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Amy Lynne Pobanz: The Perfect Place to Teach and Learn

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

I dream about it. The perfect place to teach and learn. A district that celebrates the arts. I fantasize about amazing arts facilities and resources for my students. I long to feel valued and supported...

I dream about it. The perfect place to teach and learn. A district that celebrates the arts. I fantasize about amazing arts facilities and resources for my students. I long to feel valued and supported as a teacher. I am a bit jealous when I visit a school district that has an amazing gallery space, a well outfitted recording studio, an orchestra, a black box theatre, or a dance studio.   If you are an arts educator, chances are you can relate. Too many of us teach in underfunded programs with meager facilities and resources. It’s easy to complain about all of the challenges that face us as arts educators. Believe me, I am guilty of my fair share of complaining. I am sure you won’t be surprised to learn that venting my frustrations did not help to improve the arts in my district or community.  

I found myself with a choice. I could either complain or I could be an agent for change. I asked myself this question, “What actions could I take that would positively change the landscape of arts education in my school district and community?” At first it felt like a loaded question and a daunting task. I wasn’t even sure where to begin. Could I even articulate my vision for a perfect place to teach and learn in the arts? 

Don’t feel overwhelmed. I began by using MAEIA (Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment Project) tools. MAEIA resources are free for your use and have been designed to support your work advancing arts education in your schools and communities. You can always reach out to MAEIA personnel and request additional support.     

I have come to value the word- “place.” It is a powerful word. “Cultural geographers, anthropologists, sociologists and urban planners study why certain places hold special meaning to particular people or animals. Places said to have a strong “sense of place” have a strong identity that is deeply felt by inhabitants and visitors.”  Consider the impact of place as you envision your perfect place to teach and learn. Here are some steps that may guide your journey.

Step 1. Assemble 

Assemble a team of people who are passionate about the arts in your school and community. Be inclusive; invite all arts teachers, invite students, invite parents, invite administrators, invite community organizations, invite community leaders. I believe collaboration is an essential component to any great endeavor. 

Step 2.  Envision 

Read and reflect on the Michigan Blueprint of a Quality Arts Education Program tool (see link below). Have dialog as a group about your greatest dreams and vision for your district arts program. Imagine what could be.

Michigan Blueprint of a Quality Arts Education Program—a goal-setting document for arts education program and school improvement purposes. The Blueprint describes the highest standards of successful arts education programs in dance, music, theatre and visual arts along seven criteria that are aligned with the Michigan School Improvement Framework.

Step 3.  Reflect 

Complete the program review tool (see link below). This tool collects data that can be used to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your current arts program. This is a wonderful process that provides insight into your program and promotes healthy dialog about program improvement. I cannot stress the importance of this tool. This process empowers arts educators to have conversations with administrators and school boards about the quality of their arts program. Arts educators can make statements that are supported by data from a State funded arts assessment tool. Share your findings with colleagues, administrators, and the school board. 

Note:  The PRT tool is moving from paper and pencil to a web-based assessment tool.  Please contact the MAEIA administrative team before beginning the PRT process to see if your team is able to use the web-based version.

Step 4.  Develop

Develop a District Arts Plan. Communicate the vision of your arts team with all stakeholders. Ask to meet several times a year with your school board members and present annually to the school board. Here is a link to my favorite reference resource for developing an arts plan.

Step 5.  Connect 

Connect with other arts educators and be involved in arts education and advocacy in Michigan. Meet artists, take classes, go to performances, create.  

Amy Lynne Pobanz is a visual arts educator and MAEIA Leadership Fellow with over 20 years of experience teaching in traditional, virtual, and blended learning environments.

A downloadable pdf of this article is available here: Pobanz_ThePerfectPlacetoTeachandLearn.


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Cathy DePentu: Developing Whole, Productive, Creative Humans

Cathy DePentu    Leave a Comment   

Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” resonates with many arts educators. The concept “Start with...

Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” resonates with many arts educators. The concept “Start with Why?” is how we approach every project, every rehearsal and every performance. Starting with the reason, or goal for the performance is an “art-centric” learning and teaching process. Surprisingly, when I returned to school last fall, my district had shifted their focus to the “Why” from our previous data-driven, test-focused, “show me the numbers” improvement plan. We were directed to look for unique, creative ways to engage our classes—to “Start with Why?” Wow.

