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Blogs & Online Sources: professional development

Cathy Depentu: The Benefits of Pushing Out of Your Comfort Zone

Cathy DePentu    Leave a Comment   

I believe in the importance of MAEIA and its resources. I always try to set aside my ego and throw myself into difficult challenges or situations in order to improve, from an advanced violin class (...

I believe in the importance of MAEIA and its resources. I always try to set aside my ego and throw myself into difficult challenges or situations in order to improve, from an advanced violin class (I am anything but advanced on the violin) to a challenging yoga pose (headstands anyone?). Technology can bring me to my knees. By the time I figure out how to do something, it’s obsolete. As I have prepared for my first solo MAEIA presentation, my MAEIA colleagues have been unfailingly patient while trying to teach an old dog new tricks. I am slowly getting better, which means a lot more obsolescence is on the way, but that is another story.

Stepping Out: Fears, Firsts, and Following
I am a talker–no one who knows me would dispute that. I am fearless in front of my students or with people I know, but generally not eager to speak formally in front of large groups. In fact, that is one of my fears. Another major fear is using technology, it hates me. So why is this what I am doing? What do I hope to gain? What do I hope to give people?

So, I made my PowerPoint and my Process Agenda, Heather Vaughan-Southard (my MAEIA guru) proofread it and I rehearsed it over and over in my head. I knew my content and knew my audience (another big fear). I was ready!

The Professional Development day got off to a roaring start. We had one of the best keynote speakers I have ever heard! Dr. Adolph Brown talked (and danced and sang) about how to truly reach every student and make a positive difference. Cornerstones of his inspiring words were the Four “F’s”: Be Fun, Fair, Flexible and have Faith. At the same time as I was devouring every word, a little voice spoke to me: ”How will you compare to this? You’re not even close to his fluid, choreographed delivery style. They won’t like you.”

Processing in Real Time
Time to present! I got there 30 minutes before my session to set up and scope out the space. When I got to the room, I discovered that the room was too small for the anticipated audience. From now on I will double check with organizers to make sure we coordinate details! The computer and hook-ups were on the teacher’s desk, in a corner of the room. This was awkward as I had to be positioned behind that desk to access my notes. I felt like I was hiding from my audience from there! As being able to move freely about while presenting and interacting with your audience can “make or break” the vibe in the room, I will carry a set of notecards, or a printout of my notes so that I am no longer “trapped”. Of course, when I become as adept a presenter as Dr. Brown, I will be able to get this all done as easily as a casual conversation with friends (dare to dream!)

Once I began my presentation I noticed I was covering material much more quickly than I had anticipated on my Process Agenda. This could have been due to being trapped behind that desk! I started with the background of MAEIA and the website, but think I may move that until later in the session, as a few participants would have preferred to follow along with me on the website (or break off and explore on their own). Later in my session, I was moving around the room assisting people and realized I had skipped a couple of things that needed to be added, particularly our next project, Collaborative Scoring.

The last thing we did was break into small groups and explore the assessments. Each person found one or two they liked, and shared with each other and then with the entire group. I had stressed throughout the presentation that the assessments were just tools to be used as is or modified to suit the class or situation, so our next step was to take an assessment and modify it for use at a different grade level. As I walked around, I heard comments like “Look at this!”, “I could use this!”, “This is great!”. One group of art teachers stepped out of the room to work on ways to incorporate the assessments into their SLOs right away!

As we finished up, I asked my colleagues to fill out the Quality Quadrant and leave it for me when they left. Regardless, only about 60% completed the form. I am not sure what to do about that, maybe I will use them as “Exit Slips” and stand by the door to collect them and say thank you and goodbye as people leave. In the week following the presentation, I have received several emails and notes from colleagues who are excited about MAEIA and all of our resources , and are eager to work together to incorporate some of the assessments into their classroom.

Finally, I am deeply appreciative to colleagues who shared these words of wisdom as I was preparing my session. I list them twice because of their importance.

Chocolate and a break are GREAT ideas!
Chocolate and a break are GREAT ideas!

