Reflections on the Principals’ Network Conference

Reflections on the Principals’ Network Conference

Speaker in a room full of people talking about the power of arts integration at Angel Oak Elementary School

Thank you, Principal Condon, for taking the time to discuss the upcoming ArtsNOW Principals’ Network conference on arts integration in education. To begin, could you tell us who the conference is designed for?

Principal Condon: Absolutely. This conference is ideal for any principal who is interested in delving deeper into the transformative potential of arts integration for students, teachers, and staff. It's a gathering for educational leaders keen on exploring innovative approaches that will positively impact student achievement and educator engagement.

What can attendees expect to gain from participating in this conference?

Principal Condon: Attendees can anticipate a wealth of benefits, including great networking opportunities, exposure to ideas and strategies directly from professionals in similar roles, and inspiration derived from both colleagues and arts partners. It's a chance to learn from those who walk in your shoes every day.

Reflecting on last year's conference, could you share some of the types of content that were presented?

Principal Condon: Certainly. Last year's conference offered a diverse range of content, including networking sessions that facilitated meaningful connections, practical implementation ideas that attendees could take back to their schools, and opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals. It was a holistic experience addressing various aspects of arts integration in education.

What surprised or inspired you the most about the previous conference?

Principal Condon: What stood out to me was the sense of unity among like-minded colleagues. Being surrounded by individuals who share a common passion for thinking differently about the student experience in school was truly inspiring. It reinforced the notion that we are not alone in our desire to innovate and enhance education through the arts.

Looking ahead to the 2024 conference, what are you most excited about?

Principal Condon: I'm eagerly anticipating the opportunity to see and hear about the remarkable accomplishments that attendees have achieved since the last conference. Additionally, I'm excited about the prospect of sharing even more innovative ideas. The conference serves as a platform for continuous learning and growth, and I look forward to witnessing the progress and evolution in our collective approach to arts integration in education.

Thank you, Principal Condon, for providing insights into the conference. It sounds like an event filled with collaboration, inspiration, and the exchange of innovative ideas.

Principal Condon: My pleasure. I believe this conference is a valuable forum for educational leaders to come together, learn, and contribute to the ongoing transformation of our schools through the power of arts integration.

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: Part 3

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: Part 3

Is your school ready to bring the magic of arts-integrated learning into the classroom? If so, it is time to "Get Comfortable with being Uncomfortable" with some high-quality professional learning! What on earth does that mean? Let me explain.

It all begins with the mindset of the administrator and the teachers.

An arts-integrated administrator must see the importance of investing in engaging, hands-on, and interactive professional learning. This person must be the leader in designing a course of action for the school year that best meets the needs of their school and is willing to push teachers

and staff to think differently about learning and student engagement in the classroom. The principal must be ready for some teachers and staff to show instant excitement and for others to push back as they try to hold onto outdated and unengaging models. Most importantly, the administrator must actively participate during professional learning sessions.

Will dancing, drawing, or acting in front of other adults always feel natural? No, not at all. But administrators must "get comfortable with being uncomfortable" if they expect their teachers to do the same in the classroom. And above all else, administrators must commit and stay the course. Not every district will initially embrace this model, so you must experience the discomfort of being a game-changer for the benefits arts-in-education brings to students.

An arts-integrated teacher must recognize that children learn naturally through the arts. We often see babies bouncing to music before they can walk, toddlers mark-making with crayons before they write, and young children singing songs and role-playing as they learn and grow. Why not take these things that children love to do naturally and use them to spark engagement in the classroom? Arts-integrated strategies allow you to do just that! The first few times a teacher implements an arts-integrated lesson may feel foreign. How can student learning be substantiated if they aren't filling out a worksheet or completing a more traditional task? And then, as teachers continue to implement with fidelity, they begin to see that a higher level of learning is performance-based and that students are more engaged. Teachers must "get comfortable with being uncomfortable" as they learn and grow with their students.

Judith Condon, Principal, Angel Oak Elementary School Johns Island, SC

Educational Magic or Arts Integration: Part 2

Educational Magic or Arts Integration: Part 2

Why Establishing Stakeholder Support and Continuous Involvement is Important to Engage Students, Teachers, Families, Community and Arts Partners


Like I noted in my last post, anyone who enters an arts-integrated school can feel the magic! You see students light up as they move, act and express their learning in creative ways. Teachers speak confidently about their craft and are excited to implement new strategies. The school's energy just feels different! When implemented with fidelity, arts integration is a game-changer when it comes to increasing student engagement, making connections between content and changing the entire climate and culture of a school. The magic, however, does not happen overnight. So, you may wonder, how does a school systematically work to build a successful arts integrated model? I will share the first leg of the journey with you. You must establish stakeholder support and continuous involvement of several audiences. You need to engage students, teachers, families, community and arts partners in order to achieve your goals.

No great change in a school can occur without stakeholder input and buy-in. Period. Read that again at least 5 more times. Got it? Good:)

So, let's look at our key groups of stakeholder audiences a little more closely...

Students: Have you ever really taken the time to ask students what THEY want and how THEY like to learn? Whether through a survey or just by holding an open discussion, students (yes, even primary and elementary) will tell you! From our experience, students will tell you that they love to explore, play, move, get "messy," collaborate with friends and express themselves in a variety of ways. They also love it when learning is exciting! As a 5th grade student recently stated in an interview during our ArtsNOW SmART Literacy grant, arts integration helps "whatever you are going over to stick into your brain a little better and also for other peers as well. A demonstration always helps you get a better perspective on what you are learning about." When schools begin implementing arts integration in the classroom, many will be surprised by how naturally the strategies align to how children want and need to learn. They love it! Ask your students what they want.

