I have been working on a project for the Visual and Performing Arts Department in my district to revise some theater lessons. Initially, I was ready to dive right in and just work on it one lesson at a time, making sure the activities realized the stated objective; that they were age appropriate and that they would be able to be facilitated within the given time constraints. Then I stopped and thought, “Wait, why are we doing this again?” I realized that these lessons were originally written for a very different kind of implementation in a very different context, and that the revisions needed to reflect this new reality.
Once I started down that line of thought, I really started to dig even deeper into intention on visual and performing arts. Of course, all the lessons are based on art standards, and the lessons reflect those standards, but standards are so broad. For these collections of lessons, they need to be able to stand on their own, but also create a learning arc. While they are not a unit in the traditional sense, there should be a unifying thread and a sense of cohesion. I was left asking myself, “What is that exactly?”
Over the past few years of writing for Education Closet, I have had a number of articles that reflect what I call my “duh” moments, and this is another one of those. It may seem rather obvious, but we as teachers need to know exactly why we are doing what we are doing for every teaching moment, and our students should know why they need to understand about visual and performing arts too. Not only that, but we should know where we are ultimately headed, keeping intention clear on a micro and macro level.
While the importance of having clear intentions may seem obvious, I find it amazing how often this can get lost. In my own teaching and in working on a vision for the whole school, we can get so caught up in the day to day, or the moment to moment that we don’t always take a step back and reflect on what our original objective was, and whether we are staying true to that objective. I worked with an amazing dance teacher who talked about how every lesson she wrote had an objective and a North Star.
The North Star was the unspoken underlying hope she had for her students that may not be spelled out in state standards, but that guides her teaching. I think we all need a North Star to keep us headed in the right direction. As that old saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end of somewhere else. I like the North Star metaphor because the intention or guiding objective should be high up in the sky where everyone can see it, and all can be guided by it.
As I work on this revision project for my district, and as I head into the last trimester at both of the year-round calendar schools where I work, and as our musical production team heads into the home stretch, I vow to be more mindful of intention on both the micro and macro levels. Ensuring that all the parties involved are on the same page, adults and children alike, and that all are being guided by the same star. I want to be sure that every so often we check in and ask, “Wait, why are we doing this again?”, and I want to be sure that we all have the same answer!
If you’re ever in need, of a visual aid for your students when trying to teach art’s education like in visual and performing arts, or just to give them as a reminder, check out EducationCloset’s downloadable Arts Integration Student Placemat:
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.