Have you ever met that person that simply doesn’t “connect” with anyone in the room? I mean, forget warm and fuzzy…there’s not even tepid and textured. In Arts Integration, this type of leader has the potential to cause the whole process to stall before it even generate any traction. See, I’m a big believer that when you’re working with Arts Integration, you need a little Disney. A little song and dance with some big smiles and positive attitudes. Because Arts Integration is hard work. Arts Integration causes many people to react out of fear initially, and they need a chance for someone to just praise them a little bit as they wade into these new waters. Yes, even you cynical high school teachers need a little Disney sometimes.
Why is this so critical to establish for a successful Arts Integration community? Because being the cheerleader is what motivates teachers to step out of their box and give this crazy thing a whirl. It allows them to feel okay with not focusing on the test for one moment and to trust that allotting time for students to be creative will not cause them to fail. And, it’s the oil that moves all the wheels in the community: parents, teachers, students, arts partners and administrators. The trick, though, is to make sure that you balance out all those smiles and cheers with some practical, real-world experiences. Because after all, we all know what happens when you get too much cheerful sunshine: you get a little sick.
So how can you accomplish this delicate balance? It’s what I like to call the Pom-Poms and the Megaphone.
You want to give those little bursts of cheers fairly often, and in such a way that it doesn’t draw a lot of attention. I like to keep my eyes and ears open to when teachers are pushing themselves to try a new Arts Integration strategy or even collaborate with another teacher. When I catch these good things going on, I’ll leave a small note for them in their box saying how much I truly appreciate their hard work and willingness to try something new. And then I leave it alone.
I don’t approach them in the hall to talk about it (unless they stop me first) or make a big deal about it. It’s just a small little check-in piece that lets them know that they are headed in the right direction. These little “that’a boys” are more important than you’ll ever realize. People cherish these things because they happen so infrequently and it allays their fears and empowers them to keep going.
These are the big pieces. They happen less frequently (maybe once a marking period), but they are just as important. These pieces include highlighting a teacher’s lesson at a staff meeting, inviting the teachers, administrators and parents to display their own works of art (quilting, photography, a CD of music, etc) at a gallery for a spring arts night or a video of different teachers who are using Arts Integration and their thoughts on the process. These “big rocks” let everyone know how important Arts Integration is to the school community and encourages everyone to participate in a good thing.
You don’t have to be sappy or sickeningly sweet to be a cheerleader to create a fantastic Arts Integration community. But you DO need to make an intentional effort to consistently monitor and recognize all of the little wins along the way. Otherwise, Arts Integration will just be seen as “one more thing”. As you begin the school year, think about the little things you can do to gather support for this initiative. What ways do you find work for motivating the teachers in your building? Go ahead and dish below – because Disney has more than one ride to keep it going!
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.