Working the Framework

NOTE: This blog is cross-posted with

In my previous post, I described five dimensions of professional development (based on Barrett, 2006). The list of five dimensions included:
* contextual fit (Would this work with my students and at my school?)
* disciplinary fit (Does this relate to art and art education?)
* collaborative interaction, (I am so alone! Can someone help me with this idea?) and
* self-directed inquiry (Why can’t this professional development be about things that I really want to know?).
* focus on student learning (What does this have to do with my students?)
My experience and the professional development scholarship indicate that teacher learning increases when professional development opportunities exhibit these dimensions. I like to think about these dimensions as sliders on a soundboard. Each opportunity has a different “mix.”

In order to demonstrate how these dimensions may be useful for assessing the “mix” and potential effectiveness of any professional development experience, let us consider a National Art Education Association (NAEA) conference. I chose this professional development venue based on my assumption that many of the readers of this blog have attended an NAEA conference.

Attendance at an NAEA conference may meet teachers’ need for professional development to “fit” with the discipline that they teach (disciplinary fit: it relates to art and art education). Conferences also provide opportunities for teachers to self-direct their learning, allowing teachers to choose the sessions that they attend (self-directed inquiry: you get to choose which sessions you attend based on what you want to know). I acknowledge that whether or not an attendee feels that conferences provide collaborative interaction is contingent on a number of factors. However, my own experiences at NAEA and state-level conferences have included valuable times of networking and of collaboration with colleagues whom I correspond with electronically the rest of the year. The have become, in a sense, family reunions1 and rich times of collaboration.

While a conference might work well in three of the five dimensions, the structure of conferences does not guarantee contextual fit or a focus on student learning. It is possible to go to a dynamic session about the work of an artist who creates bronze sculptures, but return to life as an elementary art teacher where your only supplies are construction paper and glue. Sometimes, there is a large disconnect between what you learn at conferences and what you realize with your students in your situation.

Think about some of your recent professional development experiences in terms of these five dimensions. Which get met regularly? Which are you starving for?

Barrett, J. R. (2006). Recasting professional development for music teachers in an era of reform. Arts Education Policy Review, 107(6), 19-28.

1 At the Pennsylvania Art Education Association Conference in 2008, our co-president’s opening line was, “Good morning and welcome to the annual family reunion that you want to come to!” I felt that this line effectively captured the energy in the room.

-Leslie Gates