Flexibility as a Practice
The focus of our PD this year is, “Take Chances, Try Something New, Start With “Why?”. For years, we as arts teachers have had to “build bridges” from the content of Professional Development to our own subject area. At general PD the next day, I was seated with a group of math, science, and business teachers focusing on technology in the classroom. I typically sit, listen to them and try to build those bridges. But I jumped out of my comfort zone, took a chance and asked if we could also address the use of technology to better suit the needs of the arts or solitary teacher. We had a great discussion, and I think we all learned something. I thanked them for being willing to be flexible and I think we all benefited from the session. I know I did.

I plan to present this session again to the K-5 music folks who couldn’t attend this one. I have also offered to present to colleagues in the Michigan American String Teachers Association (MASTA). I know as I continue to work with the sessions I am creating, my delivery will become more natural and intuitive. I’m not Adolph Brown yet, but I’ll get there (he has a crew to do all his tech)!

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. MAEIA blog: CathyDepentu_ComfortZones

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Rebecca Arndt: Why is MAEIA so important?

Rebecca Arndt    Leave a Comment   

I have been asked about what the MAEIA project is and why it is so important. The simple answer is I want to give my students the best of me and the...

I have been asked about what the MAEIA project is and why it is so important. The simple answer is I want to give my students the best of me and the best opportunities to experience music and to develop an appreciation for all genres of music.

When I joined a MAEIA pilot program, I didn’t know what I was really getting myself into. I just knew that I was going to be presenting assessments to my students and sending them out to get graded. 

Doing these assessments was different, challenging and definitely rewarding to me as an educator. It was a great way for me to see exactly where my students were struggling and excelling. I am sure many of us have those students who you think are really getting it but when presented with an assessment that isn’t a whole group activity they don’t seem to grasp the concepts that have been presented.

These assessments give you a step by step way to test your students.

These assessments aren’t changing what you are teaching but maybe how you instruct and gather informative and formative assessments.

After doing the first assessment I knew that I needed to change what I thought about my teaching and how my students learned.

I  needed to do some pre teaching of different techniques. For example with melodic contour, I used to primarily use body movement or look at sheet music. Drawing the melody line was a foreign to me as Urdu. I knew that I needed to add this element to my teaching so that the students could perform this task without being unsure of the task.

Doing this type of activity was fun for them and for me as their teacher. They didn’t even realize they were being assessed. They thought it was “art”.   

These assessment tools were a great way for me to teach concepts in a different manner than the Quaver curriculum that our district uses. Using the MAEIA assessments have helped me become a stronger teacher and in turn has helped my students’ love of music continue to grow.

Rebecca D. Arndt is a K-5 general music teacher for the Taylor School District, she also teaches a 4/5 grade combined choir. Prior to teaching in Taylor she also taught in Waterford Schools for 13 years. While in Waterford she taught k-5 general music and choir. She is a MAEIA Leadership Fellow. 

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here: Rebecca Arndt: Why MAEIA is Important. 

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Visual arts educators collaboratively review student work during the MAEIA arts assessment field test. The MAEIA Project has created 350 arts performance assessments in visual arts, dance, music, and theatre for voluntary use by K-12 Michigan teachers.

Janine Campbell: The Lasting Impact of Quality Professional Development

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

Professional development is an impactful tool for teachers. When it is directed in ways that allows teachers to take what they have learned and apply it in their own classrooms to engage students, it becomes...

Professional development is an impactful tool for teachers. When it is directed in ways that allows teachers to take what they have learned and apply it in their own classrooms to engage students, it becomes one of the most powerful tools we have. If you are interested in help assessing your district’s or school’s access to Arts-specific learning opportunities for professional learning, use the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment Blueprint and Program Review Tool.

I am fortunate that I have had the continued opportunity to participate in and even lead quality Arts-specific professional development throughout my teaching career. Each conference, keynote, and presentation has made an impact on my approach to teaching in big ways and small. A key approach when I attend any conference is to take one idea, tool, or method and find a way to weave it into my practice.

Last April, I had the privilege to participate in “The Power of Art Conference” at The Lab School in Washington D.C. This three-day event gave me the opportunity to meet teachers from across the country, hear from thought-leaders in Arts Integration, and tour a school in our Nation’s Capitol that puts the Arts in the heart of their instruction. The Lab School hosted the event because of their commitment to Arts Integration and their history of sharing with teachers what is possible when you bring content and classrooms together for big, bold collaborative projects.

