The Montana Arts Council and the Office of Public Instruction are teaming up to offer Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts, a professional development initiative for K-12 educators across the state. Through this exciting new program, MAC and OPI seek to develop teacher leaders who can support other teachers statewide in integrating the arts into their classrooms. According to the most recent data gathered by the Montana Arts Council, less than half of public schools in the state clearly articulate the arts in their school improvement plans. In Montana elementary schools, 86% of schools offer music instruction, while only 61% offer arts instruction, less than 5% offer any kind of theatre or dance, and 11% of schools offer no high-quality arts experiences at all (http://goo.gl/rPU2ZR).
In addition, over half of Montana’s schools have fewer than 100 students, and with a small student body, few of them can afford to bring in a full or even part-time arts specialist. The arts are then left to be taught by elementary classroom teachers, who while endorsed to teach the arts in their curriculum, often lack the skill or confidence to offer high-quality experiences to their students. After years of struggle with cutbacks in budget and programs nationally, there is renewed interest in the impact the arts can have on learning. And with current research that shows 72% of business leaders say creativity is the number one skill they are seeking when hiring (http://goo.gl/vNxBNp), and a wealth of research to support the myriad benefits of arts education, MAC and OPI see an opportunity to give arts education a much-needed boost in Montana’s public schools by training a cohort of educators to serve as coaches, mentors and advocates in their schools and local communities for an arts-integrated approach to teaching and learning.
“The Montana Teacher Leaders project will add an exciting new professional learning opportunity for all teachers across our great state to integrate the arts into their classrooms and spark creative, engaged and joyful teaching and learning for all learners” says Jael Prezeau, Division Administrator for Content Standards and Instruction at OPI.
In the creation of the Teacher Leaders in the Arts Initiative, MAC Director of Arts Education Emily Kohring researched arts-based professional development initiatives happening in other states to seek out models that could possibly be replicated in Montana. After internet research, phone interviews with colleagues, and a site visit to the Alaska Basic Arts Institute this past summer, Kohring brought back some ideas to share with OPI staff. Integrating her ideas with OPI’s strategic plan for professional learning for educators, a plan was developed jointly to help overcome one of the unique challenges of our state: geography. In a state as large as Montana, how do you ensure an opportunity available to a teacher in Missoula is also available to a teacher in Wolf Point?
In its first year, Teacher Leaders in the Arts will recruit up to 18 teachers evenly distributed across OPI’s nine professional learning regions statewide. Teachers Leader candidates will come to a 10-day summer institute at Salish Kootenai College, where they will be deeply immersed in multi-disciplinary arts integration tools and strategies, brain theory, ideas for building creative classrooms, STEAM learning, and cultural arts led by master teaching artists and educators. Teacher Leader candidates will return to their regions, where they will receive a stipend to support a field project in arts learning during the school year. Technology then becomes the source of connectivity for the Teacher Leader candidates spread across the state, as they gather monthly as an online professional learning community to share how they are implementing what they are learning. They will also receive bimonthly webinars on selected topics in arts learning, led by leaders in the field.
At the end of the school year, the first year cohort will be identified as a Teacher Leader in the Arts in their region. A Teacher Leader in the Arts will be ready to serve as a resource to other educators to help them implement arts-based learning in the classroom, Teacher Leaders will also serve as champions for arts learning in their regions, advocating for greater access to arts learning opportunities for all of Montana’s K-12 students. The first-year cohort of Teacher Leaders in the Arts will also help plan and execute the second year of activities for the Initiative.
In year two, the Teacher Leaders in the Arts program will place a special focus on teachers in schools with less than 100 students, as well as schools with a majority American Indian population.
For the first-year cohort, the program seeks Montana K-12 arts specialists in visual art, music, or theatre; professional teaching artists with significant K-12 public school experience; school principals or administrators; and retired arts specialists. Classroom teachers with a strong background and comfort in the arts will also be considered.
Questions? Contact Emily Kohring, Director of Arts Education at MAC, (406) 444-6522 or firstname.lastname@example.org