My first thought was that the district should go to the people who have been teaching this way for years…the arts educators. Perhaps WE could be a resource to assist all teachers as they begin to think about a new approach to how they work in their classroom. Our ability to keep classes of 60-80 (or more) students engaged, collaborative, focused and learning every day could be a valuable addition to those endless professional development days…

Recently, I went to the interactive Pixar exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum. I went with a friend who teaches science, and it was fascinating to see things from her perspective. Obviously, Pixar films are made using the most advanced computer technology, and the programmers are experts in math and science. As we walked through the exhibit, I was struck by how our subject areas were linked in virtually every step of the creation of the movies! The exhibit featured videos of many of the programmers and technicians responsible for creating the characters and the storylines. I was very surprised (and pleased) at what I heard from many of the videos.

Virtually all of the programmers saw their work as using their math and science as a way to honor the artist’s vision of the characters. One of the programmers had played the cello as a student, and cited using the process of practicing—doing things over and over again, using self-analysis and a willingness to fail and continue to try, as being characteristics that are exceedingly valuable to him now in his work.

The collaboration between the technicians, programmers and artists was so inspiring. I was impressed by the collective desire to use technology to honor an artist’s vision. I hope that my fellow teachers will unite to value every subject and its importance in the development of whole, productive, creative humans.

Cathy Depentu is a MAEIA Leadership Fellow and serves as Director of Orchestras for Plymouth Canton Community Schools.

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here: Cathy DePentu_Developing Whole, Productive, Creative Humans.

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Debra Henning: HUSTLE Opens Science Gallery Detroit

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

  In 2008 science and art moved a step closer with the opening of


In 2008 science and art moved a step closer with the opening of Science Gallery Dublin at Trinity College. Science Gallery International followed in 2012 with the goal of establishing a Global Science Gallery Network with eight nodes by 2020. Today the Network has six members across four continents: Dublin, London, Melbourne, Bengaluru, Venice, and now Detroit. Bringing together a remarkable group of research institutions – Trinity College Dublin, Kings College London, University of Melbourne, the Indian Institute of Science along with the National Centre for Biological Sciences and Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bengaluru, and in the U.S., Michigan State University – the highly collaborative peer group of Science Galleries targets a unique demographic – 15 to 25 year olds who, founders believe, “hold the potential to solve the world’s biggest challenges.”

The opening of Science Gallery Lab Detroit’s first exhibition, HUSTLE, brings the work of seventeen artists, each working at the intersections of art, science, and technology, to the U.S. Open through August 25th, the exhibit “explores the many definitions of survival and success.”  In Connor McGarrigle’s social media data project, #RiseandGrind,” which uses Twitter output to train a supervised machine learning algorithm, audiences can interact with the work and assist in the training process by tweeting with the project hashtag #RiseandGrindSGLD. “Post Laboratory,” a work by the German artist, Ottonie von Roeder “aims to liberate us from the idea of the necessity of labor, and supports us in discovering our true desires.” From “Blood, Sweat and Tears” to “Virtual Hustle,” the exhibits are “connective, participative, and surprising,” which is what happens when when art and science collide.

Gallery Operating Hours

Tuesday – Saturday | 11 AM to 7 PM

Sunday | 1 PM – 6 PM

Closed on Monday


1001 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48226

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Cheryl L. Poole: A Value of a Rubric to the Teaching Artist……and Where to Find One

Cheryl Poole    Leave a Comment   

If someone wants something from me - a product or a performance, I’ve always been someone to do my best to deliver whatever is expected. The one caveat is that I need to be...

If someone wants something from me – a product or a performance, I’ve always been someone to do my best to deliver whatever is expected. The one caveat is that I need to be clear about what’s expected before I have a shot at delivering. Sometimes I’m shy about asking for an example or a very detailed description but that’s the best way to ensure that I get it right. That is the purpose of a rubric, i.e. to be clear about what is expected and to ensure the best chance of delivering. However, a rubric goes a couple steps further. It provides some insights to a performance or product if it isn’t quite perfect. It helps to identify the characteristics of a performance that falls short of exemplary.

Rubrics have most recently been used by teachers in traditional classroom settings. How often is it used by teachers in nontraditional settings? For example, how often do teaching artists or instructors in community organizations use the tool that will make their expectations as transparent as possible for students? What gets in the way of their using them even if the benefit is quite clear?