Over the years, collaboration is something that I have pushed more and more with my students. It has looked differently depending on what our end goals were; sometimes we did small group projects and sometimes we planned events that included the entire school. Regardless of the end result, the goals have always been for students participating to not only learn about the content covered through the creation of the collaboration, but to also feel a connection to those who are a part of making it. I often call these projects, “Legacy Projects” because of their lasting, visual impact on the school.

At The Lab School, legacy projects are everywhere. From the mosaic columns and the dragon fountain in the courtyard, to the large installation works often created with the help of well-known artists like one of the key figures in the school, Robert Rauschenberg, you can see something made by students in every area of the school. Each year before his passing, Rauschenberg would come and create a large collaborative work with the students for display in the school. Each time, something different was created and a new approach would be taken; each time, students knew they were creating something that would be left for others to view for years to come. This was something I knew I wanted to bring back to my school and weave into my teaching practice right away.

Fortunately, I did not have to wait very long before I was able to do just that. After returning home from “The Power of Art Conference,” I soon received an opportunity to use collaboration as a springboard into a large mixed-media piece my students made for one of the largest art competitions in the world: ArtPrize. The 19 day competition is celebrating its ninth year and has opened up a Youth Collaboration Award for the first time this year with a classroom grant of $5000 to those with the most votes.

Our collaborative work, “Painting Under Paper Cuts,” involves three 4x8ft panels and is a visual reaction to a week of state testing that happened to be occurring during its creation. Students started with choosing paint from a variety of colors. They were asked to paint how they felt and use brushes, sponges, and other tools, including their hands, to make marks overtop each of the panels. They then worked in pairs to create cut out images from separate pieces of colored paper that included images of their classmates and various symmetrical and asymmetrical circle patterns. These pieces were pasted on top of the painted panels. This work will be displayed during ArtPrize at Monroe Community Church in Downtown Grand Rapids from September 20th-October 8th. You can view and vote on site with your smartphone for the work at Once the competition completes, the work will find a permanent home in our Library at our school.

I am thankful I work in a school that embraces the opportunities offered through quality Professional Development. Because I use what I have learned through these experiences in tangible ways in my practice, I am able to show my students and the greater school community what is possible when ideas are put into practice and when students come together to create a positive visual impact on their environment. These collaborations are one of the best parts of my job and one that my students often comment on as their favorite, too. If you would like more information on The Lab School of Washington D.C. or “The Power of Art Conference” and how to get involved, visit their website.

Do you work with the principles Janine listed above in your Visual Arts classroom? MAEIA suggests looking at the following assessment items:

V.T304 Applying Principles of Design to Paper Cutouts

V.T407 Collaborative Compositions

V.E404 Communicating an Idea

**Janine Campbell is the Visual Arts Teacher at Byron Center West Middle School and is a Visual Arts team member of the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment Program. Her classroom has won local and national recognition in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, as well as various grants for their use of technology. She was named a 2014 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator, 2015 Michigan Art Education Association Middle Level Educator of the Year, and 2015 National Art Education Association Middle Level Educator of the Year. You can see more of her students’ work in the classroom at

A downloadable pdf of this post is available here Janine Campbell_Quality Professional Development.


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Cynthia Clingman: “Drop Everything”

Cynthia Clingman    Leave a Comment   

The MAEIA Leadership Fellows present general and specialized professional learning presentations to educators, administrators, and community organizations who interact with K-12 schools. Below, Cynthia Clingman outlines what is was like developing her...

The MAEIA Leadership Fellows present general and specialized professional learning presentations to educators, administrators, and community organizations who interact with K-12 schools.

Below, Cynthia Clingman outlines what is was like developing her first virtual presentation as a MAEIA Leadership Fellow with colleague, Liz Andrews.

How are you dropping everything, taking risks, and promoting the arts? Share with us in the comments.

As I remember from years ago, I read Beverly Cleary books to my 3 daughters and son.

Beverly Cleary wrote about D.E.A.R. in Ramona Quimby, Age 8. We even have a copy of this book signed by Beverly in 1976. Since then, “Drop Everything and Read” programs have been held nationwide on April 12th in honor of Mrs. Cleary’s birthday.

