Evaluation of professional development for Pacific teachers which supports the Arts in the New Zealand curriculum

Publication Details

From 2003, the 'Arts in the New Zealand Curriculum' is mandatory and schools are required to offer all four disciplines (dance, drama, music, and the visual arts) to Year 1-8 students and at least two of the four disciplines to Year 9 and 10 students. In the two years leading up to its implementation, professional development in the Arts has been offered to schools in a variety of ways, including an Arts component as part of a larger national contract for Pacific teachers. This report describes the results from a (limited) evaluation of the effectiveness of this component of the professional development in assisting Pacific teachers translate the Arts curriculum document into classroom practice.

Author(s): Gravitas Research and Strategy Limited. Report Prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: July 2003

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Executive Summary

The Ministry of Education (MOE) commissioned Gravitas Research and Strategy to undertake an evaluation of the component of the teacher professional development programme for Pacific Island teachers which supports the Arts in New Zealand Curriculum. The evaluation primarily examines how the programme, a series of workshops delivered to Pacific Island teachers within the Auckland region during 2001, assisted teachers to translate the curriculum document to classroom practice.

A limited research programme was undertaken within the evaluation. The programme included 2 in-depth interviews with the providers of the professional development programme and 2 focus groups with teachers who attended the programme. Other limitations to the evaluation included the need to conduct full focus groups (rather than smaller groups which would have allowed more in-depth understanding of individual participant outcomes), as well as only including those teachers who attended at least 3 of the 4 workshops held.

Professional Development Assisting Translation of the Curriculum Document to Practice

The evaluation identifies a number of ways in which professional development has assisted Pacific teachers in their translation and application of the curriculum document.  Teachers report increased understanding, familiarity and comfort with the document, first steps in linking the document to practice. New understanding of the breadth of the curriculum and the range of activities undertaken within the Arts, is also reported, as is validation of the holistic nature of Arts as a concept. It is evident that these outcomes have assisted understanding of how the curriculum could be implemented, including potential linkages and applications to other curriculum areas.

The supportive environment created by bringing Pacific teachers together as a group is also shown to have been important in assisting teachers to translate and eventually apply the curriculum document. The safety of this learning environment assisted teachers to gain confidence, ask questions, take learning "risks", and to draw upon the skills and knowledge of others. The environment was in itself, important in creating a learning context in which teachers could extend and/or shape existing practice in line with the document.

Findings suggest that planning skills and the confidence to plan were also enhanced through professional development. Growing understanding of how classroom activities fit within the curriculum and the planning of activities in line with this goal is suggested. The development and sharing of unit planners, based on practical activities undertaken in the workshops and/or actual classroom activities, is identified as a key workshop activity contributing to these outcomes. It is also evident that the programme has been of assistance in helping teachers apply a planning structure to existing practice. An outcome of this process appears to have been the validation and formal recording of practice that may not have previously been acknowledged or recognised by teachers as fitting within the curriculum.

The applied, "hands on" focus of the workshops is also identified as an important contributor to learning outcomes and the ability to apply new skills within the classroom. The primary value of this approach is the learning and growth that occurs through undertaking various arts disciplines within a supportive environment. For many teachers, the opportunity to take part in different arts discipline activities, provided a new confidence and commitment to undertaking similar activities within the classroom.

The direct involvement of Pacific Artists in the workshops further reflected the applied emphasis of the programme. The commitment to use artists within the programme was predicated on the providers' belief that curriculum implementation will be fundamentally supported through bringing the curriculum to life and enabling teachers to interact with artists who are arts discipline experts in their own right. Teachers valued the opportunity of seeing the various disciplines in "action" through the artists' contributions. Taking part in activities with artists again validated the breadth of legitimate arts activity as well as helping to validate existing skills and abilities, in turn contributing to greater confidence.

Increased confidence and self esteem is perhaps the most clearly identified outcome from professional development. Findings suggest that these outcomes have assisted translation of the document to practice in a number of ways. These include improved and more regular planning, increased willingness to develop and implement appropriate arts activities within the classroom, and enhanced satisfaction as teachers, leading to improvements in curriculum content and delivery. In addition, many teachers report having shared news skills and experience with colleagues and increasingly being consulted as arts curriculum experts within their schools.

