A Network of “Magic Teachers”


Teacher Leaders in the Arts candidates create a mural to define the qualities of leadership.


Imagine teaching juggling for brain development.  Dancing the Underground Railroad to learn history.  Playing improvisation games to build confidence.  Painting stretched deer hide with natural pigments to understand culture. These are just a few of the deep arts learning experiences a group of 16 teachers immersed themselves in last summer at the Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts Summer Institute at Salish Kootenai College.

Building on the success of the pilot program, the Montana Art Council and the Montana Office of Public Instruction will once again partner for the 2016-2017 Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts program.  Through this innovative professional learning program, MAC and the OPI seek to develop teacher leaders who can support teachers in K-12 public schools statewide in integrating the arts into their classrooms.  The application process is now open to all K-12 Montana educators with a deadline of March 30, 2016.

The pilot cohort of Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts totaled sixteen educators, including music specialists, visual arts specialists, elementary classroom teachers and one special education teacher.  Schools represented included AA high schools, several Class C schools, six reservations schools, and even one of Montana’s one-room schoolhouses.

Susan Luinstra teaches eight students at tiny Bynum School along the Rocky Mountain Front: “The Teacher Leaders in the Arts Program opened my eyes to the importance and ease with which art can be integrated into our classroom curricula each day.  Art connections are everywhere!”


Creating flutes from alternative materials under the guidance of SKC and TLA faculty member Frank Finley.


“Many of us work in buildings where there is limited to no access to arts specialists, so the chance to exchange ideas, learn new things, and gain advocates is invaluable,” says pilot cohort member Jodi Delaney, who teaches upper elementary Montessori at Broadwater Elementary School in Helena.

Teacher Leaders in the Arts candidates complete a rigorous program that includes a nine-day, on-site summer institute at Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead Reservation.  This year’s summer program is scheduled for June 20-29, 2016 and will be lead by members of the pilot cohort, along with master instructors in arts learning, including Salish Kootenai College instructor Frank Finley.  Guest workshops and field trips are also part of the summer workshop.


At the Tribal Warrior Monument in Pablo with creator and artist Corky Clairmont.


During the school year the program continues through a webinar series and online meetings with cohort members, as well as a final gathering in April.  Candidates also receive support for a field project in the teacher leader’s school or region.

During the Teacher Leaders in the Arts program, candidates:

  • gather arts-based tools to spark creative, engaged, and joyful teaching and learning for all learners, in any classroom environment.
  • study the relationship between arts learning and brain theory.
  • understand how the arts build critical habits of mind that lead to future success.
  • work collaboratively with other educators to build a curriculum that supports an arts-integrated learning model.
  • advocate for and champion arts learning back in their schools and communities by sharing their knowledge and skills with other educators.
  • become catalysts for change to create more equitable access to arts learning opportunities for K-12 students in Montana schools.

“The program impacted my teaching in ways I did not expect,” says Jennifer Ogden, arts specialist from Victor, “It was nice to be able to meet and swap strategies with ‘Magic Teachers’ across the state who work in different kinds of schools.”


Guest workshop on integrating movement in the classroom with UM Dance Professor Karen Kaufmann.



Through the Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts program, MAC and the OPI hope to build a strong network of coaches, mentors and advocates for arts learning across the state.  This network of “Magic Teachers” will be able to provide professional learning and leadership on a local, regional and state level, increasing the available resources teachers can call on to help integrate the arts into their curriculum.

All teachers in Montana K-12 public schools, administrators, teaching artists and retired teachers are eligible to apply.  Find all registration information and materials here.

Questions? Contact Emily Kohring at ekohring@mt.gov or 406-444-6522.

2016-2017 Montana Teacher Leader in the Arts now taking applications!

Do you believe in the power of arts learning to make a difference in the lives of students?  Do you want to take a leadership role in expanding arts education opportunities in your school and community?

The Montana Arts Council, in partnership with the Montana Office of Public Instruction, is now recruiting educators across Montana for the second year of Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts. Through this innovative program, MAC and the OPI seek to develop teacher leaders who can support other teachers statewide in integrating the arts into their classrooms.

The program includes an on-site summer institute on arts learning, June 20-29 at Salish Kootenai College, online professional learning opportunities throughout the school year, and support for a field project in the arts in the teacher leader’s school or region.

