In my little world of Arts Integration and STEAM, there is this utopia where everyone uses integration without hesitation because they know that the approach is one of the most effective ways to reach and teach the whole child. They don’t worry about how the time spent on an integrated lesson will effect test scores, nor do they fear that their administrator will reprimand them for encouraging creativity in their classroom. Scheduling isn’t an issue because integration is valued and collaborative planning is built-in as part of the regular school day. The community and parents are supportive because they see the pure joy that their children receive from learning and know that it will have a positive effect on their future.
It’s a nice dream, right?
The fact is, there are some true challenges to integration that need to be addressed in order for others in our schools to get on board the integration train. Many of you who are regular visitors here are passionate about this approach and get excited about implementing it in our classrooms and schools. And yes, I’m speaking with you in mind today because you are the ambassadors for integration’s success – you need the tools to help you create buy-in from your colleagues. But I’m also speaking to those of you who are skeptical about this approach, or are curious as to how we’ll actually address the tough realities of schools in the 21st century. This article is to help show you that we do recognize the hurdles, but that there are effective ways to jump over them if you embrace the overarching premise that integration is one of the most effective ways to help children learn.
Jumping the Hurdles
The first thing you need to do to create buy-in is to address the challenges head-on. Never gloss over someone’s question or concern – if it’s important to them, it’s important to you. In that spirit, let’s take a look at some of the common hurdles for the integrated approach.
1. How will this effect test scores? This question isn’t really about the effect of integration on test scores, since research has shown time and again that test scores go up when integration is used throughout instruction. This question is truly asking “what will happen if this approach doesn’t work for my students and they score badly on the test?” This is a trust question – they do not yet trust that taking the time away from tried-and-true will result in better scores. Provide the data and evidence that they need to see, and then help them through the process by encouraging them to try just one lesson. Don’t go overboard at the very beginning!
2. I don’t know these other standards! No one can know all of the standards in every subject area – not even an administrator. This concern is truly rooted in the discomfort of teaching through another content area in which they are not the expert. Encourage teachers to use an area that they enjoy or are comfortable in to start. Always begin with low-risk strategies like visual arts thinking routines or dramatic tableaus so that teachers can feel empowered for success in their own classrooms.
3. Why should I assess an arts area? This is an excellent question because it tells us that there is a misconception between evaluation and assessment. Classroom teachers are worried about the scores in the grade book – that they are not qualified to make a judgment about whether or not a student’s art is high-quality. They should feel nervous, because they are NOT qualified to make that evaluation. They ARE qualified to be able to assess whether or not students have made progress towards a standard, as long as they are clear from the arts educator as to what that standard should look like. Providing some rubrics and assessment strategies can help lower their understandable anxiety.
4. How will we find the time to do this? This is an area of considerable concern and unfortunately, the answer is not clear cut. It truly depends on the school and the administrative team. If integration is something that is valued by the school and administrators, then time can always be found. It can be built in at certain times of the year, collaborative integrated planning can be built into staff meetings or there could be a dedicated integration planning day. If this is not something that administrators are yet willing to invest time and resources into, then teachers will need to find enough value in integration to carve out time for themselves outside of the traditional school day. This includes before and after school, or during the summer.
Always listen for the core of any question or concern when it comes to creating teacher buy-in. Just like in the first question example, not every question is really about how it has been phrased. You need to truly listen for what the concern is before you can address it. So many times, we are quick to want people to jump on board with us that we fill in the blanks for them. Keep asking them questions until you get to the root of the concern or question and then do your best to explore it with practical and relevant solutions and examples.
Don’t feel like you need to get everyone on board all at once! The best thing you can do is to get a small team of teachers who are willing to try the integrated approach and then to engage them in some hands-on PD and some school or classroom visits. Once teachers have a set of tools and have seen it done in other classes, they are much more willing to give it a try themselves. Even if you have a team of 1-2 teachers who are willing to try this with you and each of you only do one lesson that year, that is tremendous progress! As students engage in these lessons, they will get excited and tell their friends and family about their experiences. Soon, other students and parents will be asking their teachers if they could try an integrated lesson. By then, you’ll be ready to share those practical examples and help them get their feet wet.
What other questions do you have about the integrated approach? What walls are you up against? Let us know in the comments below so that we can all help each other!
Susan Riley is the founder and President 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 Arts and the Common Core.
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.