How Being a Teaching Artist Can Influence K-12 Art Education

Article excerpt

Many K-12 art teachers have rich artistic backgrounds and continue to be active as artists in spite of the challenges of time, energy, and stereotypes that insist a real artist would not teach. This article describes a research project that examined the educational dynamic engendered by teachers who are also artists. We interviewed and observed teachers to explore how teachers' personal artistry and artistic activities beyond school contributed to their teaching in school. It was clear that some teaching artists changed the educational dynamic of the classroom in ways that invigorated both the content and practice of teaching and learning. They cultivated complex learning environments that disrupted predictable approaches to schooling by creating unstructured and hospitable spaces characterized by play, conversation, and collaboration.

Most K-12 art teachers are not expected to be active as artists. Yet many art teachers continue their artistic practice in spite of the challenges combining artmaking and teaching. What differences do teachers'artistic involvement make in their classrooms and schools? How might teachers' artistic practice influence the content of their teaching, their interactions with students, how they construct learning environments, and their sense of professional identity? How might teaching artists illuminate K-1 2 teaching and learning beyond the art room? To explore these questions, we interviewed and observed full-time K-1 2 art teachers who were also active as artists. Our focus was how their artistry contributed to or detracted from their work as teachers. The relationship between art education and studio practice is an important issue for university art educators and art teachers. If artistic expertise or experience is valuable, then professional development that focused on artistic practice could also be valuable. This is not to suggest that there are not excellent art teachers who are not active as artists, or that being an artist always translates into effective pedagogy. Nevertheless, how a teacher's artistic practice contributes to teaching remains an important question.

Background

The fact that many full time art teachers have credible, ongoing experience as artists is often overlooked (Gee, 2004). That these teachers manage to maintain their artistic identity is remarkable given the challenges of teaching, the value schools place on conformity, and the lack of institutional support afforded their artistic pursuits (Scheib, 2006; Zwirn, 2006). It has been argued that if schools are not interesting places for teachers, they will not be able to sustain interest for students, and, that school reform that fails to acknowledge the importance of teacher learning will ultimately fail (Sarason, 1996). Recent research studies (Burton, Horowitz, & Abeles, 2000; Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2007; Eisner, 2002) described distinctive dispositions associated with learning in the arts. These "studio habits of mind" included developing craft, attending to relationships, and developing the abilities to observe, envision, express, reflect, explore, and understand contemporary art practice and critique. These researchers assumed that teaching artists would foster good art education practice. Our study both tested this assumption and analyzed how a teacher's artistic practice might contribute to pedagogy.

The art classroom can be usefully considered in terms of complex dynamics. Complexity is a term used to describe self-organizing, adaptive phenomena. The components of a complex system are subject to ongoing co-adaptations (Davis, Sumara & Luce-Kapler, 2008). For example, learning in a classroom is not simply a matter of a teacher giving out information that is absorbed by individual students. It also involves myriad interactions among students and responses to the physical, cultural, and social environments. Individual student learning is intertwined with the learning of the collective and the surrounding culture. …