When Trying Hard Isn’t Good Enough: Alignment, Action and Accountability

Posted by Mary Dell Erba, Apr 19, 2017 0 comments

We have all heard the line, “As long as you try your best, that is good enough.” While the intent is usually positive, it also implies a gap between the desired result of what you accomplished and reality. Trying hard isn’t always good enough to make a difference.

This dilemma exists in the arts space, too—particularly in education. Right now, passionate advocates are fighting for arts education in schools. An Americans for the Arts 2016 poll revealed that 90% of adults in this country believe students should receive an education in the arts through elementary, middle, and high school. Despite the overwhelming agreement about the value of arts education, why are advocates working so hard to ensure equitable access to arts education for all students in this country? Why isn’t trying hard or doing the best they can good enough?

Bridging the gap between reality and results for arts education in schools requires multi-sector, cross-agency leadership making aligned efforts and contributions. Moving from talk to action requires collaborative leadership—the ability to make decisions and take action together in service of the result.

This type of leadership requires experimentation, trust building, and a fair amount of risk. It breaks down the boundaries of hierarchical leadership and looks across organizational boundaries. When we work collaboratively, we acknowledge that no one program, agency, or organization can produce population-level results.

Collaborative leadership is at the core of The Arts Education in Maryland Schools (AEMS) Alliance. Our mission is to ensure equitable access to arts education for all Maryland students, which is largely accomplished through programs, advocacy, and partnerships. AEMS was born out of a partnership between the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland State Arts Council to be the only advocacy organization for arts education in the state of Maryland. We continue to work hand in hand with MSDE and MSAC in service of our mission.

On June 1, AEMS will be hosting the first Maryland Arts Education Conference in partnership with MSDE and MSAC. The conference replaces what used to be called the Cultural Arts for Education (CAFÉ) Conference, hosted singularly by AEMS. This change comes from a different need and opportunity in Maryland. We are envisioning and planning for the next five years in Maryland arts education following the revisions to the Code of Maryland Regulations that, once passed by the State School Board, effectively adopt the new fine arts standards in our state. We are hopeful this will be completed by the end of the year.

The new conference structure aims to convene a much broader group of stakeholders than the old format, requiring a higher level of collaboration and leadership. The AEMS Alliance, the Office of Fine Arts at MSDE, and the Maryland State Arts Council are working collaboratively as the backbone for continued efforts towards improving the arts education landscape in our state.

The Maryland Arts Education Conference would not be possible without our collaborative leadership working towards a singular goal. Here are a few conditions for success for collaborative leadership:

  1. Alignment—We have a shared vision for the conference and are aligning our approach through agreed upon actions.
  2. Action—Our actions are differentiated yet mutually reinforcing towards our vision.
  3. Accountability—Moving the work forward requires shared accountability for the success of the event.
  4. Role Definition—AEMS is a convener; MSDE drives content; MSAC is a voice for our audience.

Collaborating at this level is seamless for our organizations, given the existing relationships and partnerships. When it is not so seamless, return to the 3 A’s: Alignment, Action, and Accountability.

Collaborative leadership does not replace “trying hard.” Ultimately, it is a tool for ensuring that trying hard is good enough to achieve the results we want to achieve.

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