As we approached the Drop Everything and Read day, I couldn’t help but apply the “Drop Everything” philosophy to our first MAEIA webinar!

The proposition for each of us planning a webinar as MAEIA fellows, is really to “drop everything” and think about how to support the Arts through professional development. Our first challenge was to plan and deliver an overview webinar for interested Arts Educators.

My presentation partner, Liz Andrews, and I discovered this was no easy task! We did have to drop any previous notions that we had about webinars, and really start from scratch.

Here are all the challenges we faced as well as successes we experienced;

Finding a host site

I met with the Professional Development Consultant, Mary Nell Baldwin, at Kent Intermediate. She helped me set a date, reserve a room, and assisted in creating the flyer. She also posted them on the ISD online registration catalog.
How to publicize?

She and I also met with the Assistant Superintendent to request time on the agenda of the upcoming area-wide monthly administrator meeting.I met with 40 administrators on March 2 to provide a MAEIA “pep talk,” encouraging them to share the webinar invitation with teachers.
Tackling technology

I then scheduled a meeting with the technologist, Mark Raffler, to ask for suggestions for setting up the webinar. He suggested using Adobe Connect or Google Hangout. We decided to go with Hangout and scheduled a practice date with Liz. A practice session is critical! What support will the technologist give? Did we have the correct dial-in link? Are we visible, can we be heard? Will we know who has dialed in? Who will advance the slides? It took awhile to sort all of this out.

Develop the Collaborative Responsibilities

In the meantime, Liz and I worked on the presentation PPT slides, created notes for each slide and assigned speaking roles. We printed the slides with notes. We were ready to “drop everything” and go live on March 22nd!

Managing Setbacks 

Of course, there were a few setbacks – the link that we sent to registrants the morning of the webinar, was no longer active in the afternoon! So we put a second technologist to work to help contact the registrants with a new link. Those that dialed in late, though, were unable to connect and had to watch the recording of the webinar the next day. (We sent out the webinar recording, the PPT presentation and evaluation survey the next day).

Do your homework and promotion work!

Secure a location that will give you some technical support, and help with registration. This was so helpful to us.

“Drop everything,” keep a smile on your face, and hope for the best!

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Liz Andrews: “Jump in- take a chance- try something new.”

Elizabeth Andrews    Leave a Comment   

The MAEIA Leadership Fellows work individually and collaboratively to create and present professional learning on the use of MAEIA resources in face-to-face and webinar formats. For some presenters, virtual sessions are new formats which lead...

The MAEIA Leadership Fellows work individually and collaboratively to create and present professional learning on the use of MAEIA resources in face-to-face and webinar formats. For some presenters, virtual sessions are new formats which lead to new understandings of how to create dynamic engagement.

We have invited the Leadership Fellows to write about their experiences as they engage the creative process in developing this work. Liz Andrews and Cynthia Clingman recently collaborated to present a virtual session. Here, Liz shares her thoughts on the process and the product of making her first MAEIA Leadership Fellows virtual presentation.

“Jump in – take a chance – try something new.”

These are encouraging words we give to our students and last month we got a chance to model this behavior. In creating and presenting our first webinar, my colleague Cindy Clingman and I did just that: jumped in, took a chance and tried something quite new. The result? Great experience for us and groundwork laid for future presentations.

Thanks to Cindy’s outstanding preparations, the technical aspects of the presentation including set-up and delivery were spot-on and easy for us to facilitate.

What I learned from the general lack of participant interaction is that we as presenters can improve our methods of instruction to adjust to the technical, online format. Basically, webinar participants can hit the mute button, walk away from the screen and tune out all together without the presenters ever knowing they left the room. Is this a high-quality arts professional development presentation? Without any engagement is any learning happening?

We need to adjust our planning leading to a webinar that brings the MAEIA project to life.

The challenge is how to make webinars: Engaging, RelevantInteractive in ways that lead the participant to pursue the MAEIA resources further and want more .

After doing a bit of google research, here are some tips I’ve gleaned to pursue a more collaborative, inspiring webinar:

1. Make it personal.

Make some time at the very beginning of the webinar to find out some interesting facts about each attendee.
Begin with some type of question that requires an investigative answer. This can be anything from how much they currently know and/or use the MAEIA resources to other types of arts assessments they are familiar with.

