What Arts Teachers Want Principals to Know
By Jamie Hipp
January 2017, Volume 40, Issue 5
The arts disciplines, long considered trivial additions to the school day, have emerged as fundamental in our current educational policy climate. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law by President Obama in 2015, lists the Arts alongside mathematics and language arts as an integral part of a “well rounded education.” Moreover, President-elect Donald Trump’s education plan mentions STEAM.
Arts education benefits in K-12 settings are highlighted in a multitude of major educational journals. Numerous education conferences include a STEAM strand for presentations and breakout sessions. Most states require teacher candidates to take an arts education/integration component prior to certification. The arts elevate STEM education to STEAM, yet the arts disciplines are no stranger to cuts and lack of administrative support.
As an itinerant Theatre specialist in a large public school system, I have had the privilege of working under seven principals in just as many years. I realized quickly that, despite the immense body of research and literature that identifies the advantages of the arts, principals run the gamut from supportive to unaccommodating regarding this discipline.
Sometimes, the lack of perceived “support” for arts programs is unavoidable. Take, for example, the layout of many school campuses. The arts classes are generally confined to their own space (i.e. a T-building, trailer, quad, etc.). This plays into the school’s hidden curriculum and shows students that the arts are considered “other.” Occasionally, arts specialists are unashamedly made to feel insignificant. They are asked to not have a class to cover an absent teacher’s recess duty instead.
Five Ways Principals Can Support the Arts
1. Provide and Maintain Dedicated Space
Classroom teachers would never be expected to teach in the hallways or even outside. This scenario is all too routine for arts teachers who lose their instructional space to intervention groups, storage of fundraiser items, student hearing and vision diagnostic testing, and a slew of other school commitments. Principals dedicated to the arts provide space for the undertaking of the art form. They also rarely allow other activities to infringe upon this space.
2. Allocate Time
Arts specialists are often expected to assist classroom teachers with holiday-themed performances or galleries. This responsibility adds to specialists’ already extensive standards and curriculum load. Leading up to these visual/performing arts showcases, arts-invested principals set aside rehearsal time for students, classroom teachers, and arts specialists. This dedicated time serves a twofold purpose: It ensures that students are supported with ample preparation time and it also sends a message of embracing schoolwide collaboration.
3. Encourage Two-Way Collaborative Planning
In most buildings, the arts specialists teach in grade-level clusters so that grade-level classroom teachers can collaboratively plan. Arts-supportive principals encourage representatives of the school’s arts team to join PLCs. The arts specialists can support classroom teachers’ arts integration endeavors and can offer materials, arts lesson activities, and pedagogical advice. Classroom teachers can, in turn, listen to arts’ specialists upcoming units and can offer academic tie-ins to improve multimodal student understanding.
4. Creatively Staff
Teacher obligations and illnesses lead to missed instructional time, often without ample notice. When this happens, principals invested in the arts get creative. They see the arts and traditional “core” subjects as equals in importance and take measures to preserve arts instructional minutes. They do not cancel arts or enrichment classes so arts specialists can substitute for duty positions.
5. Approve Professional Leave
Many artists continue their professional work outside of school. Supportive principals deem gallery shows, symphony performances, professional theatre, etc. as a form of professional leave, not personal or unexcused. These principals even encourage arts specialists to share their real-world career experience with students.
A thriving school arts program requires a non-wavering commitment from administrators. Principals who uphold this commitment create a culture of support for classroom and arts teachers alike. Supported teachers are successful teachers.
Jamie Hipp is a doctoral student in curriculum and instruction at Louisiana State University, and a theatre specialist in the East Baton Rouge Parish Public School System.
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