Kate Coleman

Will strange omissions from Chicago appear in Naarm this year?

We were so lucky to be sent to Chicago. So lucky. Each year AARE is invited to send a representative symposium to the American Educational Research Association (AERA) to showcase the quality of our research.

We were back at an international conference “in person” and ready to mobilise our digital research, reimagine academic networks IRL and expand thinking within the latest studies and ideas from the field that had seemed to become smaller and more in focus during the lockdowns in Melbourne.   

We, Kate and Sarah, are two academics who have worked in the field of anti-colonisation and anti-racism for years through art and design education, initial teacher education and through methodological practice of speculative a/r/tography. We are not people of colour but we hope our own contribution makes some difference to the work we do with The Science Gallery in Melbourne, Bengaluru and Atlanta, and within the ‘Learning with the Land’ research project. This SSHRC funded partnership (with Professor Rita Irwin, UBC) responds to the urgent need for innovative models of learning, teaching, and scholarship that create and examine human-land relationships as collective expression grounded in movement of thought (theory) and body (practices) by drawing on a transnational coalition of scholars, students, artists, and writers in education. And what we learned in the US at AERA is that Australia is in a very different place on race and colonialism.

Which is not to say we are perfect – or even getting there. But this conference revealed the deep race divides in the US as well as the need for explicit acknowledgement of the ‘very alive’ colonial project in education.

Let us set the scene. At every public event in Australia, academic or otherwise, we are welcomed to Country or we hear an Acknowledgement of Country. This ‘event’ invites us to acknowledge and respect the lands we meet upon through introducing and placing Peoples, places, cultures, histories and scapes that have continuously held knowledges in that Country. They are so rare in the US. AERA has a traditional acknowledgement of the Indigenous land but on this occasion it was followed by what American academics say was the first simultaneous land and cultural acknowledgement at the Opening Plenary performed by the Muntu Dance Company; an invitation to rethink learning with both land and culture through time, pointing a way to anti-colonial and anti-racist education. A good place to begin (Un)Learning Our Truths.

That was the title of the panel which continued – Dreaming Out Loud: Black, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Communities in Teaching and Teacher Education. In this session we saw Dr Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz’s ‘Archaeology of Self’ in action, an approach that resonates with our own speculative a/r/t/ographic work (Coleman & MacDonald, 2020; MacDonald et al, 2022) in teacher education. 

This panel invited us into dialogue with Asian and Black solidarity in teacher education, through querying the place of truth and the danger of the single story in the colonial project. The educators asked us to dream out loud with them in teacher education, and ask; how do we prepare teachers for teaching racial literacy in this world, especially if living in two worlds?

What was said was as telling as what remained unsaid. 

As Australian educational researchers, we were particularly struck by how we felt race and Indigenous scholarship were done so very differently in the American context. With race centred, we wondered why Indigeneity felt so marginalised in the questions we heard from the audience. 

‘What about me’ questions were hard to hear and made us uncomfortable, these must have hit the panelists like weapons. But, as Dr Cornel West pointed out, if racially marginalised academics are continuously auditioning for a place in academia, then perhaps it is difficult to know when and how to let others speak, particularly Indigenous academics.  

Coming into AARE 2023 and turning towards the theme of Truth, Voice, Place: Critical junctures for educational research, we want to draw your attention to the consequential questions to come out of this conference: Whose truth matters? Whose facts matter? Whose crises matter? 

This blog can only be a series of impressions of a conference of nearly 15000 delegates and 75+ concurrent sessions. We chose to curate our sessions by searching for those considering the future.  As Professor Emerita Gloria Ladson-Billings most noted for her work on critical race theory and culturally relevant pedagogy noted, “Dream-sharing and dreaming in public can be a dangerous thing to do”.

We were invited to take “Dreams for Digital Spaces” to the AERA conference, so we explored the conference through the keyword search of “dream*”. This curation of the program offered a place to locate our practice alongside other dreamers and change makers.  

In the discussion with Dr Cornel West, AERA President Rich Milner described “the attacks on education and democracy that we face in our nation and world”. This concern was parsed through scholarly inquiry that emphasised race, social justice, post truth politics and/or mental health. It was through this lens we curated each day of our conference.

Dr Cornel West, a progressive activist educator and Black scholar gave the first  AERA Lateral Learning Lecture for Equity and Justice. His oration of power was at once performative, introspective and a call to action. He centered justice and equity and planted the seeds for the week. It provided a platform for educational researchers to shift their lens, confront their racial bias and query the power of whiteness in and across the conference rooms and of course in education. To hear Dr West the overflow rooms were overflowing with colleagues working hard to get into positions that would  allow Dr West’s words to embrace us and land all around us. 

