Our team has identified professional development (PD) as one of the essential components to our success in moving toward whole school arts integration. The trick is ensuring that the arts-based instructional strategies which make it happen are shared with and implemented by the school’s entire teaching staff. Since equity is one of our essential values, how else can we ensure that all students are reached and have opportunities to learn and succeed through the arts?
Embracing a trial and error attitude and a willingness to learn from our mistakes has resulted in a shift in our professional learning model, one that we believe will not only have broader impact but will also lead to greater sustainability of the approach.
Adjustments this fall in our PD model purposefully built on the idea of professional capital based on the work of Michael Fullan and Andy Hargraeves and their book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. The theory, introduced to us by longtime educator and Portland State University professor Pat Burk, is that student achievement is more likely when teachers have opportunities to learn from each other and actually seek each other out for advice on teaching practices. In other words, rather than relying on the district designated “expert” or the principal as instructional leader, teachers find that their peers are their greatest resource.
With this thinking in mind, we have re-designed our professional development training to build the capacity of what we are calling Arts Education Leadership Teams at each school. These teams are charged with learning and adopting four arts-based teaching strategies presented at PD, and assuming responsibility for taking them back to their colleagues. Time at PD is allotted for each leadership team to begin developing an implementation plan so have concrete next steps. A RACC Right Brain staff member is assigned to follow up with and support the school on-site in its implementation. This approach is both more efficient and cost effective by avoiding the extra expense and time of our former pull-out model where teachers were trained off-campus two days each year. We will assess the effectiveness of this new approach through pre- and post-surveys of all teachers that will measure how often they use arts-based teaching strategies and the reasons for their use.
Our belief is that we can empower teachers as instructional leaders and therefore ensure greater success in their adoption and implementation of whole school arts integration.
The challenge is addressing the barriers that so often come with the best of ideas. We decided to meet this head-on, knowing that so often the answers are among us if only we would take the time to think and reflect. During the training, school teams examined the challenges and opportunities specific to their buildings of moving to whole school arts integration. The trick is avoiding the laundry list of challenges or barriers without carefully considering the inherent opportunities they might also present. To help explore this, we led schools through a T-chart exercise where they identified one challenge, then an opportunity associated with that challenge before moving to another challenge.
As we work to overcome these challenges, we will engage building leadership, facilitating the sharing of ideas and solutions between school Arts Education Leadership Teams; identify connections to school district priorities such as equity, literacy and student engagement; and draw on the resources of district level support systems such as instructional coaches and mentors.