“Learning the Ropes”: Pre-service Arts Teachers Navigating the Extracurricular Terrain Extracurricular Terrain

April 2019

Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 44(4)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors state that the focus of this study is on the extracurricular school production, a key expectation of Arts teaching.
Investigating how pre-service Arts teachers can be better prepared to manage teaching demands, including extracurricular expectations, is important, particularly given reported teacher attrition rates with up to 50% of early career teachers leaving the profession within the first five years.
The authors report that pre-service Arts teachers (art, dance, drama and music) from a Western Australian (WA) university participated in a production of Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ designed to develop understandings about the processes and pedagogy required to facilitate extracurricular activities.
The production took place during semester one in 2016, and spanned a ten-week rehearsal period with three to four rehearsals per week.
Participants were involved in on-stage roles (actors, musicians, dancers) as well as design and production roles (scenography, stage management, lighting, sound, music composition, dance choreography, publicity).
Guided by a professional director and manager, pre-service teachers were coached throughout the process on directing techniques, administration tasks such as record keeping and budgeting, as well as decision-making processes and trouble shooting.
At the conclusion of the production, focus-group interviews were undertaken with participants to determine the impact of the production on their emerging ideas about facilitating extracurricular arts activities.

Process of Inquiry
The authors state that this study was guided by two main aims.
First, to understand the value of a production on developing participants’ ideas about facilitating extracurricular Arts productions upon graduation.
Second, to understand the personal value obtained from participating in the extracurricular production.
The authors note that the interpretive and descriptive nature of this work falls under phenomenology, an interpretive theoretical perspective that attempts to generate knowledge about the lived experience of individuals.
Therefore, in order to describe and understand this experience, focus-group interviews were used to gain insight, enabling key issues and emerging themes to be identified.

Participants and Setting
Thirty pre-service Arts teachers participated in the extracurricular production.
At the conclusion of the production, all participants were contacted by the researchers, via email, and invited to take part in focus-group interviews.
Subsequent to ethics approval, sixteen participants agreed to take part.
The first focus-group comprised eight pre-service Arts teachers in their second or third year of their degree.
The second focus-group comprised eight pre-service Arts teachers in their first or third-year of their degree.
Each focus-group was held in a small room familiar to the participants on the university campus.
Researchers chose a semi-structured interview format where several guiding questions were asked to stimulate discussion.
Questions focused on the participants’ expectations, experiences, personal and professional challenges, as well as their understanding of the developmental process of creating the production.
Each focus-group ran between 45 and 60 minutes and at the conclusion, participants expressed their appreciation at the opportunity to talk about their experiences.

Data Analysis
Through the reflection process, understandings of personal achievements and insights into the facilitation of extracurricular activities emerged among participants.
Emerging themes are discussed by the authors in turn.

“Each to Their Own”: Understanding Reasons for Participation and Expectations
The authors note that despite participants having busy schedules managing university study, employment and family commitments, participants were drawn to the production for both personal and professional development reasons.
Personal development included an opportunity to take risks, to test one’s ability and to extend social networks.
Other participants described the professional development opportunities offered by the production, particularly in terms of strengthening their performance technique.
The authors reported that participants commented on the techniques used by the director and production manager to understand the participants’ reasons for involvement and expectations.
Interrogating their motives for participation was important as it provided insights into the variety of reasons their future students would have for being involved in similar activities.
Participants agreed that understanding their future students’ perspectives and reasons for participating in a production would allow them, as teachers, to support their students reach individual goals.

“Stretched and Stressed”: Managing Additional Workload
The authors write that participants had some understanding of the required levels of commitment.
While participants knew it would be hard work and time consuming based upon previous experiences of production work, they were not prepared for just how stressful it would become.
Indeed, all participants spoke at length of the difficulties they experienced managing production commitments (rehearsals, learning lines, dances, music), while keeping up with their university assignments, family responsibilities and part-time employment.
Other participants discussed the guilt they experienced letting people down when the production started to consume their time.
While struggling with the workload, participants were also aware of the support structures they would need in place for their future students when working on a production.
Furthermore, participants were acutely aware of the support they would need when teaching, both personally and professionally, to manage the additional workload.
Participants agreed that seeing their director and production manager ‘work well’ together and support each other was significant

“Learning to Shine”: Developing Confidence and Honing Performance Skills
The authors report that while participants struggled with the rehearsal load, university expectations and employment commitments, they were unanimously positive about their achievements.
The sense of pride participants felt in their achievements, amidst a challenging workload, was shared by most of the interviewees.
It was evident that the production, including the choice of text, challenged the participants in different ways.
However, participants were able to ‘dig deep’ and learn from the experience.
Some participants learnt new ways to direct and work with an ensemble while others honed their performance skills.
While some participants reported growing as performers, others noted improved self-confidence from the increasing levels of accountability the director placed on them as the production evolved.
The authors note that these participants believed this strategy was challenging and at times intimidating yet improved their confidence and ability.
Participants’ felt the production experience increased their awareness of the range of skills they would aim to develop with their future students.

“The Bond of an Ensemble”: Fostering a Sense of Belonging
The authors report that participants described the sense of belonging as an integral part of the production.
Some noted the good feelings of socializing. Others would assist each other with difficult scenes, learn lines and complete production tasks.
The sense of belonging also contributed to improved self-confidence and ability to take risks without fear of judgement.
Participants were aware of the central role of the director and production manager in fostering a sense of belonging and were eager to adopt similar techniques with their future students.
Participants were acutely aware of the ways in which they were involved in decision making and problem solving which they believed, contributed to a sense of belonging.

The authors conclude that it is evident that the extracurricular production impacted participants’ ideas about facilitating and managing Arts activities from both student and future teacher perspectives.
Participants gained valuable insider knowledge of the commitment and expertise needed to mount a successful production, along with the many different components and personal and social challenges they would need to manage.
This production enabled authentic first-hand experience at an influential time in the pre-service teachers’ training where they not only reflected on themselves as learners but as future teachers.
Through direct experience, these pre-service teachers learned valuable personal and social insights and skills that will help them make informed decisions when working in schools. 

Updated: Nov. 18, 2019