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:

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.

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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.

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.

Want to learn more about the National Core Arts Standards? Join us for a free online course!

The Montana Arts Council is offering a free online course for educators on the Montana Digital Professional Learning Network:

Exploring the Arts Standards

with Emily Kohring and Barb Good

NCCAS logo

The National Core Arts Standards were launched in June, 2014 in a continuing effort among a broad coalition of national organizations to create a sequential, standards-based approach to arts education across grades and levels.  In addition to Music, Theatre, Dance and Visual Art, the standards also include a new discipline, Media Arts.

This 3-session online course will offer an introduction to the National Core Arts Standards, and facilitate discussion among participating educators about how the discipline-specific National Core Arts Standards may or may not be useful to teaching and learning in the arts in Montana schools. The second session will be a live webinar hosted by Emily Kohring, Director of Arts Education at the Montana Arts Council, and Barb Good, member of the music writing team for the National Core Arts Standards.

Session objectives:

  • Understand the philosophy and intended outcomes that shaped the creation of the National Core Arts Standards.
  • Understand the structure and components of the new standards.
  • Identify the intersections between the National Core Arts Standards and the Montana Common Core, and how arts learning supports MCCS learning goals.
  • Identify the intersections between the National Core Arts Standards and the current Montana Standards for Arts, scheduled to be revised beginning in 2015.
  • Analyze the potential for using the new National Core Arts Standards in your classroom, and how Model Cornerstone Assessments (MCAs) are being implemented to gauge student learning related to the new standards.

Target Group: PK-12 Teachers & Administrators, especially Arts Specialists; Post-Secondary Arts Education Instructors

Delivery Method: Online via MDPLN; course opens January 16; live, 1-hr. webinar February 10 from 4:00-5:00 pm (webinar will also be archived for later viewing)

Renewal Units/Credit: 5 OPI renewal units are available for completion of this course.

Cost: No cost

Click here to register for the course or go to http://www.mdpln.org

Contact: Emily Kohring, Montana Arts Council, ekohring@mt.gov 406-444-6522

 

Artists in Schools and Communities FY16 Grant Cycle Opens

Visual arts residency with artist Jan Lord at Creston School.

Visual arts residency with artist Jan Lord at Creston School.

Happy New Year!  2016 is going to be a fantastic year to bring a professional teaching artist to your community to benefit learners of all ages through a rich and meaningful arts learning experience.

Guidelines for the FY16 Artists in Schools and Communities program are now available on the Montana Arts Council website for projects beginning July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016.

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.

Click here to see a list of Artists in Schools and Communities grants awarded in FY15.

Circus arts residency in Hot Springs, August 2014.

Circus arts residency in Hot Springs, August 2014.

The FY16 grant cycle features a notable change over previous years. Rather than a rolling deadline for grant applicants, there will be one deadline for all grant requests $1500 and over in the Arts Learning Experience, Artist Residency, and Special Projects categories. This deadline will be April 6, 2015. Grant requests over $1500 submitted after the April 6 deadline will not be considered.

The deadline for all organizations in the Arts Learning Partner category will be April 13, 2015. Arts Learning Partners are select Montana arts organizations that have a proven record of providing high-quality arts learning experiences to participants both regionally and across the state of Montana. Arts Learning Partner organizations must meet specific criteria for consideration in this category.

Grants up to $10,000 are available and must be matched 1:1 with other funds (MAC will provide a 2:1 match for first-time applicants, Class C schools, or small rural schools supervised by a county superintendent). For complete guidelines, please see our website.

To discuss an idea for a potential arts learning project for your school or community, contact Emily Kohring, Director of Arts Education, at (406) 444-6522 or ekohring@mt.gov.

Photovoice residency with Missoula Flagship Program students, June 2014.

Photovoice residency with Missoula Flagship Program students, June 2014.

Announcing Montana Teacher Leaders in the Arts

OPI AND MAC LOGO

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.

CLICK HERE FOR INFORMATION AND APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE 2015-2016 TEACHER LEADERS IN THE ARTS INITIATIVE.

