2012. Vol.3, No.1, 67-74
Published Online February 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2012.31011
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 67
An Expressive Arts-Based and Strength-Focused Experiential
Training Program for Enhancing the Efficacy of Teachers
Affected by Earthquake in China
Rainbow T. H. Ho1,2*, Fumin Fan3, Angel H. Y. Lai4, Phyllis H. Y. Lo2, Jordan S. Potash2,
Debra L. Kalmanowitz2, Joshua K. M. Nan2, Alicia K. L. Pon2, Zhanbiao Shi5,
Cecilia L. W. Chan1,2
1Department of Social Work & Social Administration, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
2Centre on Behavioral Health, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
3Department of Psychology, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
4George Warren Brown of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, USA
5Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
Received October 22nd, 2011; revised December 18th, 2011; accepted January 8th, 2012
The 2008 Sichuan Earthquake killed over 9000 teachers and children leaving profound physical and emo-
tional problems are prevalent among survivors. Many being victims themselves, teachers in the earth-
quake affected areas not only have to recover a sense of personal efficacy in dealing with the difficulties,
they also need to feel adequately prepared in their teaching roles to handle the changes in the classroom
environment and student needs. Expressive art is a well-established tool to facilitate the expression of
thoughts and feelings that can also be incorporated as interactive classroom activities—an approach that
deviates from the traditional top-down teaching mode in China. A 3-day experiential training program
based on expressive arts and strength-focused approaches was provided for 57 elementary and high
school teachers across the earthquake area. This study evaluated changes after the training program. Re-
sults showed that teachers’ general self-efficacy and teaching efficacy were significantly improved (t =
2.54, p = .01; t = 4.08, p = .00). The improvement in teaching efficacy is contingent upon the quality of
relationship with students, after controlling for ethnicity.
Keywords: Expressive Arts; Experiential Learning; Strength-Focused; Efficacy; Earthquake; Trauma
The Sichuan earthquake on May 12, 2008 was one of the
most serious natural disasters in China’s recent history (Higgins,
Xiang, & Song, 2010). Approximately 70,000 people were killed
and nearly 400,000 were injured (UNICEF, 2008). It is estimated
that 3000 schools collapsed and that over 9000 teachers and
students were killed, which accounted for about 12% of the to-
tal victims (Macartney, 2009). Studies showed that affected tea-
chers and children suffered from both undesirable feelings (e.g.,
anxiety and nervousness) and somatic symptoms (e.g., fatigue)
(Niu, Zhu, & Zou, 2009; Zhang, Zeng, & Lai, 2009; Zhang, Kong,
Wang, Chen, Gao et al., 2010). In addition to the traumatic ex-
periences, teachers faced additional stress. Some teachers were
blamed for leaving their students behind (Spencer, 2008) and
others were arrested by the government for publicly criticizing
pre-earthquake corruption activities that led to the massive col-
lapse of school buildings (Hooker, 2008; Lan, 2008). The result-
ing research confirmed that teachers suffered a higher level of
stress than their students, which prompted social scientists and
government officials to suggest targeted interventions and sup-
port for them (Niu et al., 2009; Y. Zhang et al., 2010).
Higgins, Xiang and Song’s (2010) review of the Sichuan
earthquake’s post disaster management found that most inter-
ventions focused on asking the victims to express their feelings,
but many survivors felt annoyed by the overemphasis on their
negative emotions. Given that Chinese cultural values discour-
age overt expression of emotions, it may be more appropriate to
limit expectations on verbal expression of negative emotions and
instead focus on promoting strengths and positive outcomes (Chan,
Chan, & Ng, 2006). Beyond cultural norms, there is also grow-
ing evidence from neuroscience and the post-traumatic response
of alexithymia that trauma may be better accessed and proces-
sed through non-verbal means, such as arts-based practices (Gantt
& Tinnin, 2009). Art making paired with a positive focus (i.e.,
focusing on a positive event) was found to lead to immediate
stress reduction, whereas focusing on a negative event resulted
in a slight increase (Curl, 2008).
With all these considerations, we sought to create an inter-
vention based predominantly on arts-based and strength-focused
approaches which encourage emotional expression, hope and po-
sitive attitude to life. By offering it as an experiential training,
we could simultaneously provide the teachers with new skills
for self-care and student interaction, while providing necessary
support services. Our hope was that offering an alternative me-
thod of post-disaster intervention would help teachers, as well
as, students who had experienced earthquake related trauma.
