When doing presentations, I am often asked for tips on recruiting and/or retaining students in visual and performing arts classes. I love this question, because it gives me the opportunity to share some advocacy strategies I’ve learned over 30 years of teaching and as an arts administrator, and I truly believe they will make a difference if you try them. Being an arts advocate is not rocket science, it’s simply being able to effectively communicate why what you teach is important. Of course, being organized, consistent and nice to kids and their parents add a lot!
I have organized the strategies into three categories: to parents, to students, and to colleagues and more. Do you need to use all the suggestions listed below? Even though they are in no particular order, the honest answer is “yes,” so please try – the more the better. I bet you’re probably already doing many of these ideas, and believe it or not, this list is just the tip of the iceberg – I’ve got lots and lots more tips to share. It doesn’t matter what grade level you teach or your specific arts discipline. Even during Covid protocols, these ideas can be adapted to your virtual setting.
Begin by always putting your best foot forward . . .
- Invite parents into your class (live or zoom) to informally observe student learning.
- Invite parents to become involved in classroom activities.
- Start a booster group. (Be sure to think this one through before starting.)
- Distribute a parent letter or handbook that explains what skills students are learning in your class and why they’re important.
- Send parents a summary of the things to be discussed at parent/teacher conferences and ask them to prepare a list of questions.
- Keep parents abreast of what is going on in your classroom, especially regarding new or different projects.
- Communicate in simple language – avoid “artsy” jargon or acronyms.
- Always return telephone calls, emails, and texts promptly (within 24 hours).
- Make “catch kids doing good” telephone calls or send notes or emails.
- Always try to be positive and enthusiastic.
- Run a quality program with high standards, consistency, structured planning, and good communication with parents.
- Be certain to tell parents how wonderful their children are and how much you appreciate their entrusting them to you.
- Be sure to show off the cool things you’re doing to parents and students by using Open House and Parent Teacher Conferences to your advantage.
- Promote! Promote! Promote! If you don’t tout your program, no one else will.
- Inspire and create opportunities for students and run a quality program with high standards, consistency, structured planning, and good communication.
- Never under-estimate the importance of what students say about you and your class. These students can be your best advocates or most vocal critics.
- Students will be future advocates or not, depending on what you do and how you do it. They are your best recruiting tool! If they like/love your class and you, they will encourage their friends. Teachers keep kids coming back.
- Be more than a program. Create a sense of family.
- Make it fun!
- The kids won’t care unless you care.
- Kids must feel safe and trust that you will lead them with care.
- Talk with students about the value of the fine arts and the importance of your subject area, what they are learning and how these skills will benefit them in later years.
- Be seen, be known, be positive. This is crucial, so don’t be that teacher who is invisible and unknown. Put on a smile and volunteer to be a club sponsor, scorer at an athletic event, perform community service with your students, cheer on your students as they compete in non-arts activities, perform at your feeder schools, switch your discipline’s teacher assignments with your feeder so kids get to know you, arrange for collaborative activities with your feeder(s) – ways to be involved are endless.
TO COLLEAGUES OR ANYONE AND EVERYONE YOU MEET
- Get there first. Talk to and educate your school counselors (and administration) who may try to dissuade kids from taking fine arts classes in lieu of “academics.” Advocate by telling them all the great things your students learn that can be applied to the real world. (Yes, I know the arts should be valued on their own merits.)
- Be seen, be known, be positive. This is crucial. Don’t be that teacher who is invisible in a classroom in a dead end hallway.
- Send congratulatory notes to those in your school community who earn accolades (sports teams/coaches, robotics, festival participation, etc.)
- Resist talking badly about your students and parents in public, especially in the supermarket checkout line or at sporting events.
- Always introduce yourself and welcome audiences from the stage, at art shows, concerts or public events.
- Be certain to tell colleagues how much you appreciate their support. Likewise, to your administration and board.
- Educate your audiences. Be sure to talk about the art being presented at exhibits and performances.
- If you teach another subject, use that time with students to your advantage by letting students get to know you and by touting your program.
- You must personify excitement!!
- If YOU don’t tell about your program and all the positive reasons it is so important, no one will do it for you!
So, as we kick-off this new school year, I hope it is much less stressful for you than last year and that you will try becoming your own best advocate by employing some of the strategies I’ve suggested. Please let me know if you have questions or would like to share your thoughts, and I hope to be back with more of my own soon. Hedy.firstname.lastname@example.org
Hedy Blatt has been the Fine Arts Consultant for Oakland Intermediate School District (Oakland Schools) since 2004, providing and facilitating staff development and as-needed services in fine arts education throughout the 28 school districts in Oakland County and beyond. Prior to Oakland Schools, she was the Fine Arts Director for the Troy School District for 20 years, simultaneously serving as the District’s Community Relations Director for 12 years. During her over 30 years in education, Hedy taught all levels of music, theatre, and language arts in both public and private school settings. Hedy has also taught on the university level, written for and performed in professional children’s theatre, presented at multiple fine arts and public relations conferences, and is a published composer.
Photos are of students from Oakland County schools with the portrait photo highlighting the Financial Literacy Annual Arts Contest winner sponsored by Oakland Schools, in partnership with the Oakland County Treasurer’s Office.Click here for a Printer friendly version of this article.