This story constellation examines the lived experiences and associated teacher self-efficacy of Tabitha Jones, a third year teacher who is also the principal of a rural one teacher school in Queensland, Australia. It explores her daily struggles with teaching arts education against the backdrop of state and national reform in curriculum. It also probes those beliefs and values associated with rural stereotypes, teaching the arts and current support structures. From this context emerges the value statement "at this school arts education is travelling on a rocky road". Findings provide messages to those interested in improving arts education in rural schools in Queensland, Australia.
Arts education and teacher self-efficacy
Many beginning generalist teachers are responsible for the delivery of integrated arts education as part of their curriculum for students aged 10-15 years. This responsibility is dependent on their own beliefs about their competence, school context, pressures of the curriculum and benefits of the arts for students. Within Australia, arts education is considered a key learning area endorsed by the Hobart Declaration (MCEETYA, 1989) and more recently in the National Education and the Arts Statement (MCEETYA, 2005). It is comprised of music, drama, dance, visual arts and media. Research in Australia (Russell-Bowie, 2004) and around the world (Henessy, Rolfe & Chedzoy, 2001; Oreck, 2001; 2004; Smithrim & Upitis, 2001) however, highlight problems of lack of confidence, motivation and knowledge faced by generalist teachers in delivering arts education. Subsequently, these problems lead to avoidance behaviour, leading to limited teaching and learning of arts education within the classroom for students. This problem is also found in science teaching by generalist teachers who exhibit low self-efficacy (Plourde, 2002; Tosun, 2000).
It is accepted that confidence, motivation and self-knowledge inform a teacher's self-efficacy beliefs system. These beliefs operate as a key factor in a generative system of human competence (Bandura, 1997), leading to the assumption that they are powerful influences on the overall teachers' effectiveness with students. The higher the sense of self-efficacy, the greater the perseverance and the higher the chance that the pursued activity will be performed successfully. Moreover, teachers' beliefs in their efficacy "affect their general orientation toward the educational process as well as their specific instructional activities" (Bandura, 1997, p.241). Teachers who do not expect to be successful with certain students are less likely to put forth effort into planning and teaching, even if they know of strategies that could help students.
Teacher self-efficacy is still forming within the beginning years of teaching and once developed according to theory, is resistant to change (Bandura, 1997). During this beginning phase, teachers create their own self-knowledge through their efficacy beliefs as they reflect on teaching arts. Subsequently, efficacy beliefs determine how environmental opportunities and impediments are perceived (Bandura, 2006). Teachers therefore set goals, anticipate outcomes and monitor their actions as they reflect on their personal efficacy when teaching the arts. From this assumption, the developmental self-efficacy beliefs of beginning teachers are important for investigation for recognition of confirming and disconfirming experiences that shape this motivational construct.
Few studies in Australia however have investigated the impact of teacher self-efficacy on the overall effectiveness of the teacher with students, especially within individual subject areas such as the arts. An understanding of teacher selfefficacy in different subject matters is increasingly important during the middle grades and beyond as academic content grows and becomes more complex (Woolfolk Hoy & Davis, 2006). Research suggests that in science teacher efficacy, beginning teachers who felt lacking in content knowledge tended to avoid teaching topics they did not know well for fear they would be asked questions by their students they could not answer (Rice & Roychoudhury, 2003; Tosun, 2000). These findings highlight the low level of pedagogical variety used by the teacher if low self-efficacy for that teaching area exists. This paper explore the self-efficacy of arts education.
Through living and telling, and re-living and retelling, beginning teachers' stories of experience and their personal practical knowledge can be expressed. Indeed, narratives serve as a method of interpretation and reinterpretation of experience (Carter, 1993; Huber & Whelan, 2001). In this study, I have chosen a story constellation approach to help interpret and reinterpret the experience of beginning teachers with the data gained from the case studies.
In a story constellation, teachers' narratives of experience relate to one another like ''nests of boxes'' (Crites, 1975). Their narratives of experience are always shifting, "each with a unique spiralling pattern, necessarily involving many plotlines, which, in turn, bring multiple meanings to bear on teachers' knowledge as shaped in their reforming school contexts" (Craig, 2007, p. 4). Through this approach, ''a constellation of factors ... including the moralities and mores of teachers'' (Schwab, 1970, pp. 8-10), is brought to the surface for discussion and analysis.
