Looking Forward

The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” -Charles Kettering, American inventor

Today I sent an end-of-the-year message to the art teachers in my school system. Among other things, I wanted to address change we know is coming to our schools. I’d like to share some of these ideas with you…

Change is one thing we can always count on. It can be difficult and scary at times, but change is not always bad. From my perspective, this is a very exciting time to be involved in art education. Leaders in education here and across the country are talking about the importance of developing creative and critical thinking skills, the need to balance an over-emphasis on standardized testing with more performance based assessments, and the value of expanding opportunities for authentic, project-based learning experiences for students of all ages. These are things art educators do very well, and we have a great opportunity to lead this work! In our schools, there are a number of positive symptoms of change that are providing opportunities and benefits for art programs to support student learning. Our community and leadership want to defend a student’s ability to take electives at the secondary level. In a state where it seems graduation requirements are added on a regular basis, it is reassuring to see our district try to mitigate the impact of these decisions by providing high school students with many options for completing required courses. The Economics and Personal Finance course, the latest culprit, can now be taken during summer programs, online, and in a self-paced  model, as well as during the school day. Art teachers at all levels, K-12, are being provided opportunities to work collaboratively with a team of art teachers to improve instruction, even when they are singletons in their school. Fully one-third of the art teachers in our district do not have another full-time art teacher to collaborate with in their building. Efforts to develop multi-school collaborative art teams are being supported like never before to ensure these teachers have meaningful collaborative experiences. Our school board is working very hard to improve learning conditions by correcting long-time problems with our calendar and elementary school schedules. Very soon, they may approve changes that would result in more instructional time for students. Whether or not it is part of the official solution, or a long-term outcome, I feel certain that our students will benefit by getting more art instruction time in elementary school. Classroom teachers need planning time, and art teachers can provide that while providing meaningful instruction and developing valuable skills. We will have to wait and see what the final plan looks like, but I am very hopeful. Finally, our district is developing a new strategic plan that will establish new goals for our students. Our early look at the direction of this work suggests an emphasis on 21st Century skills including creativity, communication, critical thinking, and problem solving. The arts are well positioned to support the characteristics we seek to develop in our students. As art educators, we should stand ready to support our schools as an experienced voice in working toward these goals! In a field that is often criticized for changing at a glacial pace, educators should embrace change when it is enacted for the right reasons. With change comes new challenges that require creative solutions, but art teachers are some of the most creative and able problem solvers in our schools. I know we will be able to adapt to whatever comes our way.

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