The Effect of Trauma o n Teachers
*Corresponding author. The multiple losses resulting from most natural disasters lead
R. T. H. HO ET AL.
to a myriad of practical and emotional challenges for the indi-
vidual. Victims’ perceived competence to maintain personal
functioning despite situational demands has been found to be an
important mediator of posttraumatic recovery from long term
emotional distress (Benight & Bandura, 2004). Such perceived
competence, otherwise known as self-efficacy, is a personal
appraisal of their ability to cope and perform under difficulty,
to exercise control over their fears and to recover. Bandura (1997)
theorized that victims who feel capable to overcome the after-
maths of the trauma do so through reality testing, thereby al-
lowing positive experiences to affirm their tests of self-efficacy.
By focusing on their strengths, individuals can activate the
self-confidence nece- ssary to grow through pain and rediscover
inner resources previously unrecognized (Chan et al., 2006;
Besides self-efficacy, trauma can severely challenge the sense
of competence at work. After mass disasters, teachers are expec-
ted to play a significant role in assisting students through the
trauma, particularly in facilitating communication about the di-
saster with the children and enhancing compassion and mutual
support among students (Gaffney, 2008). There is an undeni-
able value of teacher-mediated interventions in lowering PTSD
rates among school children after natural disasters (Wolmer,
Laor, Dedeoglu, Siev, & Yazgan, 2005). Yet, this additional
responsibility for teachers to assume the role of mental health
providers is not an identity that all teachers feel comfortable
undertaking (Wolmer, Laor, & Lazgan, 2003). Reluctance is
often attributed to the teachers’ lack of adequate knowledge and
skills to provide mental health support to a degree beyond their
typical role as educators. Other classroom problems arising
from post-quake aftermaths may also contribute to a sense of
low teaching efficacy among teachers.
Teaching-efficacy is defined as teachers’ beliefs in their skills
in delivering a variety of classroom instructional strategies, ma-
naging classroom and engaging students in the learning process
(Tschannen-Mora & Hoy, 2001). Higher teaching efficacy resulted
in adopting desirable coping strategies, which facilitated recov-
ery from the earthquake trauma (Shen, 2009). Lower teaching
efficacy predicted higher levels of exhaustion and lower levels of
personal accomplishment (Li, Yang, & Shen, 2007). Moreover,
higher teacher-efficacy promoted warm interpersonal relation-
ships with students by creating a supportive learning atmos-
phere (Ashton & Webb, 1986; Tschannen-Moran, Woolfolk Hoy,
& Hoy, 1998), which in turn positively affected student aca-
demic performance (Guo, Piasta, Justice, & Kaderavek, 2010;
Ogah, 2006). Increasing teacher self-efficacy and teaching-effi-
cacy can aid in both their personal well-being as well as their
student’s educational achievements.
Experiential Learning: Effective Way to Learn and
One of the ways to develop self and work efficacy is through
the mastery of experiences, which is defined as individuals’ suc-
cessful experiences of overcoming obstacles and challenges (Ban-
dura, 1997). Training teachers to master new teaching and com-
munication methods offers them an opportunity for professional
skill development that can achieve the specific purpose of en-
hancing self-efficacy. It is equally important for teachers to ac-
quire adequate confidence during professional trainings so that
they may transfer the knowledge into actual practice (Anderson,
2002). An effective way in doing so is by putting knowledge
into practice through mirroring real situations. Kolb (1984) de-
fined such experiential learning as knowledge generation through
the transformation of experience. One of the reasons that experien-
tial learning may be more effective than traditional classroom
learning is due to the multi-sensory and active involvement that
stimulates the ability to receive information (Laird, 1985). Curry,
Fazio-Griffth, Carson and Stewart (2010) found that experiential
education on exercise immunology increased participants’ gen-
eral efficacy and understanding on the course content; while
Mathers (2006) demonstrated that practicum learning experience
increased clinicians’ counseling self-efficacy. In addition, expe-
riential learning may greatly enhance the relationship between
teachers and students (Kelley & Whatley, 1980).