The teaching artist might find the creation of rubrics a bit overwhelming especially if teaching is only a small part of their overall professional role. To create a rubric an artist/instructor must reflect first on exactly how he/she will recognize a high quality performance. That reflection then has to be articulated in descriptive words that a student will understand. While obviously beneficial to determine and articulate the description ahead of time, the visiting artist might well find creating a rubric from scratch to be a large expense of time.

Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment (MAEIA) provides already-created rubrics with each and every one of its 360+ assessments. They are free and easily accessible through It’s important to recognize that the MAEIA rubrics are created to specifically align with the assessment with which it is listed. While all 360+ rubrics are well written by Michigan educators, they are not generic in nature. However, they do provide a starting point for the visiting artist who may not have the time or inclination to learn the skill of creating a rubric.

To locate an appropriate MAEIA rubric, a teaching artist or instructor would first search the assessment catalogue on in the major discipline about which they are teaching; dance, music, theater and visual arts. The list can be filtered down further by grade level. A long list of assessments appear on the screen. The teaching artist can click on and review each assessment that peaks their interest or relates to the skills on which the artist/instructor and the student(s) are working. After finding and clicking on an appropriate assessment, a rubric is visible that was created for that particular assessment. It is an easy and free access to a large range of already-created rubrics.

An easily-accessible rubric does not guarantee that is will fit exactly with the performance or product expectations of the teaching artist. It is only a carefully created articulation of outcomes in a table form. The indicators on the left may need to change or be eliminated altogether. The descriptions of each quality level may also need to be tweaked. Both indicators and quality descriptors will need to reflect the expectations of the teaching artist who is doing the teaching.

In summary, even a non-traditional teacher like a teaching artist or studio instructor can clarify the expectations that they have for their students by using a rubric. They can help the student understand what they are seeking and what it looks like to do well. A teacher serving in a non-traditional role doesn’t need to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of starting from scratch to create a rubric. Hundreds of rubrics are posted with associated assessments on The critical issue is to find one that most closely aligns with your instruction and expected performance or outcomes. That may take a bit of work using the search feature in the assessment catalogue but, once one is found, it is totally permissible to download it and revise it in ways that fit your expectations of your students.

Cheryl L. Poole is an educator with more than 40 years of experience in visual arts, museum administration and facilitating professional learning. She has had the pleasure of working with educators in the MAEIA project over the last 6 years.

A downloadable pdf of this article is available here: Cheryl L. Poole A Value of a Rubric.

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MCACA Arts Education 2018 Grant Update

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs offer arts education grants which support teaching artists creating innovative projects in K-12 schools. The last video on our Professional Learning...

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs offer arts education grants which support teaching artists creating innovative projects in K-12 schools.

The last video on our Professional Learning page for Videos and Webinars features information on how to apply. As you do, we encourage you to keep the MAEIA assessment items in mind for measuring what students learn and demonstrating the success of the teaching artist project or residency. Grant applications are due June 1, 2018.

Need to find a teaching artist? Look at the teaching artist database housed on the Michigan Youth Arts website.

Arts education projects and programs are great ways to boost parent involvement and to address aspects of school culture and climate- important initiatives in school improvement.

Good luck!

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Creating Lessons Which Lead to MAEIA Assessments

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

When I present at workshops the question I am asked most often is, “But how do I teach this?”. As I reflect on my 20 years of teaching, in year one I probably would have had...

When I present at workshops the question I am asked most often is, “But how do I teach this?”.

As I reflect on my 20 years of teaching, in year one I probably would have had the same question. My more experienced self looks back at that beginning teacher I once was and shakes her head. My kids couldn’t sing. I knew what they needed to do, but didn’t know the steps to get them there. Luckily, we all get by with a little help from our friends, and as I have now switched from the role of the helped to the helper, I’d like to outline a few things for those who find themselves asking this question.

How to Get Started

Each of the MAEIA assessments is built on a key concept, or big idea. So when thinking about these assessments, begin with the assessment as the end and outline the skills that students will need to acquire in order to complete it successfully.

Since this assessment involves singing, do a pre-assessment to see if the students are accessing their singing voice. A simple “hello (student’s name)” sung on so-mi  (I use F major) is a good way to find out if students are using their singing voice and matching pitch.

