Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

The Role of Professional Learning in Reducing Isolation Experienced by Classroom Music Teachers

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

The Role of Professional Learning in Reducing Isolation Experienced by Classroom Music Teachers

Article excerpt

Introduction

It has been recognised that the provision of ongoing curriculum supports, such as resources and professional development, assists classroom music teachers in their planning and teaching (Ballantyne, 2006; Hartwig & Barton, 2004; Heinrich, 2012; Kelly, 2005). Further, connecting with other music teachers is considered to be essential in alleviating professional isolation (Krueger, 1999; Sindberg & Lipscomb, 2005). Considering these ideas is particularly timely as music teachers across Australia move towards implementing The Australian Curriculum: The Arts (ACARA, 2013), arguably an opportunity for music teachers to engage and communicate on a national scale. Hartwig and Barton (2004) contend that the success of implementing a new curriculum rests with the curriculum support provided for teachers with the new document. The Music Council of Australia (MCA) review of the draft document in October 2012 outlined that the success of this new national curriculum would be dependent on the support given to teachers through the implementation of resources aligned with the syllabus document (Letts et al., 2012). Recent research indicates that equality of access to classroom music programs across Australia will not be possible without the provisions of increased funding for programs and training more music specialist teachers (Heinrich, 2012). This study provides an exploration of teachers' perceptions of their professional learning needs and identifies potential areas of support that inform the implementation of this curriculum.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a report on a recent survey of Foundation to Year 9 classroom music teachers regarding their professional learning. The project sought to explore music teachers' perceptions of valuable professional learning. It became apparent that the desire to alleviate feelings of isolation by connecting with other teachers was significant for the teachers who participated in the study. In this paper, we begin by describing the existing literature on professional isolation more broadly, before focussing specifically on how this applies to classroom music teachers. We then discuss a number of factors identified in the literature as contributing to music teachers' feelings of isolation: a lack of discipline-specific knowledge and training, a need for access to effective professional development, and limited opportunities to engage in professional conversations with colleagues. The scope and methodology of the project is then described. Next, we present the findings of the questionnaire, connecting the teachers' responses with the themes from the literature. We conclude by identifying some potential future directions that may assist in solving the problem of professional isolation of music teachers.

Literature Review Professional isolation of teachers

The concept of professional isolation is neither new, nor restricted to the teaching area of music, with Lortie identifying concerning trends of teacher isolation as early as 1975. While all teachers are at risk of potential isolation, music teachers are particularly vulnerable, due to the specialisation of the discipline of music, and the fact that often there may only be one music teacher at each school (Krueger, 1999; Ballantyne, 2006). Internationally, teacher numbers have decreased over the past decade (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2012). Frank (2009) identifies professional isolation as being the main cause in increased teacher attrition and describes this form of isolation as becoming a growing phenomenon. In addition, researchers have identified that teacher isolation hinders the achievement of curriculum outcomes (Rothberg, 1986). Rothberg notes that the collaboration of teachers not only assists the achievement of curriculum outcomes, but when it does not occur, has negative flow-on effects to classroom and school music programmes (Rothberg, 1986), further highlighting the need to address teachers' feelings of isolation by providing appropriate support. …

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