Questions? Contact Emily Kohring, Director of Arts Education at MAC, (406) 444-6522 or ekohring@mt.gov

A Day in the Life–Montana Shakespeare in the Schools

Patrick solo

I invited a new colleague to write a guest entry on the Big Sky Arts Ed blog, Barbara (Bobbi) McKean.  Below she writes about her experience with one of MAC’s Artists in Schools and Communities Arts Learning Partners, Montana Shakespeare in the Schools, a program of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.  Bobbi has had a long relationship with the company, and recently took some time on her sabbatical from the University of Arizona to help the company train their actor-teachers to work with students in the many schools where they tour.

Starting in 2004, I have had the opportunity to work as educational consultant with the Montana Shakespeare in the Schools program The statewide tour of Montana Shakespeare in the Schools is now in its 22nd year. The program is the recipient of the Montana Arts Council’s Artists in Schools and Communities grant program and the Shakespeare for a New Generation grant program from the National Endowment for the Arts. It reaches one middle or high school each day with an 80-minute performance of a Shakespearean play, a post performance talk back, and related workshops for smaller groups held in students’ classrooms. This year, thanks to a sabbatical from my University, I spent three full weeks working with the actor-teachers in preparation for their current tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As a teaching artist and an associate professor of theatre education, working with MSIP exemplifies what I believe is critical to arts organizations in the schools: We consider each day as both an artistic and an educational day. From the time the van arrives, the company members are actor-teachers. The entire day is viewed as our opportunity to excite students and teachers to the world of theatre and Shakespeare.

It isn’t about doing a performance for students and teachers. It is about creating opportunities for the company to interact with students and teachers. It is about playing and investigating together what actors do and what Shakespeare has to tell us about life, about theatre and about our current situations. In our current production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the characters sit in the audience at times; the music is modern, sometimes silly and global; the text is clear; and the action is intense and non-stop. At the end of the play when Bottom asks Theseus: “Would it please you to see epilogue?” often the audience will shout “Yes! Epilogue! Epilogue!” (Shakespeare however has Theseus decline). As one of the actor-teachers put it “this has been one of the greatest interactions…we’ve taken them from ‘we have to watch this play’ to ‘we want to see MORE of this play!’Montana Shakeapeare in the Schools 2014 tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream

During the post-performance talk back, the actor-teachers take questions, often discussing the play and the process of putting the performance together. One student noted that the play within the play reminded him of Romeo and Juliet (one of the plays MSIP performed this past summer). The actor-teachers were then able to talk about how Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream right after Romeo and Juliet and perhaps he wanted to poke some fun at his own tragedy.

At lunchtime, the actor-teachers spend time talking with the students. Some ask them about the life of an actor and where they learned their craft. This provides an opportunity to talk about college (all of our actor-teachers have college degrees). Students are genuinely comforted and thrilled the actor-teachers take time to listen to their stories. A student sitting alone allowed a couple of actor-teachers to sit with him. “At first few words were exchanged but as soon as we started asking him questions he perked right up telling us all about things he was interested in and things he was learning about. We got a crash course in astronomy and the medieval chivalry code. You could tell this student is bright and just wanted someone to fan the flame and listen.”

A key component of the day is the workshops. Each workshop is structured around the play and is designed to encourage students to actively engage with some aspect of Shakespeare’s text. The language workshop asks students to explore Shakespeare’s metaphors in the text. As one actor-teacher wrote: “I was thrilled with the ideas they were coming up with for why the weather was happening and the characters they were creating.” In the production workshop, students create their own version of the play within the play. This year the actor-teachers are trying to involve the classroom teachers either as partner teachers or as participants. In one workshop, the teacher jumped in and the students really were enthusiastic about him being a part of the workshop. New this year is a music workshop where students are asked to create sounds and Shakespeare’s rhythms using their voices and bodies to see what happens. While the workshop is exciting, many students find it difficult at first. “Making a collective challenge to the group about making strong vocal / percussive choices at the beginning, and establishing a safe space where no choice will be deemed “stupid” I’ve found is the MOST important step in the workshop.” The stage combat workshop is a regular option for students. “The nature of the work requires students to be fully in or just out altogether. And the payoff is huge when it clicks. They take ownership of the moves and gain a respect for the discipline.”

When each day is finished, the actor-teachers know they have given their all. But they also come away “knowing at least a tiny bit more about more than I did before” and that they are “paying it forward” by instilling in others their love for theatre and Shakespeare that will continue long after the van leaves the parking lot.