This simple little test will also tell you the students who are comfortable singing solo and those who are not. After determining singing voice, pitch matching and comfort level, try the following activities to build confidence.

Part One

First, set up a classroom where respect for self and others is a given and no other behavior is acceptable.

Build your classroom routines so that during every class students are exploring their voices, singing alone and with others, and creating melodies and songs of their own.

Encourage students to play exploration, make it fun. There are many great books on vocal exploration and teaching singing. I love John Feierabend’s ‘First Steps in Music for Preschool and Beyond’. So many great exploration ideas, poems, stories and games.

Remember developing any skill takes time and repetition. Eat the Elephant one bite at a time and repeat, repeat, repeat!

Part Two

In every class, after 2-4 minutes of exploration, narrow the focus so that students are participating in fragment singing (echo song) where you or another student is modeling healthy, head voice and in-tune singing.

After many weeks of ‘repeat after me songs’, graduate to call and response style songs. Follow this time immediately with simple songs, songs with 3 or 4 notes in the key of F or G that students listen to you sing, and over a period of a three to six lessons sing in large groups, small groups and then solo.

Simple songs, sung often in small groups and most importantly solo build a child’s confidence.

Choose fun songs, if they are about animals or an object, use a prop. If you have a reluctant singer, see if they will use a puppet to sing. Most importantly repeat, repeat, encourage, repeat.

Smile, be positive and your class will smile and be positive too. Never insist that a child sing, never making singing confrontational. If a child refuses to sing, move to the next. If it is chronic, have a quiet conversation with that student, encourage be positive, they will come around.

Part Three

Finally add in the concept of improvising melodies and songs, use puppets and props.

Give prompts like “what did you have for breakfast, make up a song about it’. Or my favorite, “how would this kitten sing?” and hand them a stuffed cat. Have students sing to the person sitting next to him or her first, then share out, or not. Build their confidence by offering these options every single class.

Holly Olszewski teaches for Grand Traverse Area Public Schools and serves as a MAEIA Leadership Fellow, offering professional learning on the MAEIA tools and resources.

A downloadable pdf of this article is available here: Holly Olszewski_Creating Lessons Which Lead to MAEIA Assessments.

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Cheryl L. Poole: Helping Our Evaluators Understand

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

Eavesdropping on a Teacher’s Conversation Recently, I had the opportunity to be present with a small group of art and music teachers. They were young and relatively new to their career. Their...

Eavesdropping on a Teacher’s Conversation

Recently, I had the opportunity to be present with a small group of art and music teachers. They were young and relatively new to their career. Their voices where animated with sharing about their projects, their students, their administrators and the challenges of full days and equally full evenings of preparation. Listening from a position of post-retirement, I enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversations. It made me a bit nostalgic for the years when my career was in full swing and I was still striving to improve my teaching every day.

One brief conversation has lingered with me. A young teacher was frustrated because of a contentious exchange she’d had with an administrator who evaluated her. The feedback she received on her instruction showed little understanding of her teaching goals. She continued saying that she gathered her thoughts before confronting the administrator about her evaluation. She asked why she had received such mediocre feedback. She explained that she had been instructing for higher-level thinking and analysis of the project in a historical context. The administrator listened closely then apologized saying that she didn’t realize what the teacher was doing.

The remainder of the conversation I overheard went something like this: “I can’t believe that she would give me a low score just because she couldn’t recognize what I was doing! She even admitted that she didn’t understand what I was trying to accomplish with my kids. If she couldn’t recognize what I was doing, she shouldn’t have been evaluating me.”

Experiencing a Flashback

That is the part of the dialogue that stuck with me. It caused me to flashback to myself as a young teacher, indignant after an evaluation, because I remember thinking that the assistant principal assigned to observe my teaching and write an evaluation clearly didn’t know what I was attempting to do.

Now, from the far end of my career – post-retirement – I look upon that young teacher’s frustration, along with own, through a wholly different lens.

Wondering Why, as a Young Teacher, I Didn’t Ask Myself …

Why was my default position as a young teacher to believe that my observer’s opinion was absolute and final (albeit, in my opinion, wrong)?

Why didn’t I assume more agency for my own teaching? It had taken me 4 years of college plus several years of practice to learn how to best teach the curriculum I was teaching.