Use of Expres s i ve Art s Activiti es as a Tool for
Facilitating Learning and Training
One method of engaging experiential learning is through the
arts. The creative process involved in the arts requires involve-
ment and attention, that stimulates problem solving and decision
making (e.g. choices of arts materials and forms etc.) while pro-
viding opportunities for exploring the self, others and environ-
ment (Foster, 1992). As an additional benefit, artsbased active-
ties promote mental well-being and stress reduction, as it allows
for emotional expression and building a sense of satisfaction
from the creation process (Walsh, Chang, Schmidt, & Yoepp,
2005; Walsh, Martin, & Schmidt, 2004). Expressive arts thera-
pists have demonstrated how to make use of these processes in
the service of therapeutic treatment and healing, specifically for
people affected by trauma (Ahmed & Siddiqi, 2006; Jasenka,
In addition to providing therapeutic benefit, the arts can be
used as tool for teaching. Oreck (2004) noted that the increased
use of the arts in teacher’s professional development and edu-
cation is not for transforming teachers into arts specialists. Ra-
ther, it is intended to enhance their competence in adopting a
variety of medium for teaching, communicating and engaging
students in the learning process (Foster, 1992; Fowler, 1996).
Thomas & Mulvey (2008) reported that when the arts are used
in this manner, learning was enhanced for both students and
teachers, as this process involves the exchange of ideas and opi-
nions among students and also between students and teachers.
Unlike the traditional classroom environment where the teacher
is the authority and communication is generally top-down, an
interactive relationship enhances student motivation (Hughes &
Kwok, 2007; Ryan & Patrick, 2001), which in turn renders them
more interested in and engaged in the learning process (Skinner
& Belmont, 1993). An additional feature of expressive arts is
their therapeutic origins of being non-judgmental and suppor-
tive which potentially transforms the classroom into a learning
community where everyone contributes. Zhao and Kuh (2004)
demonstrated that students in such an environment are intrinsic-
cally motivated to learn, greatly aiding classroom management.
Buildin g an A r t s-Based and Strength- F ocused
In view of the benefits of using arts activities in a training
that promotes personal well-being and new skill acquisition, the
authors designed an arts-based and strength-focused experiential
training program for school teachers affected by the Sichuan earth-
quake specifically to enhance the self and teaching efficacy of
educators (Figure 1).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
R. T. H. HO ET AL.
The expressive arts-based strength-focused experiential training pro-
gram for teachers in Sichuan China.
The present study was conducted for evaluating how an ex-
pressive arts-based training program can help these teachers be-
come aware of their own personal strengths while feeling more
capable in their teaching roles. In addition, perceived efficacy
attenuates the transfer of learned capabilities from the training
back to the work setting (Anderson, 2002). Therefore, hypo-
theses for the study included: 1) teacher’s general self-efficacy
would increase after their participation in the training program;
and 2) teachers’ teaching efficacy would increase after their par-
ticipation in the program. Based on previous research on the
associations between teacher-student relationship, general self-
efficacy and teaching efficacy (Bandura, 1997; Klassen & Chiu,
2010; Siu, Spector, Cooper, & C. Lu, 2005; Wolters & Daug-
herty, 2007), we also wanted to explore to what extent teacher-
student relationship related to the changes of teaching efficacy
after the training, because experiential learning and artsbased
activities strongly emphasize and promote interactions between
teachers and students. We hypothesized that better teacher-
student relationship would result in greater changes of teaching
efficacy after the training.
Fifty seven school teachers between 21 and 72 years old, in
Beichuan County and An County in the Sichuan province of China
participated in the training program. Participants were from 20
secondary and 16 primary schools in rural and urban Sichuan.
All of their schools were damaged at various levels, ranging
from complete demolition to minor fall of fragments from the
school buildings. The participants were recruited through a con-
venience sampling strategy. The research team had limited
influence in the sampling process as the Sichuan province
monitored the organization of large scale disaster-related inter-
ventions in the post-earthquake zones. The team first contacted
the Institute of Psychology, China Academy of Science to es-
tablish contact with the local governmental education department.
The education department then selected the targeted schools
and contacted the principals. The principals were subsequently
asked to submit a list of teachers, who were then invited to
participate in the program.
A single-group pretest posttest design was adopted to meas-
ure the changes in participants’ general self-efficacy and teach-
ing efficacy right before and right after the 3-day training pro-
gram. Governmental restrictions on conducting earthquake relief
projects in Sichuan made it difficult for the researchers to recruit
a control group for a quasi-experimental design. All recruited tea-
chers had to participate in the same training. The current study
also took into account certain confounding variables, namely,
the teachers’ gender, education level, hours at work per day and
teaching experiences, which may be related to the teachers’ ge-
neral self-efficacy and teaching efficacy (Bandura, 1997; Klas-
sen & Chiu, 2010; Siu et al., 2005; Wolters & Daugherty, 2007).