All K-12 teacher in Montana’s public schools, arts specialist and classroom teachers, as well as qualified teaching artists, are welcome to apply for the program.

Full program information and an application is available here.

The deadline for application is now Wednesday, March 30, 2016.  Contact Emily Kohring, Director of Arts Education at the Montana Arts Council, ekohring@mt.gov with questions.

Check out this video of our 2015 inaugural Summer Institute, made by Teacher Leader in the Arts Wes Hines:

Want to get an artist to your school or community? Learn how!

MAC to host an Artist in Schools and Communities “Get the Grant” Webinar
Tuesday, February 16 4:00 pm-5:00 pm

Join MAC staff members Emily Kohring and Kristin Burgoyne and get all your questions answered about applying for MAC’s Artists in Schools and Communities grant.  Emily and Kristin will offer basic grant writing tips, show you examples of what works and does not work in a grant application, offer advice on building a partnership with an artist or arts organization, and teach you how to build a workable budget for an AISC grant.  You will have the opportunity to ask questions specific to your proposal. This webinar is ideal for first-time grant writers, or for previously unsuccessful AISC applicants who want to strengthen this year’s application.

A computer with a headset and microphone is helpful, but not essential, to participate.

Click here to Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android

Or join by phone:
+1 855 880 1246 (US Toll Free)
+1 877 369 0926 (US Toll Free)
Enter Meeting ID: 245 201 971

Questions?  Email Emily Kohring, Director of Arts Education, ekohring@mt.gov


Artists in Schools and Communities FY17 Grant Cycle Now Open

The Montana Arts Council is now accepting grant applications for projects occurring between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017 through their Artists in Schools and Communities program.

The Montana Arts Council strives to provide access to quality arts learning to develop the creative potential of Montanans of all ages.  Towards that end, the Artists in Schools and Communities program provides matching funds that support a wide range of arts learning experiences and artist residencies for participants of all ages with professional working artists, as well as other special projects that support arts learning in schools and community settings.

This year, through a special appropriation by the 2015 Montana Legislature, a special fund is available to support arts learning projects in glassblowing.  This one-time only grant will support the expansion of education outreach activities for one or more established glassblowing studios across Montana.

Who Can Apply

The Montana Arts Council awards grants to Montana organizations that are not-for-profit and exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(a), which include the 501(c)(3) designation of the Internal Revenue code, or are units of government, public education institutions, or local chapters of tax-exempt national organizations.

Grant awards up to $10,000 will be available in the following categories:

  1. Arts Learning Experiences
  2. Artist Residencies
  3. Special Projects
  4. Arts Learning Partners
  5. Arts Learning in Glassblowing

Please refer to the guidelines for descriptions and funding criteria for all five categories.

See a list of AISC grants funded in FY16.

Artists in Schools and Communities FY17 Deadlines

Grant requests $1500 and over: Monday, April 4, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. for projects occurring between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017.

Grant requests from Arts Learning Partner organizations: Monday, April 4, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. for projects occurring between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017.

Grant requests for MAC’s AISC Arts Learning through Glassblowing category:  Letter of intent to apply will be due Monday, February 29, 2016. Grant request application for projects occurring between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017 will be due Monday, April 4, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. Note that this is a one-time grant award with no guarantee of funding beyond FY17.

Grant requests under $1500: this deadline will be ongoing, and grant funding will be distributed until depleted. You must apply at least six weeks in advance of the start date of your project for requests under $1500. Pending availability of funding, grant requests under $1500 will be accepted beginning June 1, 2016 for projects occurring between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017.

Access the Artists in Schools and Communities FY17 Grant Guidelines.

Start your FY17 grant application.

Questions about the AISC grant program?  Contact Emily Kohring, Director of Arts Education at 406-444-6522 or ekohring@mt.gov


Approaches to Art Therapy in Teaching Workshop in Kalispell

Happy New Year, Friends!  This morning one of our Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts, Wes Hines, sent me the information below about a workshop he is organizing with the Northwest Montana Educational Cooperative, featuring the wonderful teaching artist and therapist Jennifer Thompson.  I have seen Jennifer in action, and not only is she a wealth of information, but you will feel like you are in a day-long retreat when you are in her calm, relaxed presence, making art alongside your peers.  All teachers and artists are welcome to register, see the information below.

