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:


Announcing Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts


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 ekohring@mt.gov

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.

Work hard. Work fast. Be brave.

Grandstreet Theatre's production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  Photo by Jeff Downing

Grandstreet Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Jeff Downing

This morning I had coffee with my friend Marianne Adams, who is the long-time education director at Grandstreet Theatre in Helena.  Grandstreet has been around since the ’70s, operating out of a beautifully-restored old church in downtown Helena.  Since the early ’80s, they have had a thriving after school program, Grandstreet Theatre School.  I was a part of this program in high school, and am one of many young people that Marianne took under her wing and helped launch into successful adult lives.  Marianne told me a story this morning that reminded me of what great arts education programs like Grandstreet do to help create future leaders, thinkers and innovators.

It is Christmas show season at Grandstreet.  Each year, Grandstreet produces a huge show for the holidays on their mainstage season that features students from the Theatre School.  Students perform on stage in large and small roles, they usher, they run the light board, they sing in a preshow choir, they help backstage.  Students are given a huge amount of responsibility in the success of the show.  In order to offer more opportunities, Grandstreet double casts the production–meaning Marianne and her team somehow manage to rehearse and organize two giant casts of kids ages kindergarten through high school for three solid weekends of mostly sold-out performances.  It is a monstrous and exhausting venture.  The productions I participated in when I was in high school–Peter Pan, Charlie and the Chocolate Factor, Pinnochio–are where I bonded with some of my life-long friends and created some of my best holiday memories.

This year they are doing Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, a show with some pretty hefty singing roles for young men, particularly the role of Gaston, the hyper-macho buffoon who unsuccessfully tries to win Belle.  As any small town high school drama teacher can tell you, finding high school boys who can sing, act and dance and are willing to get on stage in front of a bunch of people and exude confidence can be a real challenge.  The Theatre School put nearly every teenage boy in their casting pool to use, and chose to bring in a professional actor to play the Beast.

During the second weekend, the director’s nightmare happened:  the actor playing Gaston got sick, too sick to perform.  Marianne got the call on Saturday morning, and with no understudy assigned, had to make a decision about who to send on for a 2:30 pm matinee.  At 9:00 am, she called one of her teenage chorus members, a young man named Travis, an active member of the Theatre School, but one who had not yet played a major role.  She knew he sang well, but he had not had a knock-out audition.  She was taking a real chance, but her other strong male actors were already cast in larger roles. A half-hour later, he was on the set with a script in hand, walking through the blocking and learning his dialogue.  At 2:30 pm, he went on as Gaston, only hiding his script on a table for one scene where he was shaky on the lines.  He went on again at 7:30 pm that evening.

Beaming with pride in Travis’ accomplishment, Marianne told me about the curtain speech she gave that evening, explaining to the audience that Gaston would be played by an understudy.  She explained to them how Travis had jumped with both feet into the role just hours before.  And, she told the audience that if they ever wanted to hire somebody, they should hire a person like Travis who has studied theater, because “they work HARD, they work FAST, and they are BRAVE.”

Imagine you own a business, or are working on a huge project for your organization, and a crisis rears its ugly head.  The pressure is on, deadlines need to be met, solutions need to be found, income and jobs are on the line.  Who do you want on your team?  I’d pick the person who works hard, works fast, and is brave.  I’d pick a Travis. Travis may or may not have a future career in theatre.  But Travis will enter the working world with the skills he gained through his high school participation in theatre, where he was put to the ultimate test and rose to the challenge, and no doubt employers in any field he chooses will recognize him as an asset.

“We are such good employees,” says Marianne, referring to people who have studied theatre.  Seventy-two percent of business leaders say that creativity is the number one skills they are seeking when hiring.  Students who have studied the arts bring that creativity and innovation, and they also bring punctuality, resilience, persistence, grace under pressure, collaboration and a multitude of other habits of mind employers also need.  Employers–go hire yourself a Travis!