Four voices exploring global experiences of the impact of arts education on the wellbeing of primary students through collaborative autoethnography

Year: 2021

Author: Baguley, Margaret, Simon, Sue, Dinham, Judith, Vitulli, Paige

Type of paper: Pre-Recorded Individual Paper

The impact of significant world-wide disasters during 2020-2021, including bushfires, floods, hurricanes, racial injustices and the global Covid-19 pandemic, have affected mental health and wellbeing. During COVID-19, higher education arts, and school leadership colleagues from Australia and the United States formed a team to explore how signature pedagogies utilised in the Arts could assist primary school principals and generalist primary teachers in employing authentic arts practices to enhance the wellbeing of primary school students, particularly during times of trauma. Signature pedagogies support children’s agency where they are encouraged to think for themselves and their ideas are valued. Research has shown that children who are ‘at risk’ can find meaning and purpose in schooling and are more settled and engaged in learning when good quality arts education is provided.The initial stage of this research project involved the four lead researchers in creating a collaborative autoethnography (CAE), a qualitative research method that is simultaneously collaborative, autobiographical and ethnographic. The four predominant approaches the researchers used were: self focussed, researcher-visible, context conscious and critically dialogic. Through being self-focussed we have occupied dual roles as both researchers and participants. We have made ourselves researcher-visible by interrogating our own experiences of the arts curriculum and leadership within schools. Each of the researchers has been context-conscious of their personal experiences of the arts curriculum and their role as arts leaders which have been shaped by a range of social and cultural processes. As both researchers and participants in CAE we were critically dialogic, drawing deeper meaning from the combination of several voices and perspectives, thereby creating meaning and constructing values.This approach enabled us to highlight and identify the key challenges from our CAE to inform our approach. The CAE complements the initial phase of the research which also includes a systematic review of the literature on this topic.  This research project aims to assist principals in leading, and teachers enacting, novel approaches to arts education in the primary years – approaches that encourage creativity and self-expression, whilst nurturing student wellbeing and belonging. When these capacities are prioritised, there are life-long benefits for the individual and consequently for society. In a rapidly changing and challenging world, engagement in the Arts can improve not only citizens’ creativity, but their wellbeing and cultural belonging as well.