Arts Education Partners Must Understand the School to Activate the Power of What We Offer

Posted by Katherine Damkohler, Mar 20, 2012 7 comments

Katherine Damkohler

Katherine Damkohler

When visiting a foreign country, you are expected to know at least a few choice phrases, if not speak the language. In addition, you need to know local customs, pastimes, and the economic/social contexts of its citizens.

In much the same way, a school’s arts partner must also be aware of the academic environment they enter, and understand the perspective of the faculty and students. Of course, as arts partners we have something unique and important to contribute to the school (that’s why we’re there, after all), but speaking the language and understanding the challenges of the school make the connections so much richer.

We all talk about the power of the arts to engage students. Engaging students is vitally important, but it cannot be empty engagement—they must be engaged in a way that inspires learning and connections across the curriculum. By speaking the language of the school you help the school’s mission and your organization’s mission simultaneously.

Currently, and in the near future, the dialog within schools focuses upon the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The shifts that are required to implement the CCSS are vital for arts partners to understand.

There are twelve shifts that have been articulated—six in math and six in English/language arts. These shifts include increased use of informational text, fluency in basic mathematical operations, unprompted application to real world settings, and greater task complexity, amongst others.

If you are not already familiar with the shifts, I encourage you to learn more about them.

The shifts affect both teachers and students, and are vital in updating our educational methods for the 21st century. The content is compartmentalized within math and English/language arts, but the artists in us know that inspiration and information do not fit within boundaries.

Just as we ask schools to use the power and influence of the arts in their students, we must also recognize the relevance of the CCSS in arts instruction.

When we provide professional development or consulting services to a school, our first step should be to understand the initiatives and issues that particular school is addressing. From there, training and materials can be designed to reflect these specific needs.

Without this preliminary work, the efforts of arts providers will fall upon deaf ears. We must understand the school first in order to activate the power of what we offer them. Classroom teachers, students, and music teachers alike all benefit from this shared language and understanding.

As states begin implementing the CCSS, arts partners have a great opportunity to renew their school relationships and help them at this critical time. They are hungry for new materials and approaches, and the arts are most certainly in an excellent place to help.

7 responses for Arts Education Partners Must Understand the School to Activate the Power of What We Offer


March 22, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I agree Alyx! The whole school community- arts partners included- have to take responsibility for teaching students how to make connections and applications across the curriculum. Despite the initial reactions of some, there is a real benefit to both the Arts curriculum and other subject areas in doing this. Here at Education Through Music, we know from experience that one hand washes the other-- when we take the time to learn the language of the school, we create more effective instruction in the Arts AND in other subject areas.

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Joyce Bonomini says
March 27, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Clearly stated - the importance in partnership of understanding the educational ecosystem, the landscape, issues and goals, but the 'language' can be tricky as words can mean or represent different things in different fields.

Common Core Standards will be a good thing for all of us.

I do have one question, when you speak of the shifts, do they not apply to New York standards? I am not finding the same recommendations in Florida. Can you clarify?


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March 28, 2012 at 12:32 pm

That's a good question, Joyce. The shifts are applicable to all states. They are a way for states to understand what the general change in the priorities and skills will be once the CCSS are implemented. Because they have had their own standards before adopting CCSS, each state will have a different starting point on their path to shifting to CCSS, but we will all end up at the same destination- a shared set of standards. Because of their varied starting points, the shifts might be emphasized differently in some states. However, the shifts as they are articulated in the link above blog post are a great overview of the various challenges all states might encounter.

For example, one state might have previously placed a much higher priority on informational text than another state. In that case, the first state may not view the shift to more informational text as truly a shift, since they were already meeting those particular requirements. However, another state might view that shift as a particular challenge and decide that is a particular area of focus for them.

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April 05, 2012 at 4:38 pm

The irony here is that artists must shape and squeeze art to fit into these standards in order to get them in the schools. Arts for arts sake is put out to pasture.

This, despite a National Endowment for the Arts study that found that students that have access to the arts have "better workforce opportunities" and were more likely to plan to earn bachelor's degrees. As among the stated goals of the CCSS are to "prepare our children for College and the Workforce", one would think they would recognize the value of "arts for arts sake", and not require them to be squeezed into these limited and preconceived "shifts".

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April 05, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Arts for art's sake is certainly valid, and it is important that when integrating we don't lose sight of the inherent value of "pure" arts instruction (if there is such a thing). However, this isn't a matter of forcing Arts instruction to be subservient to other standards. I think the article is about recognizing common goals shared by Arts and the rest of the curriculum, and using a shared language.

As Arts teachers, we often only see a small sliver of our students' academic lives. While it is not necessarily our job to teach arts only in the service of other subjects, we can't simply ignore the efforts made students' academic lives. For most educators (Arts and otherwise) the goal is to create a well-rounded education. This comes from connections across the curriculum, not just pushing individual subjects in an isolated fashion.

Here is some food for thought that will give some stark contrast to the importance of Art's need for cross-curricular awareness: Let's look at the reality of how a student's time in school is allocated. I think this will shed light on the most important part of the article--the need for Arts to be aware of the whole school culture. Let's be generous and say that a student receives 2 periods of Arts instruction a week, every week for the school year. I'll even round up this figure and say that this student receives 80 periods of Arts instruction for the year. The stark reality is that if a child has 7 periods of instruction in a 180-day school year, they are receiving almost 1200 periods of instruction in non-Arts related subjects, as opposed to 80 periods of art. It seems prudent that the Arts teacher should be aware of the other academic efforts in order to make the most efficient and relevant use of Arts instruction time.

Arthur, I'm curious why in your own blog you stated that the CCSS "miss the mark entirely"?

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March 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm

It is so true that we need to understand the school and their needs. Often, the external art providers come into the picture offering amazing field trips, programs and curriculum-based events, but if it is not relevant to the needs of the school, there is simply no time to make exceptions. States are rolling out CCSS at different times but now is the time to study the new standards and apply them to what you offer.

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Rita says
March 22, 2012 at 2:53 am

I agree when teaching the whole child the understanding to be whole with the curriculm...I always kept my student in engaged more so they didn't want to leave my classroom...working on my goal to assist them toward the 21st century by working on my MFA to enchance the whole child further in their learning experience with the arts.

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