I have been facilitating a research and design team working to develop an arts-integrated learning opportunity for our elementary and middle school program over the past year. Through district and community open invitations, we have assembled parents, art teachers, music teachers, and even students! Yet, to really integrate the arts in the curriculum, we seemed to lack representatives from the core teaching areas.
In reading the Creative Confidence book by the Kelley brothers, founders of IDEO, and instituting a prototyping process in developing and sharing plans with the stakeholders for feedback and adjustments throughout the design stages, I came upon a significant finding. Teachers, who at the very core should believe in following passion, hold a strong, misguided belief that integrating the arts requires they must be accomplished artists themselves.
I remember a profound lesson learned when taking an environmental education graduate class. The professor asked us to go outside the graduate building and find interesting artifacts from nature. Class members combed the trees, bushes, and grass across the campus in search of bugs and flowers. Upon discovering an interesting leaf, I asked the professor the type of tree it came from.
After studying the leaf for a few seconds intently, he emphatically replied that he did not know. I was dumbfounded. We weren’t in the jungle! How did the environmental education professor not know? He unapologetically answered that he had a passion for the out-of-doors and knew that, through collective research and inquiry, we could figure it out together.
As educational leaders, we have a great opportunity to address this axiom – to provide a more relevant lens for learning for our students, we need to share the truth with teachers that transforming a classroom through arts integration only requires passion and willingness. The teacher does not need to be Mozart or Da Vinci!
I do not think of myself as an artist, but I know that, given the opportunity to learn about the Civil War, I would have jumped at the chance to be in a classroom looking at how art and music shaped and told the story and shared my understanding by writing a play! And, as a teacher, given the time to collaborate with my fellow art teachers, we could design lessons that integrate the arts in math, science, social studies, and language arts together.
It will take some art-know-how to integrate it for our students, but with the support of the art and music teachers, and of course the principal, it is possible. No art degree required…