Why did I expect that a randomly-assigned assistant principal (one who hadn’t taught for almost 30 years) would understand what I was doing and why? Especially after only a 30-minute observation? Even an administrator with a background in arts education would likely not be able to do much better.

Analyzing the recent conversation and the flashback I wondered why, way back then, I didn’t I take a more active role in advocating for myself.

I suspect it was lack of confidence. Maybe I assumed my opinion wasn’t valued? I think the attitude at the time was that the evaluator had the expertise necessary to do his job and I was just a beginning teacher.

Looking back on that long-ago experience, I know that he didn’t have the expertise and couldn’t have known what I as a professional was attempting to get my students to demonstrate. He was told to go into my room, observe me and interpret what he saw….and he did.

Making Powerful Instruction More Transparent

Remembering the painful experience of being judged (evidenced by the fact I recall it with a sting even 40 years later) and recently hearing young teachers reflect on similar ‘injustices’ makes me think about how easy it would be today to help the evaluator see more clearly the how and why of instruction.

The MAEIA assessments – all readily available and searchable online – contain tools to make instructional goals more transparent. Each has a concise list of standards associated with the assessment and at least one rubric that describes the preferred student performance.

The sting in an evaluator’s interpretation of a teaching observation often comes from what is a chance interpretation of what the evaluator sees. He/she might simply not understand what you are trying to get your students to deliver.

How better to eliminate the chance factor with a well-timed, one-page sheet listing the standards and a rubric showing the complex behaviors you and your students are seeking!

-It takes is a modest amount of pre-work to search the MAEIA assessment catalogue to find one that comes closest to your instructional goals.

-Then, if necessary, tweak the rubric to be clearer for your evaluator.

-Cut and paste the standards and the rubric into a handy one-pager.

-Make sure it’s available to your evaluator during the observation or drop it off before your evaluation has been processed.

Although the MAEIA tools were not even in the dream stage back when my evaluator critiqued my instruction, what if they had been? I could have helped him see and interpret the performance goals for which my students and I were reaching. He would have been so impressed. I’m sure he also would have been relieved to not have to create a respectable interpretation of what he saw my students and I doing in my classroom.

Here are two thoughts that have condensed from my eavesdropping the conversation between young arts educators and my time-travel back to when I was one of them.

-Don’t assume your observer or evaluator knows how to teach any arts discipline as well as you do or that they are able to decipher your instructional goals by merely observing.

-Be prepared for any observation by having a focused list of standards and one or more rubric(s) that illustrates what standards underlay your instruction and what performance you are seeking from your students.

Search MAEIA online assessment catalogue ( for an assessment that is as close as possible to your current lesson and targeted standards.

Revise the assessment’s rubric to match precisely what you expect your students to achieve.

Print off the rubric(s) and the associated standards on a single page to help your observer interpret what he/she is seeing.

Editor’s Note:

MAEIA has developed and continues to develop tools to facilitate greater ease in the educator evaluation process. Check out our Demonstrating Educator Effectiveness videos, (scroll to mid-page),  particularly DEE videos 3 and 4, to consider your own agency while interacting with administration and sharing the stories of your students and of your teaching more dynamically. See our Educator Effectiveness page for guidance in using the MAEIA resources in the stages of your educator evaluation process.

Cheryl L. Poole is an educator with more than 40 years of experience in visual arts, museum administration and facilitating professional learning. She has had the pleasure of working with educators in the MAEIA project over the last 5 years.

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here: CherylLPoole_Helping Our Evaluators Understand

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Image: Arts Education Field Guide, Americans for the Arts

Barb Whitney: Advocating for Students through the Arts

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

Access to the arts for students in schools offers an avenue for self-expression and a source of inspiration. Beyond that, the arts develop students’ critical thinking skills. Additionally, numerous studies prove the arts benefit academic...

Access to the arts for students in schools offers an avenue for self-expression and a source of inspiration. Beyond that, the arts develop students’ critical thinking skills. Additionally, numerous studies prove the arts benefit academic performance, including that of standardized testing.

Image Credit: Creative Commons

A wealth of relevant data exists proving that students regularly exposed to the arts are more successful both inside and outside of school. In the landmark 2003 Critical Links publication, 62 academic research studies collectively demonstrated that arts education improves not only academic skills, but students’ motivation and achievement.

