Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Arts-Based Self-Study: Documenting the Ripple Effect

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Arts-Based Self-Study: Documenting the Ripple Effect

Article excerpt

Introduction

Intimately related to issues of improving education, self-study is often a multi-purpose endeavour that simultaneously involves research, teaching, learning, and evaluation. The design of any self-study usually centres on key questions such as: What am I really doing/teaching? What influences my practice? How does my teaching affect others? How might I improve what I do? How might I view things differently? How can I make a difference to others? These questions reflect the hope of touching the lives of students and teachers in positive and significant ways and point to a widespread awareness that the ultimate consumers of teacher education are not only the teachers whom we teach, but also their future students, people whom, for the most part, we are never likely to meet (Weber, 1990; Zeichner & Noffke, 2001). How do we know if and how what we do in self-study impacts on these unseen others? Is there a ripple effect to our inquiry, a series of ever-expanding concentric circles, gentle or not so gentle waves, which extend our influence outward to others not involved in our initial study? Or do our studies sink quietly without a ripple? The challenge and nature of this potential ripple effect in arts-based self-study is the main focus of this article.

Depending on how a stone is cast into a pond or lake, the resulting ripple pattern will vary according to certain factors and often extends far beyond the view of the person who casts the stone or pebble. Throwing a stone might frighten nearby fish or waterfowl; the ever-expanding ripples might push a child's toy boat farther away from the edge or carry seed pods across to the other side where they may germinate new life. A young child observing someone throw a stone might be tempted to do likewise with perhaps disastrous consequences. Whatever happens and whether or not the person who casts the stone is aware thereof, the thrower, the stone, the pond, the fish, the observers, the ducks, the seeds, the boats and all that the ripples touch are interconnected, are affected in some way. In explaining how sustainable educational leadership is inevitably linked to issues of social justice, Hargreaves and Fink (2006: 16) refer to a ripple effect to show how the fates of schools are increasingly intertwined: "What leaders do in one school necessarily affects the fortunes of students and teachers in other schools around them; their actions reverberate throughout the system like ripples in a pond". Although people unfamiliar with the field of self-study might mistakenly assume that self-study concerns mainly the people studying themselves, self-study has far-reaching effects. As Griffiths, Bass, Johnston and Perselli (2004) and Pithouse, Mitchell and Weber (2009) assert, when done with a critical gaze, self-study facilitates professional growth in ways that not only lead to changing oneself, but also serve as impetus for addressing the wider social problems that contextualise our individual lives.

Arts-based approaches to self-study

The purpose of art, as Dewey ([1934] 1958: 184) puts it, is ''to break through the conventionalized and routine consciousness" so that we might view things in new and perhaps truer ways. As I explain at length in a chapter written for an international handbook on arts-based methods, images can simultaneously present multiple viewpoints and generate multiple interpretations, and can draw attention to the importance of the everyday by making it strange or casting it in a new light (Weber, 2008). Images can be used as elegant and economical representations of theoretical positions by retaining more of the complexity of the whole within less space than words would necessitate. Moreover, images can combine cultural and transcultural elements; they can evoke, but also sometimes transcend the specific context in which they are created, and they can use specific instances to comment on, or illustrate wider generalities (Weber, 2008). …

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