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:


Join the Artists in Schools and Communities Registry

UPDATE 12/8/15:  The deadline to apply to be listed on the Artists in Schools and Communities Registry has been extended to Monday, February 1, 2016. 

The Montana Arts Council is now taking applications from qualified teaching artists for its revised Artists in School and Communities Registry.  The AISC Registry will launch in early 2016, and will provide a listing of teaching artists, performing groups and organizations that provide arts learning opportunities to Montana schools and community organizations.

Professional teaching artists in all disciplines, including visual and media arts, dance, theatre, music and creative writing, are welcome to submit an application to be listed on the AISC Registry.  The deadline for application is Monday, February 1, 2016.  A second round of applications will be accepted in May, 2016. Please click here for full information and the application.

Direct all questions to Emily Kohring, Director of Arts Education, at (406) 444-6522 or ekohring@mt.gov

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


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!

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.

National Core Arts Standards Launch

NCCAS logo

On June 4th, after collecting input from over 6,000 educators and artists and culling through over one million comments submitted during three different draft reviews, the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) published the National Core Arts Standards on a new, interactive website, found at www.nationalartsstandards.org (I personally find the website to be very clunky, but I understand that it is a work in progress).

The National Core Arts Standards now include a total of five artistic disciplines. In addition to music, theatre, dance and visual art, the new standards now include media arts as its own distinct artistic discipline, recognizing the role technology now plays in how every art form is practiced and taught.

Executive Director of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies Jonathan Katz pointed out at a June 4 launch webinar that one strong benefit to having a set of national standards is that it gives arts educators a common language to describe what students should know and be able to do in the arts, and it helps make the case for the importance of artistic literacy as another way that children can learn. Noted arts education researcher Dr. James Catterall also added that arts standards create “an expression of intention and purpose” for arts education advocates, making the arts important alongside other subject matters.

The new standards are organized by a set of four overarching anchor standards, followed by discipline-specific performance standards, broken down by grade band.   The four anchor standards describe artistic processes that apply to all the disciplines: creating, performing (referred to as presenting in visual arts and producing in media arts), responding and connecting. In addition to allowing users to organize the standards in different ways, the website also hosts instructional support resources, including Model Cornerstone Assessments for each discipline, enduring understandings and essential questions for each standard, and glossaries and additional resources teachers can utilize in their classrooms.

Adoption of the National Core Arts Standards by each state is completely voluntary. Some states are already in the process of adopting or adapting the standards, and some states will keep the standards they have. Montana educators have been involved in the draft review process for the National Core Arts Standards since spring of 2013 and have offered both individual and collective feedback to the NCCAS. When the time comes to revise Montana’s Standards for Arts, a broad coalition of Montana citizens invested in education will likely take a look at the National Core Arts Standards in the review process.

Basketball, Beer–and the Bard


There are two things a person might know about Belt, Montana, population 597.  First, Belt is home to the State Class C Girls Basketball Champions for three years running. Second, Belt is home to the Harvest Moon Brewing Company, makers of two microbrews served in many Montana establishments, Beltian White and a porter named after the rear end of a pig

Montanans think of basketball and cowboys and good beer when they think of Belt. One thing they probably don’t think about is William Shakespeare. Belt Valley High School English teacher Jeff Ross would like to change that. With a great love and passion for Shakespeare, but very little formal training in theatre, Ross is slowly transforming the ballroom of an old theatre in downtown Belt into a replica of Shakespere’s Globe Theatre, and building an impressive youth Shakespeare program in the heart of the Montana Hi-Line.


On a late March afternoon that should have been much warmer, I visited Mr. Ross and his students to watch rehearsal for their upcoming production of As You Like It. The old Belt Theatre is dilapidated and cold, and as I climbed the creaky stairs past a leaking pipe I wondered how a play could happen here. Mr. Ross met me at the top of the stairs and walked us into the transformed ballroom. It is the only room in the building with heat, and it smelled of fresh paint. A large, 4-inch platform covers most of the floor, with seating for 120 people on raised platforms that Mr. Ross built three-quarters of the way around the stage. A large flowered rug was laid out at the front of the stage. “That’s where the groundlings will sit,” said Ross, referring to pit in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London where the non-royalty stood to watch the play. More likely in Belt it’s where kids will sit who want to get a closer view while their parents sit in the more comfortable folding chairs.


The cast entered the ballroom quietly and sat on stage, completely focused and ready to warm up. There are fourteen high school students and one seventh grader who have been rehearsing with Ross after school four days a week since late October. It’s been an especially snowy winter on the Hi-Line, which has created a lot of challenges for some students in getting to rehearsal, in addition to conflicts with a multitude of other school activities. However, as the cast warmed up with Ross, and then listened to his notes from the last rehearsal, they appeared confident and completely ready for the challenge of opening a play in just a few short days.


“A lot of us are walking around on stage as if we are scripts, not people,” Ross told them during notes, “If we don’t add something to the language of Shakespeare, nobody in the audience will get it. What do we need to add?”

“Lively action!” the cast shouted back at him.

“How do we get on stage?” He challenged them.

“With energy!”

And with that, cast members jumped up and began running through various scenes that Ross called out. At one point, the actress playing Phoebe was having trouble getting to the right emotion for a particular moment. Mr. Ross tried modeling for her what he wanted, and she still didn’t get there. He shouted to the rest of the cast sitting off to the sides, “Come on everyone, let’s help her!” Immediately, all the cast members jumped up on stage in a semi-circle around Phoebe and her acting partner, silently surrounding her with their energy and support, until she got the moment. It was remarkable to see how tightly knit the ensemble was and the level of professionalism they were displaying.

Onstage, Ross had clearly worked with them in rehearsal not only to understand the language, but to express Shakespeare’s intent in action as well as words, something that can be a particular challenge for actors who are new to playing Shakespeare. Offstage, they were attentive and focused, watching and learning from what was happening onstage and the coaching Mr. Ross was giving them.  It was a fun and joyful learning atmosphere.


As You Like It is Ross’ second Shakespeare play in his six years in Belt, and his first since travelling to London last summer for the Globe Theatre’s Teaching Shakespeare through Performance Program, where he joined 21 other teachers from the United States in a month-long professional development program to learn methods of teaching Shakespeare to young people.  The experience was transformational for him, and he now hopes to start a Montana chapter of a Wisconsin-based non-profit program called Young Shakespeare Players.   He hopes it will reach beyond Belt to include other students on the Hi-Line and even Great Falls to offer after school and summer Shakespeare classes in an inclusive environment where there are no auditions and everyone gets to participate.

Ross, along with other members of the Belt community, also dreams of a full renovation of the long-abandoned Belt Theatre, so that it can be fully utilized as a performance space.  Though they’ve raised some funds to repair a leaking roof, and some interior construction has happened, they are a long way from completion.  Ross himself has contributed all of his own money and sweat equity to the construction of the ballroom theatre space, as well as lighting and costumes, which are beautifully constructed by his wife, UM biology lab manager Karen Schmidt, and mother-in-law, Evelyn Parrish.  A labor of love, no doubt.  But after watching Mr. Ross work with his students, I also hope that the fire he ignites in his young cast, and their enthusiasm both for Shakespeare and for theatre will be contagious, and move others to provide this fledgling program the financial resources it needs to grow and thrive.  Who knows? Maybe Belt will someday be famous for basketball, beer–and the Bard.

Belt Valley High School’s production of As You Like It opens this Friday, March 28 at the Belt Theatre in downtown Belt. Click here for ticket information.

This blog posting was updated on March 26 at 3:09 pm. 

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!