Moreover, students in low-income schools are affected more significantly than their counterparts. James Catterall’s large-scale longitudinal study titled “Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art” found that in particular disadvantaged students with arts involvement showed strong associations with voting and volunteerism, college enrollment, and better earning within careers.

Arts programs are proven to correlate with improved attrition rates and increased participation in school communities. In other words, schools benefit, too. Beyond the value of the arts for individual students, the arts build community within schools. Arts experiences provide students a non-traditional opportunity for academic success and often, a reason to stay in school.

Data from the UCLA’s Imagination Project, a longitudinal study of 25,000 participants, reported positive statistics related to arts involvement. This research recognizes the arts as a driver for increased self-esteem, as well as decreased dropout rates. In terms of application, by offering arts curriculum, schools can use the arts to effectively attract or retain families.

As illustrated by countless studies, accessibility to the arts enables individuals to succeed. However, in recent research published in 2017 by Americans for the Arts in which my research was cited, statewide leaders revealed that due to narrowing of the curriculum, standardized testing, and other factors, the arts are seen as a nicety, rather than as an integral factor in student learning.

Unfortunately, the categorical devaluation of the arts is a factor when schools are faced with difficult budget decisions; cutbacks of the arts are often considered as a potential cost-savings measure. Elimination of arts specialists has occurred in many districts across the country. This trend of unequal access relates to valuation and resources, disproportionately affecting rural and inner-city youth. Critical opportunities for self-expression and upward mobility are overlooked. Unequal access to the arts underscores a need for advocacy measures to ensure arts education access for all students.

To be clear, students do have a right to arts instruction in schools. States are required to provide arts instruction as a part of a well-rounded education within the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was passed in 2015. To reiterate, the right of arts education for all youth in the USA is currently guaranteed by law, and the right to equal treatment in education is also guaranteed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Image Credit: Pixabay vector graphic

In addition, a variety of state policies require school districts to provide students with arts instruction. However, surveys indicate discrepancies between policy and practice. Despite legal recognition and policies upholding the vital role of the arts in appropriately educating the nation’s students, a review of relevant scholarship and state surveys indicate that students throughout the country have not received equal access to the arts over the past two decades.

As an example, the Arts Education Partnership’s ArtScan database currently illustrates that nearly all states have developed content standards for elementary and secondary arts education; yet oversight for the provision of arts education at a school, district, and statewide level is relatively limited, as very few states offer means to monitor policy. In other words, students across the country are not equally receiving regular, sequential, curriculum-based arts instruction, which is proven to help them succeed in school, work, and life.

In some cases, schools or districts assume that volunteers, artists, and community arts organizations will provide increased arts education programming. However, these supplemental tactics require additional resources to upscale arts and cultural programs.

Certainly students benefit from supplemental arts education through community arts education providers. As one example, the recent study of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas included a large-scale randomized lottery selection of youth to tour the museum. Findings revealed causal relationships between increased critical thinking, social tolerance, empathy, and interest in the arts. However, occasional field trips or site-visits from teaching artists ideally supplement classroom coursework and instruction in conjunction with arts specialists. A model without arts specialists supporting the other roles diminishes quality arts instruction for all youth.

Image Credit: Creative Commons

Pictured you will note a guiding document provided by national partners that supported the stance on the value of each role pictured, the important providers of arts education, including: Certified Arts Educators, Community Arts Providers, and Certified Non-Arts Educators.

Image: Arts Education for America’s Students: A Shared Endeavor. Americans for the Arts.

The shared endeavor is best understood by examining the intersections of the Venn diagram. Certified Arts Educators and Certified Non-Arts Educators or classroom teachers, working together, offer students sequential, standards-based arts curriculum. Classroom teachers and community arts providers offer students standards-based connections between the arts and other content areas. Finally, community arts education providers intersecting with certified arts educators offer students deep expertise and professional experience.

As another resource for deepened understanding of our roles within the arts education ecosystem, the Arts Education Field Guide from Americans for the Arts illustrates spheres of influence. As a prescriptive document, the field guide encourages stakeholders in arts education to build more effective relationships in school, community, and statewide that will allow arts education to thrive. By viewing the student as the primary stakeholder at the center of the ecosystem, examination may be made regarding current relationships and opportunities for new connections. Policy and funding decisions should ideally be made with the view of how it will affect a student’s learning experience.

