I just returned from spending the day, January 2nd
, 2018, 8:00-3:00 leading an arts integration workshop with a group of teachers in a very small, isolated rural school district in Missouri. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how small my group was. Let’s just say that the number was under five, but over three. But hey, I never know what to expect. I’ve done similar things with a group of one hundred and twenty and I have to say that I prefer the smaller groups. My colleagues at the Education Department who are also directors in what we call the content, core, or tested subject areas always have larger groups. But that’s OK; by the end of my session, my little group understood that those teachers missed something important. At least I hope that’s what they understood.
They missed something important, because they missed out on learning why the arts are the solution. That’s right, you read it correctly, the arts are the solution! I have discovered that if you say something often enough, that other educators begin to believe it along with you and pretty soon they are boldly going about changing how they approach their teaching, and actually starting to make arts integration happen. And, it doesn’t just happen in their arts classes, but the spread the enthusiasm to other content area teachers, especially in grades K-8. Now this really isn’t anything new; in thinking about my past experiences as a teacher, I’ve always known this was possible. Earlier in my career, I just was never in a position to devote so much effort and time towards empowering other educators.
Of course, the arts were always the solution in my class; I was the art teacher! Administrators often commented that they wished they could tap into the engagement and enthusiasm they witnessed in my class for the other teachers. They also said the same thing about the music, dance, and theatre teacher. I was never really convinced though that they understood exactly what they were seeing. Like the prisoners in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
, all they saw were shadows. Staunchly committed to more traditional approaches to teaching, they may not have completely understood that students loved the arts because the arts provided them with an environment where they could learn without anxiety. In arts class, compliance was not expected, because creative engagement took its place. The arts are an integral component of the natural language of play that children speak; that is until we begin to take it away from them. The arts are powerful. In the hands of expert and willing teachers, the power can be harnessed.
Now, about that arts being the solution thing. There is evidence that it can be just that, through arts integration. One problem though is that there is a scarcity of gold standard, intensive studies that provide the evidence we need to make arts integration something that is earnestly explored, documented and researched as a highly effective approach to teaching that can increase student achievement across several measures. Through integration, the arts can be used as leverage to increase engagement and learning in all subject areas and simultaneously increase the richness of the exposure that kids have to the arts. That’s the core of the message I communicated to my little group today. In Part Two of January 2nd Teachers Return to School
, I’ll elaborate on what we learned.
Tom Tobias--- Arts Education Director
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education