As our project entered Year 4, we thought we’d arrived at the perfect solution to advancing our goal of educational equity through the arts, in our case with an arts integrated approach. To ensure we reached our equity goal, all we needed to do was measure the frequency of teachers’ use of the arts-based strategies we introduced and their impact on student learning.
The prior year (Year 3) we took the first step by transitioning our professional development from off-site to school-based and established teacher leadership teams at each school to lead their peers in arts integrated teaching and learning. We hired an Education Specialist to support these teams, knowing the caseload was a stretch with 51 schools including our three Studio to School sites. We quickly learned that this arrangement compromised our ability to support schools in the way we had imagined.
In addition, we were squarely facing the need to adapt to a middle school environment The Right Brain Initiative’s model that has been generally effective in elementary self-contained classrooms.
Then, in discussions with principals and teachers, we began hearing that our communication systems were confusing and complicated. There was one point of contact for teacher support and on-site professional development, another regarding artist residencies and someone else if there were budget questions.
It would have been easy to consider Year 4 a wasted year. But in the spirit of continuous improvement we found that it’s been an exercise in failing forward.
Research question tweaks
Last year, we focused on whether or not and how much teachers increased their use of Right Brain instructional strategies in teaching core content. Now we are researching the key factors in effectively implementing whole school arts integration?
Also in Year 4 we wondered if students had improved literacy and critical thinking skills. This year’s we are considering more broadly the impact of arts integrated teaching on student learning.
Differences in methodology
We plan to retain teacher pre/post-surveys scheduled in October and May, principal and teacher focus groups in April-May and student interviews throughout the school year. Added are exit slips collected from teachers at the conclusion staff trainings that are embedded in faculty meetings. Since our research is focused on teacher practice, we have omitted any investigation of the impact of artist residencies.
Adjustments to staffing and other supports
In principal and teacher focus groups and other settings, we learned of communication challenges with multiple Right Brain staff contacting schools whether it was about the cycles of implementation, residency planning or budgets. In Year 5 we restructured our staffing to provide new Arts Integration Specialists from RACC to support all aspects of the program from teacher practice to residencies. This will allow for more cohesion and stronger relationships with schools. With more reasonable caseloads of 17 to 25 schools each, these specialist support school-based Arts Integration Leadership Teams. One will work with Evergreen Middle School and another is assigned to Eastwood and Quatama Elementary Schools.
Low responses to our twice-a-year teacher surveys led us to establish teacher liaisons at each school who are the main point of contact for their Arts Integration Specialists. A stipend is provided to acknowledge their role in collecting surveys and exit slips and coordinating scheduling of teacher training by the leadership team.
A surprising partnership emerged between Evergreen and Poynter, another Hillsboro Right Brain middle school, which holds great promise for addressing the challenges of middle school implementation. By collaborating on planning and reflecting on their experiences, building administrators have become thought partners.