I spend a lot of my time at home watching Sesame Street. The cool thing about Sesame Street is that if you’re a parent, you know about it and if you’re not a parent, you remember it. I like that it’s been around my entire life – it represents quality in education that’s not present all the time. Anyway, have you ever noticed that even as the community of Sesame Street changes (I had no idea who the new person running Hooper’s store was for the longest time), the essential character dynamics stay the same?
Schools are like that too. The kids change, the administrators change and the teachers change, but the “characters” stay the same. You’ve got to keep that in mind when starting any new program in a school, but especially an arts integration program. I’ve already discussed in an earlier post how arts integration is a “high-risk” program to try and implement because it pushes people right to the edge of their comfort zones. Teachers immediately put up their defenses and walls because it’s requiring them to use skills they may think they don’t possess. So you have to walk a careful line when implementing a program like this, or it will fall right off a cliff and you’ll be wondering when you stepped off the edge.
The most important thing to keep in mind is what I call the SNAP principle. Secure knowledge, Network, bring in some Artists and Plan, be Persistent and be Patient. The first thing you want to do is gain as much knowledge and research as you can on this subject. Read a ton of articles on what it is, how to do it, and what the data behind it shows. Everything in schools needs to be research-based, so if you have this up front, you’ll be in a far better position when trying to put it in place. You must also know the characters that will forever be in your building and how they can help or hinder this process.
Sticking with our Sesame Street theme, there are several characters you’ll meet everywhere. There are the “Berts” that are intense and easily upset. Then we have the “Ernies” that are the free spirits. “Oscars” are obviously your naysayers, while “Big Birds” are quirky, naive and question everything. “Cookie Monsters” have a one-track mind and “Elmos” try to find utopia with any project, though they need a blanket for comfort. “Grovers” are self-confident and intelligent and finally, “Guy Smileys” have a wide mouth and like to explore the worlds of others without revealing their own. We all know people like this and work with each of these types. Make sure you know who you are dealing with and how best to use these characteristics to build your new community.
After that, network yourself like crazy. Go to conferences, meet other teachers and artists that are doing this method of teaching, visit other schools and beg, borrow and steal whatever they are doing. This allows you to use the wheel that’s already been invented while at the same time gaining more of that knowledge from step one. After you network, you should have a good list of artists that can come to your school and plan with your teachers or lead a residency or professional development. Bring these wonderful people in and give the teachers a door to walk through so that they can feel comfortable in these mediums. Doing this also allows your specialists in art, music, PE and drama feel valuable and highlights them as a huge resource that the school already has. Finally, you MUST provide time for planning. This includes not only teacher planning time for lessons using arts integration, but also planning time for implementation of the program, and planning for discovering natural connections within the content areas. This then leads to being persistent all year long and checking in to see how people are progressing and being patient with the baby steps. The program will take off on its own – but you must be patient in allowing people to feel safe with experimenting small first in order to get immediate rewards and return later.
By following these simple steps, you’ll be on your way to building a successful arts integration program that will enhance and deepen student learning and bring achievement to all students in your building. Characters may change, but their “character” will not. May your new Street provide you and your students with sunny days for a lifetime.
Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.