Given that the participants were earthquake survivors, extra
precautions were taken to protect this vulnerable population.
Ethical approval was obtained from the Human Research Ethics
Committee of the University of Hong Kong. The pretest and the
posttest were designed to avoid trauma-related or emotional-
related questions to limit overburdening the participants. All
teachers were required to fill out the informed consent, which
discussed participants’ privileges and the potential risks and be-
nefits involved in the evaluation research. Information obtained
was kept strictly confidential and was sent back to Hong Kong
General Self-Efficacy. The Chinese version of the General
Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE) was used to measure the general
self-efficacy of the participants (Zhang & Schwarzer, 1995).
The scale consists of 10 items that evaluates general self-ef-
ficacy on a 4 point scale, namely, not at all true, hardly true,
moderately true, and exactly true. A high total score means
a high level of general self-efficacy. The scale demonstrated
high internal consistency (α = .94) for the current sample. In
addition, the scale has high internal and convergent and di-
vergent validity across various cultural groups (Schwarzer
& Jerusalem, 1995).
Teaching Efficacy. The Ohio State Teacher Self-Efficacy
Short-Form (OSTES) was used to measure the teaching ef-
ficacy of the participants. The scale, which consists of 12
items, measures the teachers’ beliefs in their ability to offer
a variety of instructional strategies, manage their classrooms
and engage their students on a 9 point scale, ranging from
“no ability” to “having much ability”. The 3 subscales meas-
ure perceived efficacy in 1) student engagement; 2) instruct-
tional strategies; and 3) classroom management. A high to-
tal score means a high teaching efficacy. A member of the
team translated the scale into Chinese and reviewed it for
cultural appropriateness and sensitivity. A research assistant
back translated it to English to ensure that all items were in-
terpreted correctly. The scale demonstrated high internal con-
sistency in the current study (α = .921). Previous research
also showed that the scale demonstrated high reliabilities
and construct and discriminative validity among teachers in
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 69
R. T. H. HO ET AL.
the United States (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001).
Teachers’ perceive d relationship with stude nts. Since we
could not observe the changes of teacher-student relation-
ship immediately after the training, we looked at teachers’
perceived relationship with student. A single item measure
was used for this evaluation. Teachers were asked to rate
their responses to the statement “I have a good relationship
with my students.” on a 5 point Likert scale, ranging from
extremely disagree, somewhat disagree, neither agree nor dis-
agree, somewhat agree to extremely agree.
Demographic variables. The demographic variables included:
gender, ethnicity (coded as Han = 1 and minority ethnic
group = 2) education level (coded as primary = grade 1 to 6,
secondary = grade 7 to 13 and tertiary level = over grade
13), work hours per day (coded as high = over 11 hours,
medium = between 8 and 10 hours and low = less than 7
hours), and teaching experience (coded as low = less than 5
years, medium = 6 to 10 years, and high = over 10 years).
Interventio n: Arts-Based and Str e n g t h-Focuse d
A collaborative team composed of experts in expressive arts
therapy and group counseling led the training, which included:
qualified art therapists, dance movement therapist, play thera-
pist, social workers, psychologists and counselors from The Uni-
versity of Hong Kong and Tsinghua University. The 3-day pro-
gram was held in September 2009, 16 months after the Wenchuan
earthquake and prior to school commencement. The program
was modeled on the Kolb experiential learning theory (Kolb,
Boyatzis, & Mainemelis, 2001) and expressive arts training mo-
dels (Kalmanowitz & Potash, 2010). The program was designed
according to Kolb’s four-stage model which includes: 1) con-
crete experience: experiencing the new knowledge; 2) reflective
observation: observing other people’s mastering the knowledge; 3)
conceptualization: conceptualizing the knowledge through re-
lating it to existing theories; 4) experimentation: applying the
knowledge in real life settings. Teachers first experienced various
kinds of expressive arts activities, including art making with dif-
ferent materials, dance and movement with and without music,
dramatic play and cooperative games which intended to help arouse
interest and increase comfort in using art (concrete experience).