The story constellation approach attempts to locate teachers' knowledge in the multiple contexts within which it is created. According to Craig (2007, p. 6):
Constellations allow for school life to be characterized without the flattening or dismissing of teachers' and principals' knowledge and their relationships and interactions amid the flow of events in the educational enterprise ... [where] ... the constraints of both formalist and reductionist investigations are avoided.
The story constellations approach opens out in a three-dimensional space (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), and is comprised of: the temporal (past, present, and future), the personal and social (interaction), and the contextual (situation and place). The stories that people tell are influenced by each of these dimensions. Researchers must therefore pay particular attention to these dimensions in their research and the way they present research texts.
Clandinin and Connelly (1996) suggest many plotlines can be presented as paired narratives. Among these narratives, stories of teachers/ teacher stories and stories of school/school stories stood out (Clandinin & Connelly, 1996). Teacher stories are stories told by teachers, whereas stories of teachers (the partner story) are stories told about teachers. Similarly, stories of school are stories given to schools, whereas school stories are stories told by schools. In the story constellation approach, Craig (2001) introduces two other sets of stories to the matrix: stories of community/ community stories and stories of reform/reform stories. Accordingly, stories of community are the stories told about communities, whereas community stories are stories that communities tell (Craig, 2007). Stories of reform are stories told about school reform, whereas reform stories are stories educators tell about the human experience of how reform stories become lived in school contexts (Craig, 2007). By providing these extra paired stories to the matrix, additional perspectives are offered on the complex influences within the school. When the stories are juxtaposed with one another, they create story constellations that capture unique combinations of narratives lived and told within school landscapes (Craig, 2007).
The strengths of the story constellations approach are its sensitivity to both teachers' developing knowledge and schools' shifting contexts and the way the approach enables researchers to follow where an unfolding story may lead (Craig, 2007). Moreover, it allows teachers' practical experiences, rather than researchers' theoretical perspectives, to take the lead in the 'methodological dance' (Janesick, 1994).
This approach however does have drawbacks. The most obvious is the lack of generalizability to other teachers and other school contexts although the possibility of transferability exists (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). While Stake (1995, p. 7) acknowledges "case study seems a poor basis for generalization", he acknowledges that from a collection of case studies we may make 'petite generalizations' (p. 7). In this study, I shall make several 'petite generalizations' that are possible with collective case studies.
Craig (2007, p. 203) suggests that "the ultimate danger (some might say promise) of story constellations as a form of narrative inquiry lies in the fact that when it is done well, people are likely to be disturbed by it and the disequilibrium that ensues may lead to change--though not always in ways that can be predicted".
This study collects data via semi-structured interviews. Interviews are an established method of gathering data in the social sciences (Fontana & Frey, 1998, 2000; Gubrium & Holstein, 2002). Interviews involve individual, face-to-face verbal interchanges (Fontana & Frey, 2000).
The study uses the three interview series (Seidman, 1991). Seidman (1991) describes this process as a series of three (90-minute) interviews conducted with individual interviewees. The intent of each interview was to explore teacher self-efficacy for the arts in each of the different contexts. The design was based on the belief that "people's behaviour becomes meaningful and understandable when placed in the context of their lives and the lives of those around them" (Seidman, 1991, p. 10).
The participant was contacted after they had participated in a survey as part of a PhD study (Garvis, 2010). The participant was chosen because of her current teaching context and location as a beginning teacher. The participant provided informed consent to participate in the project. Ethical approval was granted from the university.
Narrative analysis of the case studies was appropriate because it "allows for systematic study of personal experience and meaning" (Riessman, 1993, p. 70). Narrative researchers construct stories from descriptive data relating to the phenomena under study (p. 15). According to Polkinghorne (1995, p. 15), to begin this process, the researcher asks:
Questions such as "How did this happen?" or "Why did this come about?" and searches for pieces of information that contribute to the construction of a story that provides an explanatory answer to the questions.
