Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts Application Deadline Extended

OPI AND MAC LOGO

 

The application deadline for the Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts program has been extended to 5:00 pm, Monday, March 2. 

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.

Who can apply for the program?

  •  Certified arts specialists in K-12 schools in any discipline.
  •  Classroom teachers with significant background and a high comfort level in the arts.
  •  Principals and other school administrators.
  •  Retired teachers who were certified arts specialists.
  •  Professional teaching artists who demonstrate a significant level of experience in and knowledge of K-12 public education.

 

Click here for more information.  Click here for a downloadable pdf with applicant information and instructions on how to apply.

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What’s the big deal about arts standards?

Missoula middle school students in The Flagship Program's Photovoice photography project.

Missoula middle school students in The Flagship Program’s Photovoice photography project.

The Montana Arts Council, in partnership with the Montana Office of Public Instruction, will lead an upcoming statewide effort to revise the Montana Standards for Arts for K-12 public schools.

I get really excited when I tell people that Montana is getting ready to revise their state standards for arts education. Sometimes when I tell people they share my excitement, and think it’s a really cool thing. More often, I get a polite “Oh, that’s nice” or a blank, rather puzzled look.

So, what’s the big deal about revising arts standards?

If you go on the website for the Office of Public Instruction and search for a page about arts education, you won’t find one. In the category of “Content Standards and Instruction”, arts standards are not listed along with English Language Arts, Math and Science. If you search, you will come across one document, the Montana Standards for Arts, a brief document listing six standards that cover all the arts disciplines. They are general, not specific to music, or theater or visual art. There are benchmarks under the standards for what students should know and be able to do in the arts by the end of 4th, 8th and 12th grade. The entire document is only twelve pages long. By comparison, the Montana Common Core Standards for English Language Arts is 67 pages long.

This lack of focus on arts education is not a Montana problem, it is a national problem. The arts have received the short end of the stick in nearly every state by many years of federal No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top-era policies. The good news is that the tide is turning. The arts are resurgent, and starting with a revision of our standards it is possible that Montana will be at the forefront of the effort to restore the arts to their place of critical importance in a high-quality education.

Standards in education are a way for educators to measure what their students know and are able to do in a content area. It is often repeated in the education world that what we can measure, we value. Improving our arts standards will increase the value of arts education across Montana.

Our new standards will be discipline-specific, which will be of huge benefit to teachers who teach in these specific content areas, helping them build assessments specific to what their students are learning. Montana will even have new standards in Media Arts!

It is an oft-cited fact that 72% of business leaders say creativity is the number one skill they are seeking when hiring. Teaching the arts, whether it is in a stand-alone music or theatre class, or integrated into a teacher’s science or history curriculum, is teaching “applied creativity.”

We need stronger benchmarks to measure what high-quality teaching and learning in the arts looks like, and revising the Montana arts standards will allow us to help creative the college, career and civic readiness that is the primary goal of a public school education in our state.

The business and education communities are investing in opportunities for students to develop their creative skills in the classroom that leads to future innovation in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and other creative industries. Studying the arts help to develop critical habits of mind—creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking, among others—that can complement STEM learning initiatives in schools. In fact, we arts educators like to call it STEAM! With stronger arts standards that are useful to arts specialists and classroom teachers in other content areas, that “A” for arts in STEAM will help create our next generation of scientists and innovators.

Here is what excites me the most: revising the Montana Standards for the Arts is an excellent opportunity to gather groups of educators, parents, business and civic leaders across the state to engage in an important dialogue about what we would like arts education, or “applied creativity” to look like in our schools. A lot of people are going to be involved in this effort, through focus groups, writing teams and review teams, and a lot of dialogue about arts education is going to happen. Who knows what the result of that could be? Beyond new arts standards, what new relationships, new ideas and new collaborations could happen that benefit Montana students? This is going to be good! If you want to get involved, please contact me at ekohring@mt.gov or (406) 444-6522.

Carolyn Pardini's 4th grade students at Pablo School, creating artwork with teaching artist Jennifer Thompson.

Carolyn Pardini’s 4th grade students at Pablo School, creating artwork with teaching artist Jennifer Thompson.

