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.

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