The initial search was for "chunks of interview text about particular themes," that were meaningful and relevant to the study and figured "importantly and repeatedly" (Riessman, 1993, p. 67).
It became apparent that a "theme was worked over, again and again" (Riessman, 1993, p. 67) in each of the interviews. Initially the analysis was inductive (Janesick, 2000, p. 389). It was concerned with locating thematic elements and the "narrative threads" or "story lines" interwoven and interconnected throughout the data sets (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, pp. 131-133).
Findings are presented in a written narrative below that describe Tabitha's current teaching context and teacher self-efficacy towards the arts. Exact words from the teacher are written in italics.
Introducing Tabitha's One Teacher Rural School
Tabitha Jones lives in a small rural town in outback Queensland, Australia. The rural community is a fifteen hour bus trip west of Brisbane. It is not easily accessible. The bus service operates only on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. By road, you generally need a 4WD (1) for some of the dirt roads. Without a regular air service, flying in and out is also not a possibility. Consequently I talk with Tabitha regularly over the phone and email for interviews.
Nine students attend the small rural school (seven boys and two girls) in a variety of year levels from prep to year seven. The majority of students are from farming properties.
Tabitha Jones is in her mid 30s. She has always taught in rural schools. In her first year of teaching, she taught at a two-teacher school in far west Queensland. In her second year, she was a beginning teacher principal at a school for three students. The school closed at the end of the school year, forcing Tabitha to relocate to her current position. Tabitha now resides in town near the school, and is hoping to stay in the community for more than a year. She speaks familiarly about the people, places and events as though they are her own community.
Tabitha is highly ambitious. She had applied to become a principal within the first two years of her teaching career, even though it was not policy. She became a teacher two years after graduating from teacher education. Since she was an older beginning teacher (in her thirties) she wanted to catch up on the career ladder:
Well technically you're not supposed to apply to be a principal until you've done two years of teaching at a regular school. And even then, most teachers don't tend to apply until they've done three or four years of teaching. I did one year of teaching.
According to Tabitha, it was a time of enormous change as she had to balance teaching responsibilities with principal responsibilities within her one teacher school. Tabitha begins to realise that her ambitions may also have outstripped her capacity for teaching. In hindsight, Tabitha suggests it was probably not a good idea to go into a principal position as she still struggles with the teaching side, especially with the arts.
Tabitha is unhappy with her current school context. She sees various school problems as contributors to her lack of engaging with arts activities in the classroom.
The first is the school's layout. Tabitha describes the one-room classroom as small and without having suitable lino space. To Tabitha, it is highly inappropriate for arts activities. Next, Tabitha expresses further reluctance to engage with visual arts activities since the school is without a permanent cleaner. Cleaning is currently done by volunteers from the local community. Tabitha does not want to scare them off by massive, regular messes when the floor is only cleaned once a week.
Tabitha voices her concerns about suitable administrative staff. She finds administrative support vital to the overall day to day running of the school.
Some schools have really good administration officers, I had a really good one at my last school who covered a lot of things. You know I'd just have to say 'that bloody computer's dying' and she'd be on the computer and she would have found you 'this is a good one to replace it' and 'yes we've got money in the budget' or 'no we can't but, if we take money out of this section then yes we can replace this computer. She was really good, but she went above and beyond what was required of her for that job. The administration officer I've got now doesn't do that, she comes in part time. She's here two days, well two half days a week, but it's just simple things. It's staffing problems that we've had with her in previous years--she's not at work today and I got an email about half an hour ago saying she wasn't coming to work. She should have been here at eight o'clock. She's been away for a year so we're struggling to get her back into following her role and doing what it is that she's supposed to be doing. There are things that because she had so much time off last year she's struggling to work the various computer programs and systems that we need to run the school. She's having difficulty with them. She's not up-to-date on the appropriate forms and things like that. So a lot of the stuff that she does I then have to re-do the following day when we get the email or the faxes through saying that you did it wrong. So that for me is fairly frustrating but I'm hoping that with time you know she'll catch herself up and things will get a bit better.