Bobbi McKean is an associate professor in the School of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of Arizona. She first saw Montana Shakespeare in the Parks perform in 1984. In 1985, she was an actor in the summer company. And every summer since then, she makes sure she spends at least some time under the big Montana skies!

Bright Spots

Why is it so hard?  Seriously. 

This is a question that was asked in a recent blog post by arts education leader and advocate Matt D’Arrigo, his response to being surrounded by a preponderance of evidence about the benefits of arts education, and the seemingly overwhelming support  for arts education by average Americans (93% of Americans believe it’s important, according to Americans for the Arts), and still feeling he was rolling a boulder up a hill.

“Yet here we still stand; hands out begging for change–both literally and figuratively.”

His question is one that rattles around in my brain almost daily. as I hear the same story over and over:  lack of money, lack of supplies, lack of qualified instructors, lack of time, lack, lack, lack from teachers, administrators, parents, and colleagues across the country.

All of us are rolling that boulder up a hill.  Our Artists in Schools and Communities program ran out of funding two months into the fiscal year, for the second year in a row, due to budget cuts.  The worst part of my job is telling a teacher or artist who calls me I have no money to fund their program this school year that isn’t half over yet. Sometimes it is too hard, especially when I have to tell it to a school with no arts specialists, with a population of kids who don’t have the resources to take after school arts classes either because they are expensive or they live too far away from any.

And then, as has happened so many times before, a teacher inspires me to keep going.  Jennifer Magiera teaches in the Chicago Public Schools, and gave this talk at a Tedx event.  It’s long, but it’s worth it if you have 18 minutes:

Magiera talks about a lot of good things related to arts education, like the power of purposeful play, and how we can’t just expect kids to know how to use their creative skills if we don’t give them any opportunity to practice them in the classroom.  She talks about how opportunities to use creative thinking in the classroom gives kids the skills they need to “outwit obstacles” in life.  I love that!  She also talks about how she wanted to transform her teaching to give her students more opportunities to be creative, and how overwhelming it felt to her because she waited too long and the change was very hard to make, but she managed the change by focusing on the “bright spots.”  She defined bright spots as small things that are working, and these small things help not to let the big things overwhelm you.

Change is hard, and slow, and daunting.  But, Magiera is right, it is not hard to find bright spots.  In arts education in Montana, we have so many!  Here are a few that I have encountered, just in recent memory:

  • UM Dance Professor Karen Kaufmann and Missoula-based dance educator Jordan Dehline just published an incredible resource for teachers called Dance Integration: 36 Dance Lesson Plans for Science and Mathematics (available at www.HumanKinetics.com).  These lessons have been field tested in Montana classrooms by the CoMotion Dance Project with Montana classroom teachers.  They work!  I’ve seen them in action.
  • In October the Montana Music Educator’s Association (MMEA) held their annual conference at Hellgate High School in Missoula.  I spoke briefly at their general session, which opened with bandmasters from all over the state playing a newly-commissioned piece in honor of our great state.  And have you ever heard an auditorium packed with music teachers sing the national anthem together?  I highly recommend the spine-tingling experience. The energy in the room was through the roof.  We have remarkable music educators in the Big Sky–they love music, and they love young people.
  • The VSA Montana Choir sang during the MEA-MFT conference across town that same day.  The choir is made up of some 40 adults with disabilities–but their choir director doesn’t treat them like they have disabilities.  We watched their rehearsal, where they warmed up, he gave them notes, he corrected them and made them do it again–just like any choir.  And they sang with a sense of joy that lifted the spirits of every person in the room.
  • This past summer, Montana Quarterly published an article about Bynum School, one of 61 one-room schoolhouses in Montana.  At Bynum school, they have an 80-year-old tradition of beginning each and every day by dancing.  One of the most beautiful articles I’ve every come across about arts education, and Montana, I have not stopped thinking about it.  I hope someday soon to meet their remarkable teacher, Susan Luinstra.

I’d love to hear about your bright spot in arts education.  Every bright spot helps add some light, and makes the hard part, the non-stop struggle to keep arts education accessible to every student, a little less daunting.

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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