Teachers: Teachers are subjected to so many expectations and changes each year. Just when they get used to one curriculum or initiative, it changes, and they are forced to move on to the next. Their "full plates" and this constant "revolving door" leaves many feeling frustrated. So how do schools get buy-in from a group that may already feel jaded? You listen first. Almost all teachers will tell you that they want a thriving classroom full of excited students ready to learn. They will tell you that worksheets and other traditional ways of learning don't always cut it to help a student obtain mastery of a standard or objective. They want to use engaging strategies that stand the test of time and that they can easily mesh with whatever new initiatives may come down the pipe. Then, you show them why arts integration is a perfect solution! They need to see it in action, and they need to experience success of implementation with their OWN students. A well-designed professional learning plan will help teachers gain strategies slowly and strategically to buy-in. They will also need to get "comfortable with being uncomfortable" as adults implementing these strategies. Once they see the student impact of arts integration, their confidence in the model increases.

Families: All parents and families want their children to have a quality educational experience every day. When they ask their child, "What did you do today at school?", they want to hear their child spill over with knowledge and excitement about what they have learned. They also want to be assured that any school-based model adopted promotes high levels of rigor, challenges their child's thinking and doesn't "water down" core content that their child is expected to master. Again, listening and taking the time to build parent and family confidence is key. Sharing quantitative and qualitative data and research on the benefits of arts integration with all parents (and explicitly with key groups like school improvement councils and PTAs) sets this foundation. Then you start to include them in family arts events, projects, activities and more. If you do this with fidelity, they will become your greatest supporters and cheerleaders!

Community and Arts Partners: I have never reached out to a community arts group, organization or local business who did not want to be involved in partnering with our school in one way or another. "It takes an ARTS village" is a great way to describe it! Using the strengths and talents of the local community is vital to creating a successful arts integrated school. Begin to implement artists residencies, host or attend performances and work with your arts community to support mutually beneficial goals. These groups offer opportunities for students to experience the power of arts through real world opportunities. Watch a child's face as they hear a symphony for the first time, attend a play in a local theater, work with a local artist on a mural project or dance with the ballet...nothing can describe it...other than, maybe, that word I keep going back to...MAGIC. Share your story as you build these relationships and watch how it just keeps expanding. Often, these partnerships can evolve into grants from foundations and other charitable donors.

Once you establish stakeholder support from the groups above, you have to make sure it continuously evolves. Always keep asking what suggestions they have or new ideas they may want to implement to support the model. Survey these groups and have open discussions to monitor their perceptions on "how it's going" and "what needs to change." Never take their involvement and input for granted!


Judith Condon, Principal, Angel Oak Elementary School Johns Island, SC

Educational Magic or Arts Integration

Educational Magic or Arts Integration

A visitor to our school once described what they observed as "educational magic." I will tell you, however, that we have no magic potions. There are no magic wands or secret spells used by our teachers and staff. As the principal, I have no crystal ball (though I sometimes wish I did). What the visitor witnessed was the “magic” of arts integrated instruction implemented with fidelity and its extraordinary effect on student engagement and learning.

What does this “magic” look and sound like? Desks and tables are pushed out of the way to provide space for active learning. The teacher clearly connects evolving objectives in both the general subject area and the art form and moves through the room as a facilitator of learning. Questions are asked frequently to prompt further exploration of the topic at hand. Students are asking questions in response and collaborating with each other to find answers. You see smiles, exploration of arts’ materials and bodies actively moving. You hear unique explanations of learning, spells of laughter and the disappointed sighs from students when the period is over, and the experience must end for the day. The teacher closes the lesson by reviewing the objectives once more and another piece of learning evidence is added to the process board.

I can see why it may seem like "magic" to those who visit. It is everything you would want to see in any classroom: high levels of engagement, higher order thinking and questioning, making connections, visible formative assessment, students learning with passion and confidence, and more. However, building an arts-integrated model in a school that fosters this type of learning is challenging work and it takes time. The work must be intentional and well-planned with many stakeholders and key arts partners, like ArtsNow, to truly be successful. It is not a traditional approach to learning in the eyes of many who may question it. Don't let that spook you. There must be a commitment to staying the course, always learning more, and evolving in practice. When implemented with fidelity, I promise you, the results will be evident.

In future blog posts, I will share more about our school’s journey and will address the key factors involved in establishing our model:

• Establishing Stakeholder Support and Continuous Involvement: Students, Teachers, Families, Community and Arts Partners
• Arts Integrated Accountability: Long term planning, goal setting, evidence of implementation and program evaluation
• Professional Learning for Teachers and Administrators: Getting Comfortable with being Uncomfortable
• The Arts Integrated Classroom: The Student Experience
• Telling your School's Story: Harnessing the Power of Communication

My hope is that through these blog posts, I will be able to encourage more schools to adopt arts-integrated practices and foster even more support for this model. I am blessed to see this “educational magic” mesmerize students, inspire teachers, engage families, and evoke learning each day. I may never get my crystal ball, but you can bet I will continue to invest in implementing arts integration with fidelity in our school. Our students deserve it!