2. Involve them with the content.

This can be like a guessing game – instead of presenting information on a slide and then moving on, show a photograph of a student in action and ask them to guess or make a prediction about the outcome relevant to the content.

3. Check in.

At several points within the webinar, stop and ask for specific feedback to check for comprehension. Present a thoughtful question that requires more than a “yes” or “no” answer.

I am looking forward to putting these ideas into action, making my next MAEIA webinar an engaging, inspiring presentation that arts educators will want to share!

Do you remember what it is like to try new things? Tell us about it!

Interested in becoming a MAEIA Leadership Fellow? We’ll soon be inviting applications to the program. Think it over! We are particularly interested in Administrators, Teaching Artists, Community Artists, and K-12 Educators.  

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Introducing the MAEIA Leadership Fellows

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

The MAEIA project, with generous support from the Michigan Council on Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Michigan Department of Education, assists school districts, buildings, educators,...

The MAEIA project, with generous support from the Michigan Council on Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Michigan Department of Education, assists school districts, buildings, educators, and the public in implementing a high quality arts education program in dance, music, theatre, and visual arts for all K-12 students.

We would like to introduce the MAEIA Leadership Fellows, a cadre of arts educators prepared with general and specialized professional development presentations and personalized coaching strategies to elevate the arts education programs offered in Michigan schools and beyond using the MAEIA resources.

The MAEIA Leadership Fellows work collaboratively and individually to offer presentations in virtual, face-to-face, general and specialized formats.

We proudly present the following educators with a sampling of their presentation and consulting topics:

Elizabeth Andrews: MAEIA Overview for Dance and Theatre, Moving to Learn: Kinesthetic Intelligence in the Classroom, Engaging with Community Organizations and Teaching Artists, Artful Thinking in All Classrooms, Philanthropy In and Through the Arts

Rebecca Arndt:  MAEIA Overview for Music, Using PBIS in a Music Setting, Music Curriculum

Hedy Blatt: Public Relations for Arts Educators, Organizational and Classroom Management Strategies for Arts Educators, Arts Events Planning, Arts Advocacy Strategies

Tammi Browning: MAEIA Overview for Visual Arts, Demonstrating Educator Effectiveness with MAEIA Resources, How MAEIA Tools can be used by Community Partners and Teaching Artists

Cynthia Clingman: MAEIA Overview, Literacy, Demonstrating Educator Effectiveness

Cathy DePentu: MAEIA Overview for Music, Educator Effectiveness using MAEIA Resources

Cecilia Gollan: MAEIA Overview for Visual Arts, Using SLOs, MAEIA Resrouces, Student Portfolio and Electronic Data Systems to Demonstrate Educator Effectiveness

Debra Henning: MAEIA Overview for Interdisciplinary Studies, STEAM, Collaborating with Community Partners

Carrie Jeruzal: Demonstrating Educator Effectiveness with SLO writing and Bundled Assessments, Feminist Art-Based Visual Arts Curriculum, East Asian Art-Based Visual Arts Curriculum, Empty Bowls Community Outreach Programming, Fiber Arts Education for Middle School Students

James Mobley: Demonstrating Growth of Students and Educators in Music, Getting the Most Jazz Out of your Rock Drummer, Maximizing Technology in your Music Classroom Using One Device

Holly Olszewski: MAEIA Overview for Music, Music Curriculum

Beth Post: MAEIA Overview in Dance, K-12 Dance Education, K-12 Arts Integration, Collaborating with Community Partners and Teaching Artists

Cindy Swan-Eagan: Music Education, MAEIA Resources

Margaret Theile: MAEIA Program Review Tool and Resources, Music Development and Cognition, Rhythm Instruction for Assisting Elementary At-Risk Readers, Demonstrating Educator Effectiveness using the MAEIA Resources, Public Policy and Music Education

Soon, you’ll be able to read more about each of the Fellows as well as their direct contact information on a dedicated Fellows page on the MAEIA website. For now, please contact us to schedule professional development presentations and more at the Contact Us link at the top of the page.