Checking the Creative Pulse

In June, I spent a few days with some really hard-working graduate students.  They were involved in a rigorous, four-week course of study that included early morning classes, an all-afternoon seminar and mountains of reading, projects and papers to complete at night after the long day of intense focus.  What kind of crazy people would give up four weeks of their summer in Montana to work this hard, and miss out on all that camping, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and craft brew-drinking that the Big Sky has to offer?

Teachers would.  Almost all these graduate students are teachers.  Think teachers don’t work during the summer?  Wrong.  Here is one thing I know about teachers, though it may contradict some characterizations made by the mainstream media:  almost every teacher I know wants to learn how to be a better teacher, and how best to help their students learn.  Towards that end, many go to school in the summertime.  These particular teachers go to school for two summers in a row, giving up time with family and friends to attend the Creative Pulse program at the University of Montana.  Creative Pulse is a master’s degree program in integrated arts and education, and draws not only arts teachers from every discipline, but also classroom teachers of all grade levels and subject areas.  Creative Pulse is taught by UM College of Visual and Performing Arts faculty, plus guest lecturers.  This year, 38 teachers participated in Creative Pulse, most from Montana, but a few from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

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I participated in the first week’s seminar as a guest presenter and observer.  The topic, School Communities: The intersection of Arts, Education and Culture, was led by director of Creative Pulse Karen Kaufmann and Dr. Lori Gray, assistant professor of music education at U of M.  The overarching question for the course was “what does the ideal school culture look like?” To explore the question, participants were led through a variety of arts-based strategies to process numerous readings, discussions and guest lectures.  They danced school culture, they drew school culture, they created frozen images with their bodies of school culture.  They were offered what all students should be offered in an ideal school culture:  multiple ways to express their knowledge and share their ideas.

Creative Pulse itself creates a culture you want to stay in for a while.  It was remarkable to see the kind of community the Creative Pulse participants, who call themselves “Pulsers,” quickly created.  The leaders of Creative Pulse have clearly created a place where risk-taking, creative expression and honest reflection are the norm, and where joy in learning is the most palpable feeling.  Everyone in the room was working very hard in an intense process over four long weeks–but having a ball doing it.

Isn’t that the kind of culture we want for all students?  One where everyone is working hard and having a ball?  Of course, a major topic in the seminar was how the arts can create this kind of joy-filled school culture.  Creative Pulse participants become true believers that the arts can transform the learning environment for students, and many of them become committed to being change agents in their schools.  Yet many of the “Pulsers” will return to schools where the arts are not fully embraced, and where the school culture may not be healthy.  This is one of the conundrums of great arts-based professional development programs for teachers.  So often there are only one or a handful of representatives from a single school who get very excited about what they learn, and return to their school fired up to integrate the arts into the culture–only to meet a wall of obstacles and resistance that deflates the energy they built up during the experience.  Administrators with conflicting priorities, disinterested colleagues, testing mandates, constraints of time and budget–all these things can be bubble-bursting.

How do we help keep the momentum going for teachers coming out of arts-based professional development programs with a mission to transform their school culture through the arts?  Geography is one huge obstacle, especially in Montana.  Our state is very large, and many of our teachers are working in small, isolated communities.  I’ve been having exciting conversations with some of my colleagues at the Office of Public Instruction about the potential in digital technology for teachers, not only as a platform for professional development coursework, but also as a way to connect teachers through online professional learning communities where they can chat with colleagues who have similar interests, no matter where they live.  Coursework is already happening through the new Montana Professional Learning Digital Network, including classes in integrating the arts into the Common Core.  Free services like Google Hangouts can also help teachers meet up online.  Twitter is already a great, no-cost platform to connect teachers, and a large group of Montana educators meet every Tuesday night at 8:00 pm with the hashtag #MTedchat to discuss topics in education and swap ideas.  Maybe we need a #MTartsedchat, too?

One of my favorite things to see is a group of teachers standing together in a circle at an arts-based professional development workshop.  I have led many of them, and I’m always in awe of teachers and their willingness to take risks and try new things like dancing or doing improvisation, even if it terrifies them, if they think they will learn something they can take back to their students.  My hope is that we can create more professional development opportunities for teachers in Montana like the Creative Pulse, places where teachers and teaching artists can stand in a circle, taking risks together, learning and sharing ideas to improve arts education for all students.

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Can Our Classrooms Become Beehives of Creativity?