Image: Arts Education Field Guide, Americans for the Arts

To reiterate, the benefits of an arts curriculum without regular, sequential exposure are qualitatively and quantifiably less successful for students and for school communities. The decision has implications to potentially hinder students’ future success. While the reduction or elimination of specialists can mean a reduction in salary expenditures for schools or districts, decisions such at this are made at great cost to students and school communities.

Recognizing the vital importance of arts education is an important first step in a journey toward advocacy. Stakeholders can look to the excellent work from Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment project (MAEIA), Creative Many Michigan, and Americans for the Arts to build networks, providing connections and communications about the benefits of arts education and potential crises in reduction or elimination of specialists. We can research, facilitate and build consensus about best practices, solutions and models of excellence. We can understand and participate in policy, which drives measures toward arts education equality for all students.

As we begin to truly understand the value of the arts for students, schools, and communities, we can share this message: the arts matter. We can publicly support arts education and the roles of educators within a shared endeavor. We can interact with and coach others to become advocates in the arts education ecosystem, such as legislators and elected officials, administrators, parents, and even students. Based on the legal mandate for the arts, we can actively promote its inclusion in schools and combat its reduction or elimination. We can identify as champions for the arts and advocates for arts education.

As a MAEIA Leadership Associate I am hoping to make a bigger impact by sharing the vital role the arts play in supporting children’s learning, educational experiences, and future prospects as United States citizens. My goal is that by providing data and recommendations for how the arts can help students, communities, and our society, I will help create a new group of advocates in students, educators, administrators, and more.

Barb Whitney serves as Executive Director for the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center, on the faculty in two departments at Michigan State University, and as a MAEIA Leadership Associate.

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here: BarbWhitney_AdvocatingforStudents.

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photo: Americans for the Arts, Washington, D.C. 2016. Personal Archive.

Barb Whitney: Curating a Career in the Arts

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

I haven’t always thought of myself as an artist or an arts advocate. I currently serve as the executive director for Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center. I am proud to lead the work...

I haven’t always thought of myself as an artist or an arts advocate.

I currently serve as the executive director for Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center. I am proud to lead the work of a local community arts organization dedicated to providing “public awareness, education and enjoyment of the visual arts by promoting the works of Michigan artists.” Driving community engagement through public art, exhibitions, and education, our team is igniting passion for the visual arts, providing a forum for self-expression and community engagement. As a stakeholder with vested interest in the success of Lansing’s students, a significant part of my work is related to providing access to the arts for all students.

My involvement in the arts may have been a departure from my parents’ anticipated journey for me. My academically-driven primary school experiences offered me success, and achievement, but little satisfaction. Then I discovered musical theatre. I sang and danced my way through high school, through college, and across the country. The All-American Singers offered me the opportunity to travel, a professional performance experience, and friendships that have lasted a lifetime.

That’s me in the lower left corner, pictured with 20 peers from the United States, along with our stages, costumes, and vehicles. Promotional materials, All-American Singers, circa 1995

I learned how to see differently, encountering the world as light and shadows, as edges and spaces. Over the next three years, I spent endless hours drawing and painting, honing my craft and learning to develop a visual narrative for my work. I discovered that the visual arts offer me a way to be completely unique and the means to represent my reality. Each piece I create acts as a thematic means to an emotional end with a goal of facilitating an interaction with the viewer.

photo: Kalamazoo College, Homecoming 2017, personal archive.

I exhibit my work at Grove Gallery in East Lansing, and I have previously shown in Grand Rapids and Toledo, among other venues. This February, I worked on a large-scale commission in Palm Springs, California. Photo credit: Layna Lesnau, Title of artwork by Barb Whitney: Resonance

My undergraduate degree in the arts has produced seventeen years of gainful employment. Importantly, it offered me opportunities to serve in exciting roles that made a difference in my communities. I have taught in inner-city schools, created camps for kids, ran a gallery, and administered funding programs for the arts. I consider myself an artist, educator, and arts administrator. Recently, I have begun to also identify as an advocate and an activist.

I recently completed a national fellowship with Americans for the Arts and defended my Master’s thesis from the University of Michigan – Flint titled “Arts Education: A Fundamental Right for Youth in the United States of America.” This fall, I joined the faculty at Michigan State University in both the Residential College in the Arts & Humanities and Arts & Cultural Management. Within each step of my journey, I advocate for all students who deserve quality arts instruction as a civil right. My academic research is focused on equitable arts education for youth in the United States of America from a sociological perspective, outlining the injustice perpetrated by withholding the rights to arts education from particular populations.

photo: Americans for the Arts, Washington, D.C. 2016. Personal Archive.

