By Kristin Vanderlip Taylor
When thinking about the concept of lifelong learning, professional development (PD) might not be the immediate connection we make, as many PD opportunities are school and district mandated, are not generally differentiated, and unfortunately do not always further our own professional growth as teachers (Battersby & Verdi, 2015; Colbert, Brown, Choi, & Thomas, 2008; Conway, Hibbard, Albert, & Hourigan, 2005; Gates, 2007). However, there should be a direct connection between lifelong learning and PD, as the curiosity to know more and expand our professional practice is inherently a part of learning for life. As education leaders, whether of individual classrooms or entire schools or districts, we must continuously seek out opportunities for growth, even if it means looking beyond our schools and traditional work hours.
As an art teacher who desires meaningful, relevant, and applicable PD, I found myself searching outside my workplace for opportunities that might better meet my needs. I discovered many wonderfully planned programs across the country, but timing, cost, and distance proved prohibitive. Examining current research, I found that many other art teachers felt the same (Gates, 2007; Sabol, 2006). Knowing this, I wondered what might happen if we collectively formed our own local collaborative learning network in order to create and implement our own professional learning opportunities. I partnered with Jeanne Hoel, associate director of education, school, and teacher programs at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and together we started a grassroots effort to bring together visual art teachers from all over Los Angeles and surrounding counties for an evening of networking and professional learning called “Think, Sync, and Drink” (T/S/D). In addition to watching several short presentations, attendees formed small breakout groups to further discuss current issues in art education. Conversing about topics such as generative art, collaboration, the expanded classroom, contemporary art practices, and the inherent connections between art and education, art teachers were able to engage in shared professional learning that was fueled by curiosity and inquiry—without being led by an “expert,” which is quite the opposite of many traditional PD formats. Due to overwhelming positive feedback, we held another successful event eight months later and are planning the next for later this year.
Knowing that the need for more professional learning opportunities couldn’t be fulfilled solely by these biannual gatherings, Jeanne and I surveyed the teachers present at the second T/S/D event about their professional development needs and interests in planning/facilitating additional PD forums. We wanted to find out how art teachers might feed their own lifelong learning goals, and we wondered how we might help ignite a spark to enliven and personalize PD experiences. This resulted in the formation of a smaller community of practice (CoP), based on the principles outlined by Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder in Cultivating Communities of Practice (2002). This group, consisting of nine members—including Jeanne and me—has been working collaboratively to examine best practices in designing and facilitating professional development. Although we are currently still in the initial stages of the process, our goal is to assist each other in creating meaningful and relevant PD that meets the needs of the community of diverse visual art educators in Los Angeles, all while being cost effective (or free), local, and timely. Relying on our members’ collective knowledge and experience, we aim to support sustainable groups of art teachers who continue to learn together, as inquiry, research, data collection, and reflection are cyclical components of CoPs.
Our hope is that this model may eventually be replicated in other locales where arts teachers (or teachers of any subjects) find that their professional learning needs are not being met. Not only can a CoP increase shared lifelong learning through ongoing investigations, but it can also provide leadership opportunities for group members to facilitate studies in subject-specific content areas. It is exciting to contemplate the next steps in our process, and I am hopeful that we might be able to help contribute more options for art teachers to continue to grow in their own lifelong learning and leadership.
For additional ideas to improve your professional practice, check out these ASCD featured resources.
Battersby, S. L., & Verdi, B. (2015). The culture of professional learning communities and connections to improve teacher efficacy and support student learning. Arts Education Policy Review, 116(1), 22–29.
Colbert, J. A., Brown, R. S., Choi, S., & Thomas, S. (2008). An investigation of the impacts of teacher-driven professional development on pedagogy and student learning. Teacher Education Quarterly, 35(2), 135–54.
Conway, C., Hibbard, S., Albert, D., & Hourigan, R. (2005). Professional development for arts teachers. Arts Education Policy Review, 107(1), 3–10.
Gates, L. (2010). Professional development through collaborative inquiry for an art education archipelago. National Art Education Association Studies in Art Education: A Journal of Issues and Research, 52(1), 6–17.
Sabol, F. R. (2006). Professional development in art education: A study of needs, issues, and concerns of art educators. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association.
Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Kristin Vanderlip Taylor is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. She teaches visual art for grades K–8 in the Los Angeles Unified School District and undergraduate students at California State University, Northridge. She is a National Board–certified teacher in early/middle childhood art. Taylor has been a member of the California Art Education Association and the National Art Education Association for 13 years and was awarded Outstanding Elementary Art Educator of the Year in 2012 by CAEA. She is currently enrolled in the Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy (ELAP) doctoral program at Pepperdine University.