment in Tasmania.

Developing skills and connections

Dr Abbey MacDonald, an arts education senior lecturer, said that the Art Works program also helped artists and teachers network, collaborate and create works of art. The workshop is expected to help teachers shape their content and activities once classes start in 2020.

Aside from UTAS lecturers, PhD candidates, Indigenous scholars, and museum experts, fellow art teachers and artists also delivered practice and theoretical workshops in the one-day program.

“When art teachers have the opportunity to engage in such collaborative professional learning experiences, they cultivate discipline knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions in ways that empower them to connect across the curriculum,” MacDonald said.

Practise what you teach

Holding workshops where art teachers produce art themselves has other benefits aside from giving them ideas on what to do in their own classes. In fact, teachers – especially visual arts teachers – who practise what they teach will often stay in classrooms longer.

In an article published in The Conversation, Julia Morris, a visual arts education senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University, and Wesley Imms, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne noted in their study that teachers who are also practitioners also see a better quality in their teaching.

“In the case of art teachers, we found participating in an art exhibition had a significant effect for teachers at the important five-year mark,” the authors wrote.

“Those who had produced even one artwork per year as part of the exhibition had higher intentions to stay in teaching compared to those who did not.”

With Australia’s education sector bleeding out early career teachers within the first five years into their career, the authors also pointed out that induction and mentorship programs offered by schools do not solve the problem.

What worked, according to the study, was the use of discipline-based intervention, such as the establishment of a community as what universities would do for its alumni.

However, Morris and Professor Imms noted that forming communities to help teachers continue being practitioners shouldn’t be left with just Universities.

“It could be equally effective in schools or with small clusters of teachers,” the authors wrote.

“It has also surprised us that these types of interventions aren’t more commonplace; supporting teachers to grow their subject skills while teaching seems obvious to developing better quality teachers.”