Incorporating Pacific Skills and Knowledge into Teaching

Reflecting that cultural skills and knowledge are inherent and not naturally or easily discussed, discussion on how and to what extent teachers incorporate their cultural skills and knowledge into their teaching is largely drawn from the overall evaluation findings.

Validating existing cultural skills and knowledge is suggested as an important way in which professional development is likely to have encouraged greater use of skills and knowledge within the classroom. This outcome is suggested through a number of reported processes including: support to the legitimacy and appropriateness of using Pacific artists and resources within the classroom; discipline specific workshops in Pacific art forms assisting teachers to discover and subsequently use cultural skills and talents; the building of confidence to integrate cultural elements into the curriculum (particularly for those who may be weaker in the culture); validation of the breadth and holistic nature of the arts curriculum assisting teachers to see the potential and possibilities for incorporating the Pacific way; provision of planning structures and skills through which existing cultural activities can be linked and formally recorded back to the curriculum and curriculum objectives; and, the creation of networks between teachers and opportunities to use the cultural strengths and skills of others within their classroom and schools.

Barriers to the Implementation of the Arts Curriculum

Aside from the barriers of time and resources, providers and teachers identify few other barriers to the implementation of the Arts curriculum in schools. However, the extra demands often placed upon Pacific teachers within schools (i.e. as the Pacific expert/resource) are particularly seen as adding to the potential diversion of focus away from curriculum delivery. In addition, the difficulties some Pacific teachers have in describing or recording their practice on paper, is seen by one of the providers as something of a barrier to schools recognising and validating Arts activity undertaken by their Pacific teachers.

Use and Value of Professional Development On Line Resources

There is less certainty that introduction to PD on-line resources during the workshops, has, in itself lead teachers to any significant level of use of online resources. Introducing teaches to the on-line resources and raising awareness of their availability may in themselves have been realistic objectives for this component of professional development. While teachers express interest in the resources, most report limited use since the workshops. Reasons identified for this include: that many are still learning and gaining confidence with the internet; limited time available during the day to access on-line resources; limited access to the internet in general; and the current lack of Pacific resources on line.

Issues Arising from the Provision of Professional Development for Pacific Teachers

Providers and teachers identify a range of issues from the provision of professional development in the Arts for Pacific teachers . Both groups recognised that the full potential and value of professional development may be somewhat undermined by a lack of more targeted follow-up support and monitoring to individual teachers. A greater level of follow-up is seen as important in any future professional development, particularly as a means to assist teachers in their implementation, review and monitoring of their subsequent practice.

The desirability of further professional development is also identified as an issue, with provision to date generating further demand and expectation for more. Comments again suggest further provision would help to maximise the gains made through the initial programme.

Some teachers question why Pacific teachers were specifically targeted for professional development in the Arts. Some recognise that such targeting can be read in a number of ways, for example, that only Pacific teachers do not understand the document. One middle management teacher sees broader issues in terms of the overall professional development of Pacific teachers and the need for schools to take fundamental responsibility for this. Within this context, the provision of professional development that is seen to be targeting cultural development (ahead of general professional development) and focusing on the arts as a specific curriculum area, is criticised. The targeting and labelling of professional development specifically for Pacific teachers is also criticised if there is not enough funding to ensure that all Pacific teachers have the opportunity to attend.
The call by some teachers for future professional development in the Arts to be more specifically targeted to individual needs is consistent with some teachers' beliefs that the objectives of the programme were unclear or too overarching (i.e. covering practical skill development as well as study/understanding of the curriculum document). Some would prefer the option of choosing to attend different sessions based on their primary needs, for example, practical skill development in specific arts disciplines as opposed to also having to attend study of the curriculum document itself. It should be noted, however, that greater targeting to specific needs relies on the ability of teachers to recognise respective strengths and weaknesses. Teachers did not necessarily have this awareness at the beginning of the professional development so targeting may only become appropriate once initial professional development has developed such understanding (as is likely to have happened through the current programme).

It is notable that some teachers felt that more specific targeting to need may have lead to a greater of younger teachers continuing to attend the workshops. An assumption is made that younger students are more likely to already have good curriculum knowledge and may have attended initial sessions seeking to address other needs, for example, specific discipline skills and content.