Approaches to Art Therapy in Teaching

Time:  Jan. 12, 2016, 9 am – 4 pm

Place: Kalispell, MT – Northwest Montana Educational Cooperative

Facilitator: Jennifer Thompson, M.A.E.T. Masters in Expressive Therapies, Installation Artist, Personal Growth Educator

Workshop goals:

To assist Art Teachers in the classroom through an introduction to an Art Therapy approach

To experiment hands-on using Art Therapy concepts and techniques

Objective: To impart to Art Teachers and anyone interested, an Art Therapy philosophy, techniques and a new perspective on art-making that they can take back and use in the classroom

Method: Through a series of thought-provoking questions, journal writing, art-making and sharing in small groups, teachers will try out Art Therapy techniques. Teachers will discover new ways to help students access a creative response to personal development and problem-solving in the classroom while fulfilling Montana standards for art education.

To Register:
Eliza Anne Sorte-Thomas
Director, Northwest Montana Educational Cooperative
Phone:  406.752.3302


Kindness, Education and the Arts

Kindness seems in short supply in the world lately.   Turning on the news can be really disheartening, even frightening.  Not only world and national events, but the response to those events-in the media, by politicians and on social media-can leave you wondering if much of the world has forgotten that Golden Rule thing.  Kindness and compassion are in short supply.

I am an arts educator.  I also have a daughter in kindergarten. My two roles combined leave me having a lot of conversations with my close colleagues lately about kindness, education and the arts.

For  (too) many years, No Child Left Behind forced arts educators to put their focus on raising academic achievement using the arts as a tool.  Music in service to math, drama in service to reading and writing.  While there is evidence that the arts can be a great tool for learning in other content areas, arts educators during the NCLB era have too often been asked not to focus on what they know they do best.

Fostering kindness, creating compassion, building community.  This is what arts educators do best.

High-quality arts educators are not just great at teaching their content area. The best ones also create classrooms where competition is minimized, collaboration is required, creativity is rewarded and praise and encouragement are offered not only to the student who gets the right answer, but to the student who takes a risk, offers a helping hand, plays as a team and offers a unique perspective.

The ability to show kindness and compassion are considered “soft skills” that are difficult to assess, and some may even feel these skills are for parents to teach their children and not the job of schools.  But if children are to spend the majority of their waking hours at school, a school must bare some responsibility to create a community of compassion.

If you ask many successful adults who their favorite teacher was in school, it is likely they will tell you it was their art, music, dance or drama teacher. And it’s not just the kindness of the teacher they will recall, it is also the sense of belonging they felt in that teacher’s classroom, too.

Putting a paintbrush, a trombone or a script in a child’s hand, and giving them that feeling they are part of  a community where they feel safe and cared for will reap untold benefits for their future as caring and creative citizens of the world.  It may even stop a lonely and isolated person from putting a gun in their hand.

This morning one of our Artists in Schools and Communities grant recipients, the Holter Museum of Art, sent a photo.  They recently completed a residency with artist and Tibetan Monk, Yeshi Rinpoche.


Courtesy Holter Museum of Art


The caption on the photo read: “Student working on collaborative mandala of great compassion.”

The photo and the caption really struck me, a collaborative mandala of great compassion.  As much as the world needs students who graduate with high reading and math skills, it is critical that these same high-achievers be able to collaborate, and know how to show great compassion.

This quote resonates as I consider the power arts educators have to be change agents in creating a more compassionate world for our children:

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”     –L. R. Knost

I hope decision-makers and administrators take their responsibility to foster kindness and compassion in their school community into consideration the next time they consider cutting an art or music program.  We could all stand to live in a world that is a little less cruel and heartless.

Join the Artists in Schools and Communities Registry

UPDATE 12/8/15:  The deadline to apply to be listed on the Artists in Schools and Communities Registry has been extended to Monday, February 1, 2016. 

The Montana Arts Council is now taking applications from qualified teaching artists for its revised Artists in School and Communities Registry.  The AISC Registry will launch in early 2016, and will provide a listing of teaching artists, performing groups and organizations that provide arts learning opportunities to Montana schools and community organizations.

Professional teaching artists in all disciplines, including visual and media arts, dance, theatre, music and creative writing, are welcome to submit an application to be listed on the AISC Registry.  The deadline for application is Monday, February 1, 2016.  A second round of applications will be accepted in May, 2016. Please click here for full information and the application.