Throughout the process, teachers were constantly encouraged to
reflect on their experiences with the activities (reflective obser-
vation). On the second day, the teachers learned about the under-
lying concepts and theories of expressive arts through hands-on
activities. Through dance, visual arts, music and drama activities,
teachers were led to relate the use of expressive arts into their
classrooms as a means to encourage expression, integration of ex-
perience and growth, as well as establishing mutual respect and
support among students (conceptualization). Activities were adapt-
ed from expressive arts therapeutic tools to be short enough as a
class activity with self-reflective and expressive components.
On the third day, teachers developed expressive arts-based acti-
vity plans related to their teaching, in the areas of classroom ma-
nagement and communication or as a therapeutic recreational ac-
tivity (experimentation). Teachers shared their ideas with the
whole group and received feedback from the trainers and other
participants (reflective observation).
Throughout the project, we purposefully placed a strong em-
phasis in training the teachers on the expressive and communi-
cative aspects of expressive arts, rather than the therapeutic ones,
since teachers are not expected to be proxy therapists or coun-
selors. The trainers’ role modeled this stance by providing empa-
thic understanding rather than active therapeutic interventions to
demonstrate to the teachers how they can support their students.
Both positive feelings (such as hope, gratitude, love, care) and ne-
gative emotions (such as sadness, anxiety, fear, and loneliness)
were equally welcomed in order to provide chances for partici-
pants to ventilate their feelings freely. For positive emotions,
further exploration and elaboration were encouraged; while for
negative emotions, trainers relied on containment interventions
with a focus on active listening to promote a supportive pres-
ence and establishing a sense of togetherness. Training also em-
phasized finding meaning and strength from the negative ex-
periences. At the end of the training, teachers were required to
reflect on their positive experiences of mastering the basic skills
as they finished presenting the self-designed activities, thus lend-
ing the whole process a strength-focused outlook.
A total of 57 participants completed both the pre- and post-
evaluations. Table 1 shows the demographic characteristics of
Before conducting data analysis, exploratory analysis was
performed to ensure that the data fit the statistical assumptions.
The test of normality was conducted for the pretest and posttest
scores of the General Self-Efficacy Scale and Teaching Efficacy
Scale. Results indicated that they all had normal distributions
and the variances of all scales in the two data collection points
were relatively equal (data now shown). Paired sample t-test
was then used to compare the means of the pretest and posttest
Demographic characteristics of participating teachers.
Demographic Characteristics n %
Primary 29 51
Secondary 28 49
Male 27 47
Female 30 53
Han 46 81
Non-Han 11 19
Low 9 16
Medium 7 7
High 41 72
Low 15 26
Medium 30 53
High 9 16
Missing 3 5
Hours at Work Per Day
Low 4 7
Medium 45 79
High 8 14
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
R. T. H. HO ET AL.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 71
General Self-Efficacy and Teaching Efficacy
Significant increases in General self-efficacy scores (t = 2.54,
p = .01, d = .28) and the teaching efficacy scores (t = 4.08, p
= .00, d = .57) were found. All 3 domains of Teaching Efficacy,
including student engagement (t = 3.02, p = .00, d = .40), in-
structional strategies (t = 2.22, p = .03, d = .32) and classroom
management (t = 4.60, p = .00, d = .64) were significantly in-
creased with medium effect size (Table 2).
Correlation and Regression Analysis
Correlation analysis revealed that Ethnicity (Han or other
ethnic minorities) and perceived Relationship with Students were
associated with Teaching Efficacy and its two subscales, namely
Student Engagement and Classroom Management subscales (Ta-
ble 3). No relationship was observed for General Self-Efficacy
with other variables. In order to further explore how perceived
teacher-student relationship related to the changes of teachers’
efficacy after the training, regression analysis was performed
(Table 4). Ethnicity, which was a stable construct, was first
entered into the analysis. Regression equation of this first model
was significant (R2 = .09, Adjusted R2 = .07, F(1, 48) = 4.64,
p = .036), meaning that members of ethnic minorities, mainly
(Qiang), predicted a greater change of teaching efficacy after
the training. Perceived relationship with students was then en-
tered into the model and the final equation was also significant
(R2 = .20, Adjusted R2 = .16, F(2, 28) = 5.58, p = .007). The
Adjusted R2 was .16 implying that the relationship with Stu-
dents accounted for an additional 16% variance of Teaching
Efficacy. These findings showed that teachers with better rela-
tionships with students predicted greater increases in Teaching
Efficacy after the training.
Classroom Expressive Arts Activities Prop osed
The types of activities proposed range from warm-up active-
ties, emotional expression, creativity and problem solving, build-
ing interpersonal trust and the enhancement of study interest.