This week I travelled to Los Angeles for the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) Cultural Symposium on Creativity and Innovation in Public Education, co-hosted by the California Arts Council. The event was a convening of researchers and policy experts gathered to address the growing interest in creativity and innovation as a solution to some of the myriad challenges of K-12 public education.  It was impressive company with some of the field’s most distinguished researchers and thought leaders.

Our keynote speaker at the opening dinner was Frank Gehry, renowned for his innovative thinking in the field of architecture and revered around the world as a “Big C” creative–somebody who was born with inherent creative genius.  That’s the way most of us think about creativity, right?  Creativity is something you are born with, and something you can recognize in children in a classroom setting, and label.  This child is creative, just look at her drawings!  This child–not so much.  Stick figures, nothing novel about that.  Oh well, maybe that one will be good at sports.

During the next morning’s Symposium panel discussions, a few researchers turned the idea of creativity as an attribute that individual people possess on its head.  First came Dr. James Haywood Rolling, Jr., an associate professor at Syracuse University, who boldly asserted in his opening remarks “There are no orphan imaginations.”  Dr. Rolling has studied the natural phenomenon of swarm intelligence and applied it to creativity in the learning process in his book Swarm Intelligence: What Nature Teaches Us About Shaping Creative Leadership.  Swarm intelligence is the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems–like bees in a hive.   He posits that creativity is also  a social behavior where the collected experience and information shared by the participants generates ideas.  Ideas don’t come from the one or two people in the room deemed most creative, but from the collective energy, experience and knowledge each individual brings to the group to share.

Edward Clapp, doctoral candidate from Harvard’s Project Zero also advocated for the idea of creativity as a social behavior by stating that no act of creativity can take place in isolation.  He argues that the education system is holding on to the idea of the individual as the creative one, labeling some students as creative while others are not, and this definition of creativity creates an anti-growth mindset in schools.  The majority of schools believe that creativity is a fixed capacity, it’s not a skill that can be taught.  Clapp believes that creativity should be seen as an experience for students that should happen through problem- and project-based learning in groups, and not as something that an individual student is or has.

Creativity as experience!  There are already great models for this kind of learning, evident in the growing Makerspace movement, and in theatre and visual art classrooms where students are encouraged to work together to solve challenging art-making problems.  Students are given a problem to solve, and it’s the ideas generated that are creative, not the individuals.  By making creativity an experience rather than an attribute, everyone in the room is honored as a creator, everyone has creative skills that can be nurtured–including the teacher.  The teacher doesn’t have to be the one everybody looks to for all the answers–the teacher asks a question or presents a problem to the students, and can then problem solve and invent alongside the students.

The implications Dr. Rollings and Edward Clapp’s idea of shifting creativity in learning from an individual attribute of children who are “Big C” creative to creativity as a group participatory process are huge, both for arts education policy and educational access in our schools.  Imaging classrooms where all students are honored as makers, creators and innovators, because it is ideas that get labeled as creative and not children, is by far the most exciting idea that came out of the Symposium.

What would it take to make this happen?  It is a paradigm shift in thinking for educators, even for arts educators.  How many students have been discouraged from pursuing arts courses by teachers because their talent and creativity was not a clearly evident attribute?  It will require that teachers, especially arts teachers, set aside their judgment about who is creative and who is not creative in the classroom setting, and design opportunities that shine a spotlight on all the students, not just the ones who are most evidently talented.

We will also have to reinvent classrooms and the way teachers teach in order to release the creativity that too often remains locked up in our heads, to paraphrase Dr. Rollings.  Our classrooms will have to become more project-based, with the teacher becoming less an expert and more a learner exploring complex questions alongside the students.  It will also require a re-balance of power between teachers and students, because, as Symposium participants Dr. Robert Bilder pointed out “creativity exists on the edge of chaos” and we tend to dislike chaos in our classrooms.  We want classrooms to be orderly, and for it to look like somebody is in charge, but in the kind of creative learning environment Rollings and Clapp are advocating for, learning is loud and messy and students have much more voice than we are sometimes comfortable allowing them.