Gun ‘silence’ at AERA 

On an evening of networking and dinner meetings we found ourselves close to gun violence while being confronted by how close we were in the normalcy of the daily coverage of shootings. Hearing  “There’s an active shooter in the park” and being asked to turn around and leave an area was a reminder of the strict gun laws we often take for granted in Australia. Not widely reported in the media, we assume this was partly because it was storied as ‘youth riots’. We rang home to let our families know we were ok, and they couldn’t even find a mention of it on the news. The insignificance of black and brown young people’s lives drives home the racialised injustices of gun violence – providing a case in point of why race is at the fore of consequential educational research in pursuit of truth in America. While there was a session dedicated to the Uvalde school shooting at AERA, the general absence of conversation concerned with this aspect of growing up in America was striking. 

“Don’t defunk the odour of catastrophe” (Dr Cornel West, Opening Plenary, AERA 2023). Our somewhat controversial impression of our time in America is that its emphasis on anti-racism in relation to the significant impact of Black Lives Matter has sidelined the radical impact of colonialism in education across the globe. Arguably, we experience colonialism as an ongoing catastrophe that is alive and well across the colonies and America. Without acknowledgement of the colonial project at its critical juncture with racism, Indigeneity will continue to be pushed to the side. The inadequacy of current conceptualisations of race, racialisation, and the entwinement with colonialism is in need of attention – perhaps by Australian scholars who are at critical junctures of research that reckons with Indigeneity, race, whiteness, settler-colonialism, land, violence and justice in very different ways to America.

Whatever path we chart, we need to “not reduce the catastrophic to the problematic because once you think it’s just a problem, you think that your professionalism can come and manage the problem” (Dr Cornel West, Opening Plenary, AERA 2023).

Associate Professor Kate Coleman is co-lead of SWISP Lab with Dr Sarah Healy. Kate is the AARE co-convenor of the Arts Education Practice Research SIG, and CI on ‘The Learning with the Land’, SSHRC project at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Kate is an Academic Convenor for the University of Melbourne, Petascale Campus. Her research and teaching is positioned in the intersection of art, design, digital, practice, culture and data.

Dr Sarah Healy is co-lead of SWISP Lab with Dr Kate Coleman. She is an inaugural Melbourne Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne. Best known for her contributions to the fields of critical affect studies, digital methods and the posthumanities, Sarah’s interdisciplinary program of research involves research collaborations with academics, artists, practitioners and educators from around the world.

Header image is of Chicago from an image by Jrbarc! 

Teacher As Practitioner (TAP) program helps keep teachers in the profession

Australia loses approximately 30 per cent of teachers in their first five years of teaching. Vast amounts of taxpayer money and resources are wasted on training teachers who will leave the profession, without considering what would make them stay. 

To date, research has addressed the reasons teachers are leaving, including burnout, workload pressures, physical isolation, and disillusionment. We also know from research studies that induction and mentoring programs can help. However, these programs are often removed after one or two years so do not support the teacher long-term.

Our research shows something else is making a difference.

With fellow researchers Kate Coleman, Maurizio Toscano and Sarah Healy, we have been involved in a longitudinal research study following early career secondary teachers who maintain a practice in their subject area. These are teachers who ‘do what they teach’, such as the art teacher who makes art on weekends or the science teacher who takes photographs of their garden for their biology class. They are practitioner-teachers who work, research and educate in their fields, and perceive the quality of their teaching as being enhanced by their practising in the field.

We have found that early career teachers who ‘do what they teach’ and see themselves as being good quality teachers also have higher expectations of remaining in teaching. This could be a crucial element in keeping our teachers beyond those first five years.

Teacher As Practitioner (TAP) for visual arts teachers

The research we’ve been conducting is part of the Teacher as Practitioner (TAP) longitudinal study. Since 2010, this project has offered a community of practice for early career visual arts teachers. It supports and encourages the continuation of their art making as they follow their art teaching career. Qualitative data collected as part of the TAP annual survey suggest that participation minimises the sense of isolation experienced by artists, and creates a connection between graduates that extends beyond the teaching profession:

“[I’ve participated] each year since my graduation because to me it is important continue my connections with past students of Melbourne University and Master of Teaching as well as with the staff… I am very much a dedicated and professional artist and wish to share and connect with other graduate artists” (TAP 2017 research participant).

Whilst other participants expanded on the reciprocal benefits of TAP participation:

“Everything I do in my practice affects my teaching because it provides me with more insight, which transfers into for example, empathy with the students as they make work. I believe that any accumulation of knowledge shifts who we are, even if very subtly and would therefore change who we are and what we have to offer, as a teacher” (TAP 2017 research participant).

Art educators from the University of British Columbia in Canada, Rita Irwin and Donal O’Donoghue suggest that “preparing secondary school art specialists is not just about preparing educators for teaching art, it is also about artists preparing to teach and artists preparing to produce art while teaching”.  Art teachers in this Canadian study reveal the difference that practitioner inquiry made in their professional practice, their understanding of student learning, their content area knowledge, and their career trajectories.

Our longitudinal study joins the extensive work by visual art researchers to help inform a wider conversation about teachers becoming active practitioners.