Establishing regular routines for students is also difficult. At the drop of a hat, the school day can change if Tabitha is interrupted by principal business. For example, if the phone rings and an activity is outside, the students may need to go back inside with Tabitha as there is no extra supervision after the teacher aide leaves.
Tabitha also speaks about the problem with student attendance. Students are required to help with farm work during school time. Students can be gone for days at a time, especially if the family is mustering. I mean sometimes I've only got half a class. It's a bit hard because I can't really go and teach new concepts because they'll need to be re-taught again. Unfortunately, it's usually the struggling half of the class that heads off mustering.
When Tabitha started at her current school, she became aware of current action plans for rural education. The Rural and Remote Education Framework for Action 2006-2008 provided guidelines for adequate standards for rural education. It began with the statement:
Our Government wants to ensure that all students--no matter where they live-can pursue the educational pathways necessary to foster lifelong learning and realise their aspirations. A high-quality education and training system that meets the needs of rural and remote Queenslanders is vital for the State's future prosperity and community wellbeing. (Queensland Government, p. ii)
This framework has been adapted in different ways by various rural districts. In Tabitha's district, schools share lesson plans and resources to reduce isolation between teaching staff. It was hoped that such an approach would allow quality learning opportunities for students. The district also tried to provide greater relief time for one-teacher schools:
The district was great in changing staffing. The high schools had relinquished some of their teachers. The money that would normally go to paying those teachers is now used to pay relief staff and extra staff for the primary school. Rather than having our own little pool of supply teachers, we actually have a permanent staff of supply teachers that go around to the schools. District office actually volunteered these relief teachers to help us so we could have planning time.
Tabitha values this support and planning initiative. A relief teacher visits Tabitha one day a week and takes music, sport and technology lessons. With constant interruptions with the phone ringing (there was also an answering machine) and principal duties requiring immediate attention, Tabitha suggests it would be difficult without the support of a relief teacher one day a week. While there is a teacher aide, she is only there for the morning. Relief time was vital.
Tabitha is keen to share her experiences with music specialists. To Tabitha, it is important to discuss the misconception of country folk being dumb. She believes some music teachers think country students are not as capable as students in the city.
Even some specialist music teachers that we've had out here that I've seen in various schools aren't that good. I think they sort of wing it and think 'oh you know, no one else will know. Unfortunately it sort of backfired on one music teacher that I know. She specialised in music teaching and she decided that teaching one concept to the kids was just too hard so she wouldn't bother, she'd just tell them it meant something else. It was something to do with music notes and I think this particular note had eight or twelve beats or something and she decided thatd be too difficult for the kids to do so she told them it meant four, not taking into account she had three kids in that class who took private music lessons, who did exams and knew better. So then we had all the parents in uproar that she wasn't teaching the kids. I don't think people really take it seriously enough and I know some music teachers who just think 'I know what I'm doing and nobody else knows what I'm doing so I can just get away with whatever out here. You know we're not as dumb as you think. We may not have music experts or anything or visual arts experts or perceived experts, but there's a lot of talent. Be honest with what you're teaching. Don't teach crap (2) basically. If it's not true, don't teach it, be accurate in what you're teaching. These kids deserve to have a go and there's a lot of talent out there. You've just got to go to some of the local art galleries or the local craft shops to see the talent that the people in the rural areas have. So don't write us off just because there isn't a formal art gallery or formal performance theatre around.
Tabitha no longer has a music specialist to teach her students. Rather, the relief teacher is in charge of delivering the thirty minute music lesson. Tabitha is happy that she is the third school that the relief teacher visits in the week. The relief teacher is teaching the exact lessons to three schools over the week and we are the last. The music lesson is pretty much well rehearsed by then. According to Tabitha, she is the luckiest out of the three schools.
Tabitha comments on the problems of trying to find specialist music teachers in rural areas. They just aren't around. She lets out a long sigh. Since they could not find a specialist music teacher, they decided to make it a duty of the relief teacher. Tabitha discusses the problems of trying to find a relief teacher who felt comfortable with taking music at each of the schools.
"What about other rural principals?" I ask.
Well you know if it wasn't compulsory, some principals would throw up their hands and the kids would miss out [on music and the arts] altogether.