Sample activities are listed below (Table 5).
The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the use of
the experiential arts-based and strength-focused training pro-
gram for helping teachers affected by the earthquake, as indi-
cated by improvement in their self and teaching efficacies. The
statistically significant increase in both of these areas supported
the hypotheses. All 3 subscales of Teaching Efficacy, including
student engagement, instructional strategies and classroom ma-
nagement, were enhanced after the training. The larger increase
in teaching efficacy relative to general self-efficacy and its mo-
derate effect size may relate to the specific nature of the train-
ing program as an opportunity to enhance professional develop-
ment, although there was still a positive effect on personal well-
The significant increase in the teachers’ self-efficacy in this
study reflects how engaging in the arts and creative process wi-
thin a supportive environment parallels the beneficial effects of
the arts in such areas as reducing stress, improving self-confidence,
opening up new perspectives, and enhancing the general ability
to cope with problems (Dahlman, 2007; Oakley, 2008; Zuo, 1998).
As suggested by Oreck (2004), the motivation to use arts ac-
tivities in class arises from a sense of efficacy, particularly in
linking arts activities to their own teaching aims. The positive
findings of this research, particularly in regards to the increases
in teaching efficacy lay the foundation for promoting expres-
sive arts into the Sichuan classroom. The statistically signify-
cant improvements in the teachers teaching efficacy, as meas-
ured in student engagement, instructional strategies and class-
room management can be explained in part by the design of the
training and the modeling of the trainers. By combining both
theoretical and experiential components, the teachers were able
to fully experience the process, which enhanced their under-
standing of the theories.
Changes in outcome measures.
Variable n M SD M SD t d
Efficacy 5726.865.66 28.35 5.07 2.54** .28
Efficacy 5085.6616.16 94.26 14.3 4.08*** .57
Strategies 5724.965.07 26.49 4.6 2.22* .32
Management 5523.674.45 26.4 4.2 4.60*** .64
Engagement 5624.664.96 26.55 4.58 3.02*** .40
*p ≤ .05 **p ≤ .01 ***p = 0.00.
Correlation of outcomes and control variables.
Pre and Post test changes School
(Primary/Secondary) Age Years of Teaching
General Self Efficacy .03 .17 .00 .05 .03 .09 .12
Teacher Efficacy (OSTES)—Total score .15 .21 .04 .07 .04 .31* .35*
Student Engagement .03 .20 .13 .04 .02 .34* .26
Instructional Strategies .06 .20 .13 .02 .01 .31* .27*
Classroom Management .12 .07 .08 .16 .04 .29* .39**
*p < .005; **p < 0.01.
R. T. H. HO ET AL.
Hierarchical linear regression of teaching efficacy (total score) and
relationship with students after controlling for ethnicity.
Model Independent variables
b SE b ß t
1 Ethnicity 9.47 4.40 .30 2.16*
Adjusted R2 .07
2 Ethnicity 8.49 4.20 .27 2.02*
students 4.45 1.82 .33 2.45*
Adjusted R2 .16
*p < .005; **p < 0.01.
Classroom expressive arts activities proposed by teachers.
Activity goal Example activity
Reflecting and expressing students’ gratitude
in relation to the support they received after
the earthquake through visual arts. Ritual of
thanks by the whole class through music and
Creativity in problem
If the school is flooded, build a life boat in a
small group with a large piece of paper.
Subsequent sharing on the experience of
Building interpersonal trust Trust walk with a partner who is not allowed
Academic Engagement Using drama and skits to compose a story
behind Chinese proverbs.
The trainers provided examples of how expressive arts acti-
vities could be used for team building, classroom management,
communication, improving concentration and cheerful atmos-
phere for the students. This role modeling supported the teach-
ers to create their own activities based on their specific back-
grounds, abilities and specific constraints in their schools, there-
by encouraging critical analysis and application of their learning.