In my role as an artist, educator, and administrator, my goals are to drive access for ALL people to this piece of our humanity. We quantitatively know that the arts are a driver for the economy, a vehicle for attraction and retention, and a means for community interaction.

More importantly, the arts offer freedom of expression. They make people think. And feel. And discuss. They offer social commentary and are a first amendment right.

I truly believe the arts make life worthwhile, and I have bet my life on it. Not only are the arts a vehicle for my livelihood, they are the driver for my leisure activities. I volunteer as a juror, panelist, and consultant. I attend arts events regularly in my own community. I seek out arts and culture as a tourist; when I travel, I search for the local arts and culture that tells the narrative of the unique communities I visit. I strive to be a champion for access and equity in the arts, engaging stakeholders regarding the arts and arts education locally, statewide, and nationally.

Barb Whitney serves as Executive Director for the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center, on the faculty in two departments at Michigan State University, and as a MAEIA Leadership Associate.

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here: Barb Whitney: Curating a Career in the Arts.

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Joni Starr: Arts Integration, Part 2

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

Arts integration as a teaching approach started to come into its own in the 1970’s and 80’s. For over 30 years, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Arts integration as a teaching approach started to come into its own in the 1970’s and 80’s. For over 30 years, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., has been offering arts integration learning opportunities for educators.

They define the practice of arts integration as “an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject and meets evolving objectives.”

Today this practice of integrating arts with standard classroom subjects is growing as students, teachers, parents, and administrators recognize the value and strength of creative capacity in the 21st century.

In my 30 years experience in arts education, I find the challenge of arts integration is reflected mainly in two points:

1. A clearly stated outcome for the lesson.
2. A thorough understanding of the material being taught.

There are many wonderfully effective lessons that equally partner the arts disciplines with non-arts disciplines, where the outcomes are well matched for teaching two disciplines in one lesson.

For example:

-The levels of the rainforest and the levels of dance choreography.
-The contours of a map and the contours of texture in visual art.
-The understanding of character objectives in literature and drama.
-The understanding of fractions in math and in time signature in music.

Other times, when implementing arts integrated teaching and learning the outcomes are less clear or become complicated. Time is spent closely reading the standards to see which ones might connect across disciplines and which ones might be manageable in the allotted class time. Outcomes can easily become long and multi-layered to address objectives in both subject areas, thus confusing both teacher and student. And teaching can easily sway towards one discipline more than the other, ultimately negating the practice of arts integration.

It is important then to clearly understand how both the arts and non-arts subjects truly integrate. How they support and connect to each other and how they allow for the practice of creativity in the classroom.

Arts integration at its best allows students the creative opportunity to be leaders in their own learning.

In writing and implementing arts integrated lessons, many teachers falter in their confidence of one of the subject areas. If the art teacher is asked to integrate with a science concept, the art teacher must understand the concepts of science. And if a math teacher is asked to integrate with music, then the math teacher must understand music content. A strong solution to this is for teachers from differing disciplines to partner teach and/or learn from each other. In these cases the outcomes are often clear and the lessons effective and impactful for students.

This content understanding and/or partner teaching can, however, be a tall order for any teacher. Most teacher training programs do not integrate the arts into teaching, they actually separate them. Arts teachers are trained in their specific discipline and there are deeply important and valid reasons for this. So when asking teachers to make effective use of arts integration in the classrooms, it is a shift for both arts and non-arts teachers. Sometimes successful, sometimes not.

The benefits of arts integration for both teaching and learning are well documented and highly impactful, yet preparing teachers to do their best work so their students can as well, remains an area of growth.

Do you have examples of best practice for preparing teachers to integrate the arts and/or non-arts content? Or a strategy for facilitating effective collaboration?

Join the conversation by offering your perspective in article comments, social media shares, or by emailing Heather at hvsouthard@gmail with a prospective blog post for the MAEIA blog.

Joni Starr is an arts integration specialist, theatre educator, and teaching artist. She served as a Founding Contributor in Theatre for the MAEIA project.

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here Joni Starr: Arts Integration, Part 2.



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