Tabitha suggests that the arts are a Friday afternoon activity, a reward for students or a lesson filler. She justifies her teaching practice by talking about the low status of the arts in schooling. She relates it back to her lack of experience and confidence, showing snapshots of low teacher self-efficacy.
Unfortunately, I think for most people, the arts in education is just that--a fun bludge lesson you do on Friday afternoons to get the kids off your back when all you want to do is go down to the pub. I don't think it's really taken seriously. I don't think the benefits of the arts are taken advantage of enough and I think a lot of that comes down to our lack of experience and lack of confidence. I mean sometimes it's just something that you give to the kids, you know you've got to do art so let's just go and paint this picture. We won't talk to the kids about or show them any pictures that other artists have done of a similar sort, using similar mediums. We won't talk to them about colour, we won't teach them any of that. We'll just get them to paint this picture and do this activity and they'll all end up with exactly the same picture at the end of it because they've all done what they've been told. I really think it depends on how it is taught. Well to be honest, I use it quite often as a bribe so 'if you put your heads down and do your work, we'll do some art later. I try and bring some of the academic side of it in when I do that, but quite often we've had a really busy day. Teaching the arts has a lot to do with experience and knowledge of how to actually do it. I really just don't have either. I actually refuse to teach music. I hate teaching music. I won't do it if I can possibly get out of it. Whereas teaching visual arts, that's something I feel more comfortable in and can do. You know. I don't actually teach the arts here, but my relief teacher does ... Besides, I'd consider myself more of a copier of the arts as opposed to a teacher. With sewing it's a lot of copying patterns or adjusting and changing patterns to come out how you want. I mean you can make it up entirely from scratch but it's not that good. I enjoy painting but I'm very, very bad at it and my idea of painting is to get an OHT (3) photocopy or copy other paintings or pictures that I like and project them onto a canvas and then copy them so it's more like a paint by numbers that I do.
Access to arts experiences in the region appears almost impossible. There are limited opportunities to view concerts, movies and theatre productions within the rural community. Occasionally, metropolitan arts groups travel to a town nearby.
I think there is a town close by that might do something once a year or so. That's half an hour away. Otherwise, you need to go to Townsville. Townsville has concerts on occasionally--that's about four and a half, five hours away. Otherwise you hop on a plane and go to Brisbane or somewhere like that.
Since there were limited opportunities for live performances, I was interested to know what arts activities the students experienced. Tabitha launches into an enthusiastic description of the planned multi-school.
We've actually got a multi-school this year. We had our first one last year. I ran a multi-school last year which was based around science and we had fourteen one teacher schools come in. So I think there were about 140, 150 kids plus the associated parents, teacher aides, adults, teachers, come in. We all had to go to [a bigger town] and we had a full week of science lessons. We're doing the same for the arts this year, so we've got a full week of performance based. Next year it will be visual arts so the kids will be learning visual arts, they'll be learning at a camp with about 140 other kids. Getting there is sometimes a problem. It's about five hours drive if the roads aren't too bad. We aren't one of the closest schools. There's some schools that are half an hour away, some schools that, my last school was two and a half three hours away. We've got five hours to go which is a bit more than some people. Having said that there are other schools that have got eight, nine, ten hours travel to get there.
Tabitha feels pressured in the teaching of arts education. She speaks of recent pressure from the Department to try and increase the arts in the Year of Creativity (2009). Tabitha has received emails and flyers about the year of creativity and encouraging the arts. She feels unsupported however, perhaps abandoned. While she knows it is important, she does not know how to teach the arts.
Tabitha feels professional development in the arts is important to help increase her current arts knowledge. At the same time though, she expresses concern at the cost of professional development in rural areas.
Tabitha spoke of the continual state and national policy reform. To Tabitha, this was seen as another barrier to her teaching of the arts. In the past two years, Tabitha had seen a move from outcomes based education to Essential Learning Statements within Queensland. Within this period she had also witnessed the introduction of:
* Environmental Education for Sustainability (2006);
* Smart Moves (2007);
* Smart Classrooms (2007);
* Literacy--The Key To Learning (2006); and
* NAPLAN (2008).