The finding of the regression analysis that teacher-student re-
lationship was the major contributor in predicting the gains in
teacher’s teaching-efficacy may be explained by the expressive
arts nature and experiential approach used in the training. As pre-
viously stated, the expressive arts promote teacher –student en-
gagement that enables stress reduction, which promotes stron-
ger relationships. Experiential learning, on the other hand, pro-
motes active and positive interaction between teachers and
students. Of course, the validity of this prediction can only be
confirmed with future longitudinal study. Another implication
from the regression analysis is that professional training which
aims at imparting teachers with skills to improve their teaching
efficacy may show greater benefits when also addressing the is-
sue of improving student-teacher relationships. In this training,
making use of the expressive arts deepened the experiential
learning for the teachers and gave them a medium for increase-
ing their relationships with their students. In addition, the ana-
lysis also indicated that teachers who are ethnic minorities re-
lated to greater changes of teaching efficacy. This finding may
be explained by the high cultural value the Qiang ethnic group
places on arts and music which renders them more expressive
and more involved in the artistic activities of the training. Such
teachers understood the benefits quicker and were more willing
to engage in the process.
Lastly, the use of expressive arts activities in post-disaster
training and as a tool for teachers to work with students responded
to the problem of overemphasis on negative emotions and verbal
expression among prevailing interventions or training delivered
in the earthquake affected areas (Chan et al., 2006; Higgins et
al., 2010). In the Sichuan context, this strength-based experien-
tial learning approach that we adopted was revolutionary. Chi-
nese teachers are seldom asked to actively participate in active-
ties in conventional intervention programs. We believe the suc-
cess of our training program was that it was designed on thera-
peutic principles, but presented as an educational training pro-
gram for skill enhancement, rather than for personal healing.
Instead of dwelling on the trauma, participants focused on de-
veloping their self and teaching efficacies in the training pro-
gram, which may have assisted their recovery process indirectly
and decreased their negative emotions in the long run (Benight
& Bandura, 2004; Li, Yang, & Shen, 2007; Shen, 2009). Even
though our methods may be viewed conspicuously in a Chinese
context, the increases in self and teaching efficacy reflected the
benefits of our approach.
Certain limitations in this study merit discussion. Firstly, the
relatively small sample size and a small number of control va-
riables limited a comprehensive understanding of the findings.
A small sample size resulted in an imbalanced ratio on the
demographic variable of ethnicity, where ethnic minorities were
only represented by about 19% of the data. Secondly, we were
confined to selecting our participants via convenient sampling
strategy due to government restriction, and such non-random sam-
pling strategy might affect the external validity of the study.
Thirdly, the one-group pretest and posttest experimental design
limited our ability to directly relate the interventions to the tea-
chers’ improved scores. A longitudinal study that follows the
process of utilizing art in the classroom is needed to confirm
the positive benefits to teachers and also the prediction con-
ducted in the regression analysis. Lastly, the self-report meas-
ure is subject to teacher bias and does not include the students’
perceptions of teacher engagement. Even so, the perceived in-
creased engagement by teachers indicates their increased rela-
tionship with the students, which impacts how they interact with
For future studies aiming at confirming the results and pre-
dictions made in the present study, a quasi-experimental design
with a random sampling should be adopted. Since it has been
suggested that positive relations existed between a) teachers’ ge-
neral self-efficacy and their posttraumatic recovery and b) tea-
chers’ teaching efficacy and their students’ outcome, future re-
search should also include follow up studies that address the
coping skills and emotional status of the teachers and the aca-
demic or behavioral outcomes of their students (Benight & Ban-
dura, 2004; Jennings & Greenberg, 2009; Ogah, 2006). An ex-
tended follow up on the teachers throughout the academic year
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
R. T. H. HO ET AL.
could add valuable information on the sustainability of training
outcomes. Finally, future research can replicate this training study
on different populations affected by natural disasters in China.
Notwithstanding the limitations, the current study carries im-
portant implications for post-disaster support for teachers. The
study offered preliminary support for the application of expres-
sive arts in post-disaster teaching in China. Moving away from
an emphasis on verbal expression of negative emotions by pro-
viding an alternative medium of expression was welcomed by
participants and can be applied to other disaster-related inter-
vention research in China and Asia. This study advocates that
disaster relief workers in China can focus on promoting sur-
vivors’ positive outcomes, rather than merely focusing on re-
storing the victims’ previous states of functioning prior to the
trauma. The introduction of experiential learning and arts-based
education in China will also serve as an innovative alternative
to the traditional classroom and one-way teaching methods com-
monly used across the Country.
The authors would like to express heartfelt gratitude to the
Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation and the Tsinghua Univer-
sity Education Foundation for funding this project. Special thanks
also go to trainers and project assistants from Tsinghua Univer-
sity and The Institute of Psychology, China Academy of Sci-
ences for their full support in the implementation of the training
and research, and most importantly, to all the teachers and edu-
cators for their participation.
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