Thanks, again, to the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs for providing the support needed to develop the MAEIA Leadership Fellows program.


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Stuart Chapman Hill: “Creating” Better Professional Development

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

If you want to get a group of educators chattering in a hurry, walk into a teachers’ lounge and toss out a favorite educational “buzz” word or phrase. One of my favorites, as a middle...

If you want to get a group of educators chattering in a hurry, walk into a teachers’ lounge and toss out a favorite educational “buzz” word or phrase. One of my favorites, as a middle school choir teacher, was “professional development,” an idea that seemed so unimpeachably good on its face—what teacher wouldn’t want to keep growing and learning—but that so often came wrapped in unappealing packages that it prompted more eye-rolls than anything else. What does meaningful professional development look like? And what’s MAEIA got to do with it?

Our Study
Recently, my colleagues Ryan D. Shaw and Cynthia Crump Taggart and I presented a study about MAEIA at the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE) Arts Assessment Symposium. All three of us, in our own experiences as MAEIA item developers, felt that the work of writing and editing assessments for the MAEIA project had strengthened us as teachers—and we wondered whether other item developers had experienced the same. In short, we wanted to know whether serving as item developers had functioned as a form of professional development for the teachers involved.
We recruited six music educators involved in the MAEIA project—two from the elementary team, two from the middle school team, and two from the high school team—to be interviewed about their experiences as item developers for MAEIA. We talked to these participants about how their experiences developing these assessment items had influenced their work in the classroom and we invited them to reflect on the “nuts and bolts” of the process. After jointly reading and analyzing the transcripts, we found that the participants’ commentary cohered around three themes: looking “inward,” looking “outward,” and reflections on the experience.

Looking “Inward”
The first theme, looking “inward,” refers to the reflection and growth that happened on an individual level for teachers involved in developing assessment items.

For several participants, the writing process presented a renewed opportunity to learn about national and state music standards and think about how to align instruction with them, as described here by Jessica (please note that all names used here are pseudonyms):

[Here are] the standards, here’s what we want the students to know, and so, instead of just picking a bunch of songs and then finding things to pull out from them and hoping that it’s good, I feel like, as a choral director, I’m going—Hmm, I should look at what they should be doing. I need to look at my colleague above me, see where they’re going. And I need to look at these standards and see if I’m gonna be able to meet those standards through this, and assess those through their performing and their learning of these pieces.

Some of the teachers, like Emma, felt that the process had strengthened their knowledge of assessment practices:

I got a much better understanding of what testers and assessment professionals are looking for…I know what music teachers are looking for when they listen to things or watch or do assessments, but then to have that other professionalism added in there, it made me feel like, I guess, what we were doing was a little more—I don’t want to say valuable, ‘cause that means what we were doing before wasn’t, but just a little more elevated, so that I knew going forward if I was to write my own or design my own assessment for my own classroom, I had more of these tools at my finger tips.

Many of the teachers simply described how the process had, in a more global sense, prompted them to turn a critical eye on their own teaching and assessment practices.

For Anne, an experienced band teacher, this opportunity for reflective practice might as well have been the aim of the entire project:

What I remember distinctly was it forced me…to think about what I’m already doing and also best practice, which I hope is one in the same, but it really does force you to think about that and to align, and to be very introspective about, “Am I aligning with best practice as much as I possibly can?” And I gathered through the whole process that that’s the goal, is to ask teachers who are willing to be introspective as they go clearly to get data about what’s going in their classroom but ultimately to be introspective and take that hard critical look, “Am I aligning with best practices as often as I can?”

It seems, for these teachers, that writing assessment items for MAEIA was an important part of their reflective practice as educators, strengthening their knowledge of state and national standards and giving them a constructive venue for self-evaluation.

Looking “Outward”
Teachers in this study noted how the MAEIA process made them view the larger music teaching profession, and their positions within it, differently—a process of looking “outward.”

Anne reported:

“it was really easy for me to have a bigger picture outlook…I was thinking now pretty globally about how to fit these assessments into a wide variety of music classrooms across the state.”

Several teachers acknowledged the sense of empowerment they felt, strengthening their sense of legitimacy as educators, advocates, and leaders of their colleagues.

