There’s a phrase in business that says “the transformation is in the transaction”. What this means is that people, situations or even an initiative will never transform if there’s nothing exchanged. In our world as educators, I use this phrase to remind myself that unless we actually take that big step into aligning standards, assessing those standards and teaching in and through the arts using those standards, the transformation will never occur.
We all begin arts integration in similar places. Typically this means helping teachers learn some strategies in each of the arts areas and getting them a quick win with their students using the strategies in a lesson. Soon, teachers are excited about “arts integration” because they’re using a visual thinking strategy and seeing success with their students. Or the grant has provided them with opportunities to partner with local or national businesses or organizations. And this brings in new experiences, teaching artists or tools and materials like 3D printers or new instruments.
EVOLUTION IS NOT AN EVENT
It’s time for some real-talk. Strategies are great, partnerships are great. And that’s absolutely where we should start. But it’s surface-level. To get the results that research promises with arts integration, we must commit to having skin in the game.
That means having the courage to take the risk that a lesson might not work, or getting creative with our schedules to provide collaborative planning time between content and arts area teachers. Evolution is not an event. It’s not just a big showcase or having everyone using arts strategies that are comfortable.
We’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’ve got to take the Indiana Jones leap. You know the one I’m talking about – where Indiana Jones has to get across the canyon but there’s nothing but thin air between him and the other side? He had to take a step out on faith and he saw the ledge appear. Take the leap and the net will appear for you, too.
This means wrestling with the fact that many of our teachers and leaders don’t really know the standards of each content area. It means acknowledging that assessments don’t always have to be a rubric. It means getting real with where we’re at and using that as a starting line, not a medals stand. You’ve done an amazing job so far, but what got you here, won’t get you there.
USE WHAT’S IN YOUR WAY TO MOVE FORWARD
So what do you do? As Brene Brown shares in her incredible book, Dare to Lead, “The way to move information from your head to your heart is through your hands”.
One of the ways our organization EducationCloset works with schools is by helping them determine what’s standing in their way and then using that as the way forward through their hands.
You’ve got to be brave enough to take an inventory of what you’ve accomplished, what you’ve learned and where you’ve fallen and use that as your pathway toward a new vision.
ARTS INTEGRATION SUCCESS METRICS
As you’re building your vision, there are some key performance metrics that are helpful to keep in mind.
1. There is a Visible Vision
First, you need to have an established vision for using arts integration and it should be visible throughout the school. It’s not enough to just have a great visionary statement. We need to see it. I’ve seen schools do this in a number of ways – from painting a wall with whiteboard paint in the lobby with the day’s arts integration lessons being taught, to posting student artwork and multimedia installations out in the hallways with artist statements. Your vision should be a living component.
2. Your Why, What and How is Clear
There also has to be a clear understanding of the arts integration approach by all stakeholders – teachers, students, parents and community members. Everyone needs to know why and what this is.
3. Data is Captured Authentically and Purposefully
Another big metric is the data you keep. Are you collecting, analyzing and making adjustments to your integrated instruction based on peer reviews, reflection and formal data? If it’s not measured, it doesn’t get done.
4. Standards Alignment Occurs in All Lessons
Are arts integrated lessons being created and implemented which contain aligned content and arts standards and are there equitable assessments for both aligned standards?
5. Schedules Provide Time for Collaborative Planning & Direct Arts Instruction
Do you make room for regular collaborative planning intervals that include cross-teams of grade-level/content/arts area teachers? Is direct arts instruction available to all students? Both of these are critical for arts integration success.
Schedules should be reviewed and revised to provide time for arts integration during the school day within the classroom. Arts integration should be an embedded practice for how we teach – not a dedicated class without classroom or arts content connections.
6. There is Consistent Professional Development
Is professional development in arts integration strategies, standards alignments and assessment practices being provided for teachers on a consistent basis?
7. Partnerships are Established and Cultivated
And finally, do you have actively established and cultivated community and arts partnerships for sustainability? It’s not enough to have a nice long list of partners and potential partners. What do you do to actively engage and respond to them so they are with you for the long-haul?
Each of these metrics will help guide your next steps. Don’t take them as a judgment of the quality of your program. Instead, use these metrics to help you determine where your starting line is.
BE THE VISIONARY
Remember: Your past is your teacher, not your fortune teller. Just because something worked or didn’t work in the past doesn’t mean it will be that way in the future. Learn from the past, but don’t let it hold you back from creating the vision you want for your schools.