Teaching Arts Education Advocates

Posted by Jennifer Katona, Oct 21, 2015 0 comments

How many of us have had the conversation around Arts Integration and Arts for Arts sake? Value in both right? We know from countless examples and research studies that the best benefit to a child is to have a arts specialist, arts integration AND a teaching artist to provide the ‘expert’ outside perspective. This is something I know in my core –something I teach my graduate candidates at CCNY. So I had to laugh when it took me nine years to apply this same structure to the teaching of Advocacy –which I did for the first time this year and the results have been triumphant! 

Below is a chronicle of my experience over the last eight weeks teaching my graduate students to be advocates.


The Graduate Program in Educational Theatre at the City College of New York –of which I serve as Program Director in Educational Theatre - is grounded in three beliefs: Pedagogy, Artistry and Advocacy. We have fostered a strong pedagogical approach over our last nine years and have really focused on providing many performing and creative opportunities for our candidates and advocacy was something embedded in our all work. I felt strongly that just by providing our candidates information on the importance of the arts and the current policy issues would be enough and they could fill in the blanks. However, what we found was that while many of our candidates were strongly advocating for their programs in their schools –as either certified theatre teachers, teaching artists, or administrators - many when asked to give their 2-min pitch or ‘elevator’ speech struggled to concisely articulate their ideas. I also found that some candidates and alum found it difficult to move programs forward or effectively advocate for growth of their programs.


Advocacy for Advocacy Sake

This year when planning my syllabi I decided to make advocacy a real focus but in a real concrete way. Not embedded but taught –advocacy for advocacy sake!

I decided to refocus my course on Arts Education in an Urban Setting and devote a large part of the semester to real advocacy work. I started the semester providing the graduate candidates with a strong foundation in the historical context of Arts Education in New York City and the current state of federal, state and local educational policy.  

Advocacy Integration

Now what happened next was interesting. In addition to my Urban Arts Ed class I am also teaching the Research in Educational Theatre course and those students were asked to read some of the seminal pieces of Arts Education research. In our class discussion the 25 students were divided into 5 groups and asked to unpack the research and ask one big question moving forward. My thought was to then have us discuss those five questions as a large group. However, when the five groups stood back to share out their question each group had the same one –‘This research is great but how can we use to advocate?’ ‘If we have so much research why isn’t it making a bigger difference –how can we advocate? ‘What are the best ways to advocate and to who?  This was both astounding and reaffirming to me. Never had 25 students collectively agreed on the direction of their conversation. It reinforced for me that advocacy skills must be taught and not just embedded. 

Bring in an Outside ‘Expert’ Perspective

Jeff Poulin, Arts Education Coordinator at Americans for the Arts, came to further expound the state of policy AND to inspire them to be advocates. I had seen Jeff present at a few other conferences and knew he would have the right energy for my students (and my 730p-10p class time). 

As I assumed, Jeff presented the context very clearly and then what was really the ‘A-ha’ moment for everyone were two key components –the sphere of influence and the soft and hard ask.  What was essential to having the ‘advocacy artist’ or ‘teaching advocate’ in my class was it did what all good teaching artists do which is to inspire the students –when the ‘expert’ places the mantel of expert onto them –in a way the ‘classroom teacher’ cannot, it truly inspires students (and graduate candidates) to feel empowered.  My candidates in reflection after spoke in great detail about how they never would thought they could actually make a difference in a real concrete way.


I asked my candidates to write an advocacy plan following the criteria below:

Arts Advocacy Plan  

Americans for the Arts’ website to download the field guide.

Your 1-2 page plan should include the following information

1. Your role as advocate (parent, teacher, TA, student, community member)

2. Who are you advocating FOR (students, parents, etc...)

3. Who are are you advocating to? (be sure to reference the ecosystem

4. What is your hard ask?

5. What is the soft ask?

6. Research that supports your ask

7. 'Story' that illustrates the importance of the work

The greatest take a-ways for my students were the soft and hard ask. Asking teachers who are so used to backward mapping and scaffolding to think about a hard ask as a future goal and the soft asks as the steps leading up to that, was very easy for them to grasp and they ran with it.

The other take away was that in writing the plan with a specific person or group in mind made it easier to craft their research and narrative to meet the needs or expected concerns of that person.

For some candidates who are both teachers and parents they found the decision to which hat to wear very liberating and the specificity helpful. For those who are in school and new to this process who previously felt they did not have a voice said that they took the role of community member and found that they had something to offer. Additionally others felt that it illustrated for them what more information and research they need to make a compelling ‘ask’.

Overall all the candidates felt the process, visit, and assignment truly provided them the experience and knowledge to be a true advocate.

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