Obstacles Part 2

Note: This is cross-posted with naea.typepad.com

Do you feel trusted to pursue professional development activities that are meaningful to you? Who has the power to determine how you spend “professional development” days in your district?

Issues of Power and Trust
Hawley and Valli (2007) describe the importance of including teachers in the process of identifying what they would like to learn and the process through which they might learn it. I have observed a variety of obstacles that prevent art teachers from playing a role in the design and implementation of their own professional development. These obstacles include:

(a) a lack of knowledge about the unique professional needs of art educators,
(b) district attempts to standardize professional development in response to political pressures,
(c) a general distrust that teachers can define and investigate individual learning goals, and
(d) a lack of resources that support this type of investigation for art teachers.

Knapp (2003) describes the role district policy plays in defining and offering professional development to its teachers, however, districts may lack knowledge of art teachers’ needs. In addition, school and district-level administrators face increased pressure to raise students’ test scores, and center much of the professional development content offered within districts on a fixed set of topics (which the administrators have chosen). Attempts to standardize a professional development agenda works against recommendations in the professional development literature that describes the benefits of teachers creating their own learning goals (Fenwick, 2004). Unless teachers have access to additional time and resources for professional development, a fixed agenda also discourages teachers from methodically investigating problems of practice that emerge in their own classrooms throughout the year.

Allowing teachers to define and investigate their own learning goals is a logical way for professional development to be effectively differentiated based on individual teacher needs. However, this process assumes a level of trust that may not be present between teachers and those responsible for designing the professional development. Even when the goals are teacher-defined, Fenwick (2004) writes, “in practice, school districts and supervisors sometimes exert intentional influence on these goals” (p. 265). The silencing of voices and the promotion of certain lines and modes of inquiry creates situations where “the inquiry stance described with such power by Cochran-Smith and Lytle may potentially be co-opted and misinterpreted until it appears as frozen as the methods it was intended to replace” (Beiler & Thomas, 2009, p. 1033).

In addition, districts that utilize teacher-directed inquiry as a professional development model may lack adequate resources to appropriately support it. Instructional coaches or mentors can significantly enhance the learning experience for teachers, especially when the coach is not also an evaluator (Fenwick, 2004). However, until there is political pressure for increased student learning in the arts, it is unlikely the resources currently spent on literacy and math coaches will also be available for art educators. These obstacles, though not an exhaustive list, demonstrate the challenges art teachers experience in accessing effective professional development.

-Leslie Gates


-Bieler, D., & Thomas, A. B. (2009). Finding freedom in dialectic inquiry: New teachers’ responses to silencing. Teachers College Record, 111(4), 1030-1064.
-Fenwick, T. J. (2004). Teacher learning and professional growth plans: Implementation of a provincial policy. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 19(3), 259-282.
-Hawley, W. & Valli, L. (2007). Designing and implementing school-based professional development. In Hawley, W. (Ed.). The keys to effective schools: Educational reform as continuous improvement (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
-Knapp, M. S. (2003). Professional development as a policy pathway. Review of Research in Education, 27, 109-157.