Continual policy reform continued to create pressure for Tabitha. As Tabitha spoke down the phone line, I could feel the stress increasing in her voice.
When I started teaching I had to learn all about the outcomes. Now when I first started my teacher training outcomes didn't exist, year two net didn't exist. Now I've started teaching I've had to learn about the year two net, I had to learn how to do outcomes. You know everybody just seems to get their head around it and then they say 'ohh we're going to essentials this is what you've got to teach to now'. So, we've all spent the last two years struggling to integrate the essentials and learn how to use the essentials and now they're saying we're going for a national curriculum. Everybody should shut up--you need to pick something and stick to it for more than two years. I think the policy makers need to realise that for everything that they add, everything that they tell us that we've got to do, they're going to have to start taking things out. And they're just not doing that, they're just keeping on adding things. They need to listen.
Story constellations are designed to illuminate experiences and bring to the surface tensions for discussion. From this story we are able to make meaning about the lived experience of Tabitha. While it is impossible to generalise, themes can be drawn about Tabitha in her one-teacher schooling context.
The beliefs shared reflected the influence of the school's context on Tabitha's teacher selfefficacy for the arts. Central to Tabitha's stories was her perception that she did not teach the arts, even thought she was expected to teach the arts as a generalist teacher. This belief was deeply engrained in her teacher identity, entering all aspects of Tabitha's story-telling.
Tabitha's beliefs about engaging with arts education were further shaped by stories of limited access and support and an overarching framework of policy reform. It was an experience that Tabitha appears to have lived and re-lived throughout her personal and professional life in her story. With no local model or lengthy school history to draw on, Tabitha relied heavily on her personal biography (her background) to help her as a beginning teacher and principal in dealing with a one teacher school. Tabitha's duties included being a teacher of the arts.
Tabitha had limited experiences of teaching the arts in schools. She had positioned the arts as a 'Friday afternoon activity', a 'reward for students' or a 'lesson filler'. In her narrative, she continually made reference to her lack of experience and confidence, showing snapshots of her low teacher self-efficacy. Since Tabitha was the principal of this one teacher school, her influence on the arts at this school was easily viewed. Her teacher selfefficacy beliefs influenced the role of the arts at the school.
At Tabitha's one teacher school, few opportunities were available for interpersonal support of her teaching. Subsequently, the demands of being the principal, having inadequate space, no support from other staff to supervise arts activities, no permanent cleaner or regular administrative assistant meant times for arts activities was rare. The mandated thirty minute music lesson in Queensland state school was taken by a relief teacher who was not qualified in music.
Tabitha was supported by the community however when it came to organising and taking students to the multi-school. Parents and community members were called upon to help supervise and transport students five hours away "if the roads were good". Without their commitment and dedication to providing opportunities for these students, arts experiences such as the multi-school for the district would not be possible.
This narrative has shown the complexity of teacher self-efficacy for the arts and the daily struggles of the beginning generalist teacher. While the story constellation illuminates teacher self-efficacy for the arts, it does not produce "a script to be followed nor plans to be implemented" (Davis, 2003, p. ii). The constellation only provides snapshots of the teller of that story. It operates in a Bakhtinian spirit of novelness, where they may "inspire readers to enter into dialogue with them" (Barone & Eisner, 1997, p. 75).
Further research into beginning teacher selfefficacy for the arts is necessary to understand and improve the teaching of arts in generalist classrooms. Future research can use qualitative forms such as narrative to explore the complexity associated with teacher self-efficacy on the changing schooling landscape. Qualitative methods will also provide greater understanding of the meaning in the personal and professional lives of generalist teachers. As each teaching context is different, it is important to ensure many different voices are heard to provide a deep understanding of the nature of teaching arts education in generalist classrooms in Australia.
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University of Queensland
(1.) Sports Utility Vehicle
(2.) Australian slang
(3.) Overhead transparency
Susanne Garvis completed her PhD in the School of Music, University of Queensland. Her thesis explored beginning teacher self-efficacy for arts education. This article draws on work from her thesis. Previously, Susanne has worked as a teacher in early childhood and primary school education. She currently teaches at Griffith University.…