Direct all questions to Emily Kohring, Director of Arts Education, at (406) 444-6522 or ekohring@mt.gov

What We Did This Summer

I am slightly embarrassed by how long it has been since I’ve posted anything on this blog.  I’ve been kind of busy.  Lame excuse, right?  But, no, really, it has been an extraordinary summer for arts education in Montana.  Big things are happening.  Let me get you up to speed.

The last time I posted I was recruiting writers and reviewers for the Montana Standards for Arts Revision Team.  It seems like ages ago that I was concerned we wouldn’t have enough interest to put a solid team together, everybody would be on summer vacation, it was too much time for people to commit, I wouldn’t be able to find a place for the teams to meet . . . all needless worries.  Montana’s arts educators stepped up in a huge way.  They certainly did not seem to mind working over summer break!

Arts Standards Writing Team Photo 8.5.15

The Montana Arts Standards Revision Team at the end of their Great Falls writing session on August 5–still smiling!

From August 3-5, a group of 20 of them gathered at the Great Falls Public School District Office Building (and we are ever so grateful to our host, Dusty Molyneaux, Fine Arts Coordinator for the GFPS), to begin the work of writing updated, discipline-specific standards in Music, Visual Arts, Media Arts, Theatre and Dance.  Nearly all of the team members are working classroom teachers, along with a few teaching artists and representatives from Montana arts organizations.

In just 2.5 days, each team generated a first draft of the new standards in Music, Theatre, Visual Arts and Media Arts, which were promptly sent off to review team members for feedback.  The team members are extraordinary educators, it was a thrill to sit in and listen to the thoughtful dialogue about what arts learning should look like in Montana’s public schools in the 21st century, and inspiring to be around people so passionately committed to arts education for all learners.  The Dance writing team will meet on August 25 in Missoula to write Montana’s first-ever dance standards, and new Media Arts standards are also being produced, putting Montana on the leading edge of arts education nationally.

The arts standards will soon be in final draft, and will then go to the Office of Public Instruction’s Negotiated Rulemaking Committee in late October. This group, which also includes some of our state’s outstanding arts educators, will govern the process, and offer feedback on the final drafts before they are introduced to the Board of Public Education.  There will be lots of opportunity for public comment from arts educators, teaching artists, administrators, parents and all interested parties before the BPE moves to adopt the new standards sometime in 2016.

AND THEN we will have new, more rigorous arts standards for specific disciplines that reflect what students should know and be able to do in the arts in order to be college and career ready.  But that is not the end of the story.  Chapter Two begins the morning after the Board of Public Education adopts the new standards, where we begin the work of providing the resources and professional learning support to teachers and schools to implement the new standards.  New standards that sit in a dusty binder on a teacher’s shelf are of no use at all, we need to provide training and support for teachers to use the standards to build an excellent and equitable arts curriculum for their students.

In fact, this will be the fun part.  And it has already begun.  This past June, the inaugural cohort of the Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts program met for a 9-day arts learning institute at Salish Kootenai College.  Sixteen teachers were selected from all corners of Montana, from Poplar to Victor to Lame Deer, to participate in a blended learning model of on-site and online training to become coaches, mentors and advocates for arts learning in schools across Montana.  As we add a new cohort each year, we plan to grow a strong network of arts educators across the state who can themselves provide regional professional learning opportunities to their peers, mentor teachers on effective arts-based teaching strategies, and encourage stronger arts education policies in Montana’s schools and districts.

One of our Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts candidates, Wes Hines of Kalispell, made a short video to document the learning (and fun) of our nine days at Salish Kootenai College.  Stay tuned, we’ll recruit a new cohort this spring.

Get involved! Montana Arts Standards Revision 2015–Seeking Team Members

The Office of Public Instruction and Montana Arts Council are seeking professional educators with expertise in the following areas: Theatre, Dance, Music, Visual Arts, Media Arts, as well as educators with expertise in Indian Education for All (IEFA) to participate in the revision of the Montana Standards for Arts.

Writing team members are required to be available August 3-5, 2015 to participate in the initial training and writing session.  All other work will be done online and is scheduled to be completed by December, 2015.  Writing team members will receive a small stipend and will be reimbursed for travel expenses.

