Arts-based teacher training – an imperative need


In my last article I wrote about the importance of ‘art as a pathway to inclusion’ focusing primarily on visual art and the ease with which teachers can bring it into classrooms with the knowledge that art surpasses language, intellect, ability, gender, age – it holds space for all. This time I’d like to shift focus to the larger idea of the arts (covering various fields like music, movement, theatre, cinema, literature, photography, etc.), and its fundamental role in developing a language of inclusivity, with an added focus on the impact of the arts on teachers.

“I used to think education was all about teaching and learning, restricted to the curriculum provided. But now, I see education is all about exploration, and exploration cannot be framed in a curriculum. As educators it is important that we don’t restrict ourselves to a particular boundary.”
Rex D’Silva, teacher, math and biology

Teaching is a creative act – celebrating multiple perspectives, constantly changing approaches, creative problem solving, improvising and enabling social-emotional well-being, amongst others, are all skills that the arts and teaching share and are approaches that are innately inclusive in nature. It is crucial for teachers to go through training workshops that are designed around arts-based engagements and play, where they experience learning through collaboration, the freedom to explore, the joy of discovery, the importance of communication, playfulness, improvisation and authenticity and a sense of equity and inclusiveness. This is a glimpse into the unique vocabulary that the arts offer and teachers must experience it to know it, use it, and eventually make it their own.

It is through this vocabulary that teachers can find freedom from the prescriptively set boundaries of teaching methodologies and discover new approaches to engage with children, increasing the agency in their learning processes.

“As a special educator, I used to think that the main purpose of education is to make students independent in day-to-day life and develop their social skills, communication skills, and motor skills. Now I think the purpose of education is to make students self-aware, mindful, and respectful individuals.” – Minal Kadam, Special Educator

I facilitate training workshops that are immersed in arts-based engagements for teachers in various schools across the country, with the objective of having them experience the arts, understand the core essence of these engagements, and finally realize the creative potential that teaching has. The most empowering facet of these workshops has been when teachers begin to draw parallels between an artist’s approach to creating art and a teacher’s approach to creating an environment of learning. It is a novel idea that shifts the role of a teacher from the direct action of ‘teaching or delivering content’ to a larger overview of education which requires ‘creating an environment of learning’. This brings in an immediate sense of ownership and enables autonomy in a teacher’s pedagogical approach. Such experiences also make room for developing deep reflective practices where teachers pause to review their approach to teaching and contemplate upon larger ideas like the purpose of education.

Here are some responses of teachers from Akshara High School (ICSE), Mumbai, where there has been ongoing arts-based training for teachers for several years. These responses were part of an annual self-review assessment to answer the question “What is the purpose of education – what I used to think…what I think now”.

So how do teachers move into these spaces of reflection, what are the visible changes in their teaching approaches and what kind of arts processes enable this journey? The practice of reflection is an innate part of experiencing any artistic engagement; it is the very purpose of the arts to make you see, think, feel, and wonder. For example, when a group of teachers create a piece of art together, perhaps a mural or a sculpture that represents something, the obvious purpose of the activity is to have teachers reflect upon their experience and articulate it. These experiences can range from understanding the pedagogical value of collaborative work, creative thought, and freedom to more complex social ideas of the importance of navigating varied temperaments, opinions and abilities with care and kindness. Theatre exercises, especially those based on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, are designed to have teachers think about the innate power dynamic that exists between the teacher and the student. Once teachers physically experience their position of power, they truly comprehend the problematic ‘banking system’ of education we follow, where the student is treated as an empty vessel that must be filled with knowledge. They realize how important it is for teachers to change their approach in order to have students be treated as co-creators of knowledge. Another aspect that is crucial for effective arts experiences as well as teaching and learning is moments of silence or stillness. Pausing after asking a question so that all students take time to think of their own individual response, or better still have each student write their response down before sharing them, creates room for reasoning, deeper thinking, reflective thought and moves individuals from reacting to responding. Experiencing the joy of freedom that the arts provides allows teachers to shift their instructions from being prescriptive to being more open and exploratory.

“I used to think that with an education I can get a job and earn a livelihood. Now…I believe that education helps you find your true passion and trains you to make well-informed decisions, which is extremely important in life.”
Heena Rajpara, teacher, history and English

Having teachers sing, dance, draw, paint, and use their bodies to communicate breaks the rigidity and firmness that has formed over several years of working within hardened structures. It is imperative for teachers to be able to break out of set frameworks of education and bring about new pedagogical approaches which are autonomous, plural, and sustainable in nature. Committing to this approach to teaching pushes educational institutes to review the philosophies and ethics they stand by. The role of empathy in education, importance of non-academic skills, inclusivity in a school space, are values that are innate to the arts and must find their place in the core values of educational institutes.

My long-term experience of driving educational goals for an institution, developing arts-based curriculum across schools and as a consultant for designing teacher training modules has affirmed my belief that the teacher plays the most important role in executing a curriculum and an educational philosophy. It is imperative for them to develop a disposition where they see themselves as ever-growing and developing beings who are living life creatively to contribute to life itself. Thus, it must be established that an ongoing relationship with the arts is imperative, especially for teachers, to be able to create an inclusive, sensitive, and nurturing environment of learning and infuse a child’s life with creativity and the arts, thereby fostering a life-long and meaningful relationship with it.

“For me, earlier, education was about imparting textual knowledge with may be added facts but now I know that knowledge is beyond that and the foundation years need to be more about experiencing, exploring and then deriving knowledge.”
Jital Ganatra, teacher, environmental studies

The author is an arts-based therapist, educator and children’s author. She has been working with children from different backgrounds for the past 15 years and is an advocate of ‘inclusive education’. She is currently the Executive Director of an inclusive not-for-profit ICSE school in Mumbai. She can be reached at

Leave a Reply