When is the last time you had one of those “duh” moments?
I consider a “duh” moment to be like an “aha” moment. Except, when the “aha” registers it seems so obvious you cannot believe you are just now having the realization. With the school year over, I have more time to reflect on the past year. As well as, think about strategy for the year ahead. All that thinking has led me to a “duh” moment, giving me a goal for the upcoming school year.
“Celebration of Learning”
At the end of this past school year, one of the schools I worked at had what we called a “Celebration of Learning.” Not only did the students share work created as a result of arts integration units, but the process of the learning was also shared with the audience. For instance, this ranged from showing theater exercises, to having students narrate the learning during a dance presentation to having visual art work on display. Before the event began, I gave a brief description of arts integration in English. A translator shared my message in Spanish, given the high number of Spanish speakers in our audience. I am thrilled that our school had this kind of sharing for the very first time this year. I am so proud of the hard work that the teachers, and the students invested in this learning process.
However, that evening made me realize we left the families largely out of the loop. A five minute explanation before the student presentations was hardly sufficient to help the parents appreciate the difference between these presentations and the student performances of song and movement in our annual “Winter Showcase” that is a school tradition. The teachers and students were doing this exciting work integrating the arts with the core curriculum but we as a school never made a concerted effort to educate the parents in the difference between teaching the arts and arts integration.
Now, as a school, we did try to connect families and arts integration by encouraging involvement this year to a much higher degree than in previous years. However, we never created a comprehensive plan for educating our families and the greater community about arts integration and that, I think, needs to change. As a school we need to have regular sharings of this kind of arts integrated learning. We already have monthly “Family Fridays” where our families are invited to come into the classrooms but we never strategically planned as a staff to utilize those visits to educate the families. Those Fridays could be golden opportunities to involve families in arts integration activities with their children so families have a deeper understanding of the approach.
As the next school year progresses and units wrap up, families could be invited into classrooms for informances so they regularly get to witness arts integrated learning up-close. If they repeatedly witness the process of arts integrated learning, if they get to engage in the process of arts integrated learning and if they have the chance to ask questions about arts integration, our families will have a greater appreciation for events like our “Celebration of Learning”. While it was a wonderful event, it bewildered some of our families who walked in expecting a more typical performance, a showcase of performing arts.
The families of our students are a very important part of the greater school community and they cannot be neglected. They need to be partners in the learning of the children and valued as such. As valued partners in the process of educating children, schools need to include families in learning initiatives. The families need to feel welcome in our schools and feel a part of the learning process. Perhaps this is just the tip of my “duh” iceberg, but I know one goal I am going to propose for the next school year is that we educators think of as many creative ways as we can to involve and engage our families in this exciting arts integrated learning journey.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.