The Parallels of Quality Dining and Quality Arts Education

Posted by Jennifer Bransom, Mar 12, 2012 3 comments

Jennifer Bransom

First, let me confess that I’m trapped on a plane and hungry. I’m dreaming of a great dinner and hoping I can get a recommendation when my plane touches down.

What does this have to do with quality arts education? Well, I’m hoping for a quality dining experience and here is how I imagine I’ll find it.

I’ll ask someone for a recommendation, and she’ll say, “Oh you should try (insert name of restaurant).” This begins a conversation that will teach me why this particular restaurant is being recommended. Is it because of the food, maybe even a particular menu item, or did my friend/cabbie also factor in service, ambiance, speed, cost, etc.?

A quality dining experience means different things to different people. Why should it be any different when we discuss quality arts education?

As I mentioned, and you’ve no doubt experienced, the question, “Can you recommend a restaurant?” is the beginning of a conversation. By listening and asking questions about what is being recommended and why it is better than some other restaurant, I get to know the person offering the suggestion and what she values.

Often (though not always) I feel that we, as arts educators, shy away from similar conversations about quality within our field. If you came to Dallas and asked me to recommend a restaurant, I’d definitely share some of my favorite places. And, it wouldn’t scar me for life if you disagreed with or didn’t visit any of my offerings. I know not everyone has the same tastes.

However, I used to think my life was over when someone disagreed or challenged my ideas about quality arts education. This is my life’s work. If a fellow arts educator doesn’t agree with and affirm my beliefs, then what does that mean? My skin is a lot thicker and I’m a lot wiser because of work that Big Thought has facilitated over the past 15 years.

In 1998, Big Thought became the managing partner of a community effort to ensure that all elementary children in Dallas Independent School District participated in arts education. This partnership, now known as Thriving Minds, expanded in 2006 with the support of The Wallace Foundation.

Together, the City of Dallas, Dallas Independent School District, and more than 100 arts, cultural, and community organizations, make creative learning a part of the education of every Dallas student---in and out of school.

Equitable access to opportunities was only our starting point. Everyone felt that quality assurance was necessary, otherwise we would risk doing more harm than good. Thus, a common definition of quality was needed. And that is where the conversation, or the real story, began.

We asked our community, “What is quality? What does quality arts education mean to you?” Guess what? People did NOT agree.

More precisely, they disagreed VERY passionately. No punches were pulled and it may have happened that I cried (no I didn’t bawl, but tears of frustration might have leaked out) once while facilitating one of these “lively conversations.”

But that is the glory of what I’ve experienced the past several years as we’ve built a community definition for quality teaching and learning.

In my next blog entry I’ll share with you some of the tools and strategies we have built together in Dallas. These include a multi-dimensional definition for quality teaching and learning, a process for training classroom teachers and community educators to observe, document and score quality, and how we are creating quality individually and as a community.

First though, I’d like us to get to know one another.

When you hear the phrase “quality arts teaching and learning” what comes into your head?

When I’m asked this question I always say, “I think of a two-way street---to learn is to be able to teach and to teach is to be open to learn.”

Agree or disagree with me, all I ask is that you join me in this critical conversation.

3 responses for The Parallels of Quality Dining and Quality Arts Education


March 12, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Great question Joyce! A factor or dimension of quality teaching and learning that the Dallas community looks to see in classrooms across the city is "Engagement and Investment". Some teacher and student behaviors we hope to observe are:
•Sharing and responding to clear expectations
•Presenting and engaging in relevant tasks/projects
•Making clear entry points into demanding assignments
•Synthesizing complex processes and sustaining work
•Motivating work to reach high standards
•Trying new things; Risk-taking

"Engagement and Investment" is one of six factors or dimensions that my community has chosen highlight in their definition of quality. What else would you consider? How else could you help us define the behaviors of engagement?

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March 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Big thought and Thriving Minds do great work. But I am not sure that you and our colleague Jane Remer have not answered the question of quality. While I agree that there are many variables, could not the ability to engage and sustain engagement be not only an outcome of ‘quality’ programming but a defining factor?

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March 12, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Jennifer - As a practitioner I think that engagement for me can often be seen in the behavior of the participants; energy level, focus, new levels of 'team' building and cooperation. Now these may be other factors of your definition of quality. To me an engaged participant is 'happy' - in the moment, becomes a sponge and is eager to experience the next moment.

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