Transformation of Instructional Practice through Aesthetic Experiences

  • Peggy Albers Georgia State University
  • Amy Seely Flint University of Louisville
  • Mona Matthews Georgia State University
Keywords: Professional development, Aesthetic experiences, Transformed practices, Project PAL, South Africa


This longitudinal ethnographic study involved a professional development project, Project Partnerships Achieve Literacy (Project PAL) in South Africa, with eight rural foundation phase teachers who taught Reception (kindergarten) through grade three (R-3). This Project was designed to support teachers in an under-resourced school as they learned strategic approaches to literacy teaching and learning with the aim to improve the reading achievement of their children. Located in aesthetics theory, researchers engaged teachers in aesthetic experiences, or experiences that were infused with the arts (art, drama, video, music, reader’s theater), children’s literature, and technology. Research questions were as follows: What can be learned from an aesthetic approach to professional development? What does engagement look like in aesthetic experiences in professional development? Do aesthetic experiences resonate with teachers and inform their instruction? Three findings emerged from an constant comparative analysis of classroom observations, interviews, teacher artifacts, researcher debriefs, video and audio recordings: 1) Feelings and the arts were significant in what and how teachers learned in professional development workshops; 2) Aesthetic experiences led to critical and democratic talk around professional development and issues of social importance; and 3) Aesthetic experiences informed teachers’ in and out of classroom practice. Findings from this study suggest that professional development holds significant promise when it is sustained, imaginative, and relatable, and positions teachers to think differently about themselves as learners and teachers through aesthetic experiences. We suggest that drawing only from cognitive approaches and one-shot single-session professional development does not deeply address the qualities, feelings, emotions, and embodied responses that comprise the aesthetic experience in professional development, and argue for a deeper understanding of professional development, one in which aesthetic learning and experiences are central to teacher learning.

Author Biographies

Peggy Albers, Georgia State University

Peggy Albers is professor in the College of Education and Human Development at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Her research interests include critical literacy, arts-based literacy, and teacher education.

Amy Seely Flint, University of Louisville

Amy Seely Flint is professor in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville. Her research interests include teacher professional development, critical literacy, and early reading and writing development.

Mona Matthews, Georgia State University

Mona Matthews is professor emeritus in the College of Education and Human Development at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Her research interests include early childhood education, teacher education, and early childhood reading and writing.