It will also require education policymakers to see creativity as a skill to be developed, just like math or reading.  Creativity is something you do, and you can get better at, not something you are or aren’t.  It’s also a skill that can be measured and assessed, and researchers are doing that, like Symposium participants James Catterall, Mark A. Runco and Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein.  And, if it is indeed a skill, teachers will also need help developing this skill in themselves in order to feel comfortable teaching it through high-quality professional development that will help them develop the creative skills of their students.

At the end of the long Symposium day, we got a sense of the kind of creative space Rollings and Clapp are advocating for when we toured Frank Gehry’s studio, an experience that surprisingly reinforced the idea that creativity is less about the “Big C” and more about a social process.  Gehry himself does not work in isolation, and he has designed his studio to make sure that the 120 or so people who work there feed off the collective energy and imagination of everybody else who works there.  The studio is one large warehouse with few walls or doors, organized by project rather than by a hierarchy.  It is literally filled with models from floor to ceiling, because their process is to make a model of every single idea, in multiple scales, until the building is ready to be built.  A beehive of making, creating, problem-solving and non-stop collaboration.  It was after 5:00, and nobody was packing up to go home.

Imagine our classrooms like that when the bell rings, nobody getting up to go home, everybody too busy making.  A beehive of creativity that all students experience together.

The Best of Times. The Worst of Times (for Creativity).

Depending on who you listen to, 2013 has either been the worst year ever for creativity (Common Core!  Standardized tests!  Cuts to art and music programs!), or a revolutionary year for creativity (TED!  STEAM learning!  Makerspaces!).  Just today I read two blog posts with views that could lead an arts education advocate to either euphoria or despair.

In their post  Best of 2013: 7 Ways Imagination Ruled the World, GOOD celebrates wonderful examples of how creativity and innovation are being celebrated in communities and schools, from the one-day cultural and social media phenomenon of San Francisco’s Bat Kid, to the Global Cardboard Challenge that was inspired by the short film Caine’s Arcade, the story of an extraordinary young man with an imagination lit up by the search for a way to entertain himself while at his dad’s workplace all summer.  If you haven’t seen Caine’s Arcade, click on it below, and I dare you not to smile.

On the flip side, Slate’s essay  Inside the Box: People Don’t Actually Like Creativity argues that people like the products of creativity, valuing the work of art or the innovation that is the result of creative thinking, but that they don’t actually value creative people. The essay argues that people who think creatively are often dismissed by their co-workers, and most would much rather fit in than stand out for their creativity. It even cites a study that says that teachers tend to discriminate against their creative students.

Hmmm.  People don’t like or value creative people?  Makes me want to bury my head under the covers and give up the fight. Even teachers discriminate against their creative students? If people don’t value creativity among their peers and coworkers, why should we encourage it in schools?

Maybe it is because our world is biased against creative people that it is such a struggle to get people to value arts education in our schools.  But as arts education advocates, we don’t really have time to sit and dwell on all the ways the world is against us and our students. No doubt it is true, for some people, some of the time that people with out-of-the-box thinking are often labeled oddballs, or looked upon with suspicion, in school or in the workplace.  They always will be, just watch any John Hughes movie.  For every Ferris Bueller there will always be a Mr. Rooney, ready to crush the creative spirit.

But here is what I know that keeps me moving forward:  Caine’s Arcade has had over 4,000,000 views on YouTube, and this sweet little oddball of a boy encouraged kids all over the world to raid their parents’ recycling and make stuff.  Bat Kid electrified an entire city, and even President Obama joined in on the fun.  What was the whole Bat Kid thing but a day-long, site-specific improvisation that involved thousands of people who left their homes and offices to participate?  Watch a few flash mobs on YouTube (and there are a lot more than a few), and watch the looks of wonder on the faces of the unwitting people who just happened to be there at that moment.  People want this.  People want that feeling of wonder that is sparked by encountering truly creative people making things that fill us with joy and amazement and make us say “Wow. That is cool. How did anybody come up with that idea?”

As this year becomes 2014, I know arts education advocates like myself will keep pushing our agenda to keep the arts and creative learning in public schools, because even if there are people who don’t value creative minds, there are more of us who do, and those jaw-dropping moments of wonder and amazement at how astoundingly creative humans can be will become few and far between if we don’t continue to push for bands and choirs and art studios and school plays and Makerspaces in our schools.

Happy New Year!  May your year be filled with joy and wonder and creative experiences.