Kristen Engebretsen

Inspiration Needs to be the Starting Line for Professional Development

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen, Feb 20, 2015 1 comment

Kristen Engebretsen

Dear Educators,

How many times have you been in this situation?

A classroom full of students sits arms crossed, slouched, or fiddling with their phones. Their thoughts are elsewhere. You can tell because of their daydreaming absent gazes.

Is this a typical High School classroom? Perhaps, but today I’m talking about one of the many professional development courses I’ve attended over the years. You see, these students are also educators. And ideally they are being taught new ways to teach.

Most of them have seen this kind of thing before. Fads and trends in education policy are nothing new to them. So it makes sense that they’re not connected to the material in front of them.

In the very back row is Frank, legs crossed, spectacles askew, taking notes on something… anything but this lecture on, “Using Poetry to Teach Other Subjects.”

He’s thought it through and determined there is not a subject matter fit between this session and his State Standards for Physics. And so he sits through it, biding his time.

You see, a week prior, a mandatory professional development course was scheduled for Frank and a few dozen other instructors in order to launch the district's new arts integration program.

He thought to himself, “Great. There goes a few more hours where I could be making a difference for my students, or finally get some time to myself.” And he wasn’t the only one.

I feel for Frank. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve attended professional development courses where the educators in the seats have been given no clear idea of why they, in particular, are attending.

What’s missing? Context. None of the communication with Frank so far has shown him that this approach to teaching solves any of his problems or improves his results.

So, what’s the solution? Creating a connection. Before you begin your district-mandated professional development session, you need to get everyone on the same page about the benefits of arts education. You need to show every educator in that room that arts education can be a solution to helping our students succeed in both school and in life.

Wondering where to start? Americans for the Arts has developed a series of videos called Encourage Creativity: Teach the Arts--they were created to spark the passions of professionals and decision makers. You can show any of the four videos, ranging in length from ninety seconds to seven minutes, which will serve to direct focus, introduce thought-provoking topics in a story-driven way, and provide a shared experience that creates a sense of community for the session.

Using their own words, the students in these videos share their passion for learning through multiple art disciplines. The courage, elegance, and ingenuity of these young artists is captured in a rich, colorful, and compelling way.

Once participants have heard directly from young people about the value and benefits of arts education, you can get everyone in the room to coalesce around the idea that the arts lead to student success. I guarantee that every teacher in that room cares about student success. With that unifying element, you can then begin your arts integration instruction and begin to inspire these educators who, in turn, we rely on to inspire our students every day.

Editor’s Note: This blog is part of a miniseries about the suite of tools called Encourage Creativity.

1 responses for Inspiration Needs to be the Starting Line for Professional Development


February 20, 2015 at 7:18 pm

Thank you for this illuminating blog piece, Kristen! The videos are inspiring. They feature many of the aspects of art-making, learning and individual focus, concentration and application within a variety of art forms. Learning skills are transferable to all subjects, enhancing students' positive identity and becoming more comfortable with challenges and asserting ideas. Also, the progressive skill, understanding and creative expression that students acquire in their art-making experiences enable them to use their capacity to engage in other subject and content areas; to inquire and make connections amongst concepts and content. I hope that district and school leaders as well as classroom educators and artists will find ways to use these videos in presentations for various audiences. These resources can also be linked to specific model lessons featuring artists and examples of integrated arts curriculum, such as the L.A. Music Center's Artsource®. Access these arts education resources at:

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