As Sally, an orchestra teacher, explained,

We can show [administrators without arts experience] and say, “Look, this is what you’re going to be looking for in my class. This is how I’m going to collect data.”…And, because I showed the document to my administrators, they were like, Oh! … I see what you’re doing. I see that there is real teaching going on here.

Sally also described her enthusiasm for sharing MAEIA materials with arts colleagues in her building and district, joking that she feels like “the person who’s planted zucchini. People in my department run from me.”

Andrea, a middle school choir teacher, felt strengthened in her conviction that music education matters and that projects like MAEIA were an important instrument for advocacy:

What we do is really important. And to validate what we do, I think we need to be doing these hard things. I mean, this took a lot of work, but, you know, no one understands us, no one understands why what we do is important, just for people, for students, for humans. And I think that this … kinda puts that stamp—I mean, everyone knows, well, math is important. This is important. … I think it brought to the surface just how intricate music education is.

These “bigger picture” reflections helped teachers not only to see how they function within the larger music education world, but also to feel renewed commitment to their work and to advocating for their field.
Reflections on the Experience
Finally, teachers offered reflections on the experience of being a MAEIA writer in general. They shared that having the opportunity to work with colleagues in an authentic professional learning community was productive, helpful, and even joyful.

Sally said, “MAEIA—I tell my students, it’s like, imagine being part of a group project where everybody in the group is equally passionate about their subject and equally informed. And it’s so rewarding.” Participants enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate and walked away with new ideas to implement in their teaching.

Not everything was perfect, of course, as the newness of the project made it a learning experience for all. Some participants hoped for more specific training in how to write a good item. Others pointed out that it was hard to keep up with changing procedures as the process evolved. And, for many, it was challenging to keep up with MAEIA work and deadlines while also tending to the responsibilities of their full-time jobs at their schools. Still, these bumps in the road seemed outweighed by the enjoyment and inspiration that teachers were able to derive from engaging in this thoughtful, collaborative work.
What can we learn from these teachers’ insights? Although the pat on the back for the MAEIA project is nice, that perhaps is not the moral of the story. The model of collaborating on the MAEIA team to write assessment items differs from many typical professional development activities—conferences at which teachers listen to sessions and keynote speakers, school-level professional learning communities in which teachers discuss a common reading or the latest teaching fad.

One important difference here is that these teachers were engaged in the process of creating something together, a hands-on experience that prompted valuable critical reflection and real inspiration for classroom practice and advocacy.

In addition to creating valuable assessment tools for arts educators, projects like MAEIA may furnish a helpful model for schools and districts to use in designing meaningful, high-impact professional development activities for teachers.

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Bookshelf: 20 Books to Stimulate Thinking for the (Arts) Educator

Heather Vaughan-Southard    Leave a Comment   

I am a reader. I am at my best when I have new information to process and to apply to my teaching and my life. Recently, a mentee asked me to provide a list of...

I am a reader. I am at my best when I have new information to process and to apply to my teaching and my life. Recently, a mentee asked me to provide a list of reading materials to shift her from her standard thinking and teaching patterns. Here is a list of resources which have shaped some of my professional and personal development in recent years. Though the list here is non-fiction, I also recommend fiction, fiction, and more fiction. – Heather Vaughan-Southard (Dance)

What books would you add?

For Getting Students to Respond Critically to Their Art and the Art of Others

Critical Response Process by Liz Lerman and John Borstel

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

For Engagement, Creativity, and Productivity

Flow: The Pscyhology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Sparks of Genius: The 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People by Robert and Michelle Root-Bernstein

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport

Mindsight: the New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel J. Siegel

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential in Us All by Tom Kelley and David Kelley

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam M. Grant

Food for Thought in Reaching Hard to Reach Kids (and Adults)

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk

Teach, Breathe, Learn: Mindfulness In and Out of the Classroom by Meena Srinivasan

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Teaching with Love and Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom by Jim Fay and David Funk

For Thinking Like an Artist:

The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing by Francis Flaherty

Story/Time: The Life of an Idea by Bill T. Jones

Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes of a Choreographer by Liz Lerman

For Re-thinking the Status Quo

The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly by Seth Godin

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education by Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

For Remembering What it is Like to Learn Something New

How to Bake Everything by Mark Bittman


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