How the conversation has widened

Our work with the Teacher As Practitioner study is evolving to become an examination of how practitioner inquiry impacts professional practice, school culture, and career trajectories of teachers across other disciplines. We are looking to embrace the use of complexity and network theories to understand how practitioner inquiry is able to create its ripple effect, and are seeking greater use of testimonies from educators with experience as inquirers. Our study is extending its scope to include practices from other school settings, classroom and leadership roles, general education and specialist settings. Teacher As Practitioner is not only working across traditional disciplinary boundaries, but also across the arbitrary distinction between practice and theory.

Expanding our Teacher As Practitioner (TAP) to early career science teachers

Over the past two years we have begun the process of examining if and how the idea of practice, as elucidated from the experiences of early career art teachers as practitioners in our study, might also apply to early career science teachers as practitioners.  

In many ways early career teachers in the sciences encounter issues not unlike art practitioners. For instance in the way they negotiate that continuous movement that spans their disciplinary training, their practice within the community defined by that discipline, their experiences of learning about and enacting the teaching of that discipline, and how this comes to define who they are in the space of teaching. Do these roles and disciplinary identities overlap? Is the actual day-to-day work of each very different? The context, audience and purpose dramatically shift away from the teacher, to the artist or scientist students and to other practitioners in each role.

We are looking at how spaces like the studio and the laboratory play a role in negotiating practice across a lifetime – bearing in mind that such spaces are very often shared with colleagues, students, outsiders, peers, mentors, family, friends, and others. Thus, the research is likely to inform other explorations and inquiries into the disciplinary and trans-disciplinary practices of teachers, and their relationships to education, professional life and identity, and community, amongst other things.

Expanding Teacher As Practitioner (TAP) to other disciplines

We are exploring the potential for other learning areas to also be included in TAP in the future.

As TAP has continued to shift in recent years, significant changes in the team structure of the project has resulted in new ways of exploring the phenomena that is TAP.

It is no longer seen as a project, but rather a methodological approach to teaching teachers in both institutional programs, and supporting their early careers as a community of practice. TAP has become (necessarily) an entangled force in initial teacher education at Melbourne Graduate School of Education and inEdith Cowan University’s visual arts & design learning areas.

Since 2010, TAP’s longitudinal research design has explored the hypothesis that maintaining an early career teacher’s personal practice in the discipline in which they were trained and now teach, increases the quality of their teaching, as well as their expectations of remaining in the workforce. This can be a powerful influence for anyone embarking on a career in teaching.

Evidence points to the quality of teaching as the most significant factor in improving student learning outcomes according to John Hattie, Chairman of the Australian Institute for Teaching and school Leadership (AITSL). Evidence also supports the view that efforts to understand and promote the retention of early career teachers beyond approximately five years in the workforce are an international concern. Hence TAP’s significance in addressing Australia’s need for quality teachers, and its need to keep teachers practising positively in both the classroom and also in the school, during and beyond the critical early years after graduation.

Teacher As Practitioner (TAP) can be part of the solution

Being a practitioner-teacher doesn’t mean you need to maintain an onerous professional practice in your subject area, but it does mean actively engaging in the subject beyond your expectations of being a teacher. We know workload for teachers can be one of the forces that drive early career teachers to quit, so our TAP intervention promotes supported participation in just one exhibition or exposition per year.

Producing just one artwork or subject output per year can enhance a teacher’s perceptions of the quality of their teaching and therefore significantly affect whether they see themselves as continuing with their teaching career.

Teacher As Practitioner intervention is low-cost and effective. It could yet be the solution to the teacher exodus here in Australia, and internationally.

Julia Morris is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education and Course Coordinator for Visual Arts Education (Secondary) at Edith Cowan University, and an Honorary Fellow with the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne. Her main research interests include engagement and evaluation in applied education research, with an emphasis on developing and utilising evidence-based measures to improve educational practice. Since 2015 she has secured over $500,000 in research funding, has published over 35 peer-reviewed journal articles, conference publication, research reports and has had numerous non-traditional research outputs. She is currently supervising eight higher degree by research students, with a specific focus on supporting students to apply research methodologies in innovative ways within educational research.

Wesley Imms is an Associate Professor in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, is the Head of Visual Art Education, and the Research Higher Degree Coordinator for Curriculum and Teaching. He is the lead Chief Investigator of the ARC Linkage Project Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change which will run from 2016-2019. He has been involved in a range of solo and collaborative projects since 2000 involving approximately $11 million of external funding, has published over 70 peer reviewed articles, chapters, conference papers and books, numerous reports and invited lectures here and overseas. He is an experienced educator and is involved in teaching subjects spanning visual art curriculum and studio practice, innovative learning spaces, and Masters-level learning spaces capstone and teacher/practitioner subjects, in addition to supervising 19 Doctoral, Master of Education/Philosophy and Master of Teaching honours theses.