Review team members are also sought.  The review team will review and provide feedbacks on drafts of standards as they are produced by the writing teams.  No travel is required to participate on the review team.

Teams will be chosen based on factors including years of experience, geographic location, urban/rural distribution, size of school or district and other special qualifications.  A minimum of three years classroom teaching experience is required.  Administrators, higher education faculty and professional teaching artists/professional arts organization staff are also welcome to apply.

The application is due Friday, May 22 by 5:00 pm. 

OPI 2015 Arts Standards Revision Team Application

Please direct all questions about the Arts Standards Revision to Emily Kohring, Director of Arts Education, Montana Arts Council  at ekohring@mt.gov or (406) 444-6522.

The Comeback Kids

Have you seen this headline?

“Arts Education Poised for Comeback in Nation’s Largest School Districts”

Not all that many articles about arts education get posted on mainstream media websites, so when one does, especially one that heralds good news about arts education, it gets re-blogged and tweeted all over by arts education advocates.  I saw it at least a dozen times in my Twitter feed over the past month.

But why should we care here in Montana?  None of the nation’s largest school districts are in Montana; in fact, the Chicago Public Schools have over twice as many students as the entire state of Montana.  We still have 61 one-room schoolhouses!  Half of our public schools have less than 100 students.

This headline is not about us.   Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Diego . . . lucky them.

But play along with me for a minute.  What if that headline said “Arts Education Poised for Comeback in Montana’s School Districts?”  Here are some things you might read about in that article:

  • Montana is beginning the process of revising our arts standards. Teachers across the state are participating in focus groups and surveys, and eagerly volunteering to serve on the standards writing team.
  • Eighteen teachers are heading to Salish Kootenai College in June for the first-ever Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts Summer Institute, a partnership between the Montana Arts Council and the Office of Public Instruction. The teachers will receive in-depth professional learning opportunities with master arts educators on multiple arts learning topics. These teacher leaders will become coaches, mentors and advocates for other teachers in their regions to implement best practices in arts learning.
  • Great Falls Public Schools and the Great Falls Symphony were just honored as one of only 38 school/music organization partnerships in the nation to attend the Yale Symposium on Music in Schools.
  • Missoula is the first Montana community to participate in the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child Initiative to provide equitable access to the arts for every child in the district grades K-8.
  • Lame Deer Middle School was one of eight pilot schools in the high-profile President’s Council on the Arts and Humanities Turnaround Arts program. Their students performed at the White House, and the school continues to receive visits from Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble.
  • Forty professional artists from across the state gathered at the Holter Museum in Helena in April for a weekend of networking and learning how to provide the highest-quality arts learning experiences for schools and communities.

All of the above is true. Maybe you could add something happening in your school or district to this list.

For years now, arts education nationwide has existed largely on the margins, pushed aside in favor of “important” learning that would lead to higher test scores.  Too often there has been more bad news than good.  Evidence suggests that arts education is moving back towards the center, not just in large urban districts, but here in Montana as well.  Lots of good things are happening.  True, we still don’t have enough arts specialists, we still don’t have enough funding available to support comprehensive arts curriculum, especially in our rural schools, but the winds are shifting.

One reason for the shift is evidence.  A comprehensive national effort has been underway for years now to measure the impact of arts learning.  The research keeps getting better, especially now that it is shifting away from often faulty correlations between the arts and academic achievement and towards the arts impact on cognitive function.  Policy makers are beginning to acknowledge that the arts are one of the best interventions for students in low-performing, high-poverty schools.

But I believe we really need to give credit to teachers.  The ones who give countless hours of afterschool time for the school play, the strings program or to keep the art room open for students, knowing they will not be compensated for their extra time.  The ones with budgets stripped away to almost nothing, who still find a way to keep the program going with recycled materials and donations.  The ones who quietly close their classroom door and do that art project when the administration tells them they should be doing extra test prep.  The ones who find a way to pay for the museum field trip, even if some of the money comes from their own pockets.  The ones who never let the arts be eliminated from their school, because they all have witnessed the way the arts can change a child’s experience of school from failure to success, from frustration to joy.  These teachers have kept the arts alive during dark days.

These are the teachers I’ve encountered in Montana’s schools.  Montana’s teachers will slowly chip away at the obstacles, and give all Montana students what they deserve—a world-class education with arts learning at the core.  You are the comeback kids!