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be ready for some teachers and staff to show instant excitement and for others to push back as they try to hold onto outdated and unengaging models.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

How is Arts Integration Engaging Students in Learning?

How is Arts Integration Engaging Students in Learning?

Child engaging in learning in a classroom

Arts integration, as defined by the Kennedy Center, means an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. There is a lot to unpack in those words, but the most meaningful phrase might be “approach to teaching.”

In an article published by the National Education Association, JoAnne Knight - a teacher in Alaska - shares how embracing and thoughtfully implementing arts-in-education teaching techniques has transformed her career, her students’ learning experiences, and her school. She even credits the arts integration curriculum for retaining young, high-quality teachers in her area thanks to the consistency of the model funded by a 10-year grant.

Teachers interviewed noted they feel inspired when their students are more engaged with learning, and so the cycle is a continuous one with the potential for amazing results. We hear this all the time from our school and educator partners, especially when it comes to developing strategies to engage students in the classroom for students who may learn differently or are having a more difficult time socially.

Anne-Marie Maloney, an English teacher in Maryland, finds this to be true with her middle school students. In the article, she notes that humans have a need for self-expression and interaction, so it’s unrealistic to expect students to just sit passively and absorb information. Thinking about how to engage learners is critical to success. The tween and teen years are difficult for many students as they experience new phases of life – friendships and social interactions have bigger consequences – so feeling confident to express themselves around their peers takes on a whole new importance.

She notes that they are typically shy to start, but once she is able to implement arts-in-education strategies and teaching techniques, the students begin to open up and really engage in learning and with one another.

The NEA article wraps up with 5 reasons to use arts integration strategies, which are creative ways to engage students. We can’t help but agree and wanted to share them here:

  1. Creates Student Buy-In. When the arts are intentionally integrated into classes, students become active participants in their learning. ArtsNOW student participants tell us how much they love learning all the time!
  2. Builds Critical Thinking Skills. Students develop life skills through arts-in-education experiences; things like problem-solving, collaboration, innovation, perseverance, and confidence are built into the model.
  3. Empowers Educators and Students. This is our favorite one! At ArtsNOW, we believe that teachers are champions and students are heroes of their learning.
  4. Affords Equity. Arts integration helps students of all learning styles and abilities connect to subject matter and deepen their understanding in a way that traditional techniques do not often allow for. This helps bridge learning gaps, especially as we continue to recover from the learning loss of the pandemic.
  5. Provides Connective Learning. Students are able to make connections to what they are learning based on the art they create. The medium may change based on the lesson, but the takeaways remain constant.

Are you interested in how these teaching techniques can help you engage your students in learning? We have professional learning opportunities available for educators that provide arts integrated, engaging strategies directly aligned to content standards! Connect with us to learn how to get started or make a charitable donation to help ArtsNOW continue positively impacting students, teachers and school communities!

Pam Walker
President and CEO

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

Arts in Education 2.0 – The Next Step

Arts in Education 2.0 – The Next Step

It is undeniable that the pandemic caused a local and international disruption that is still being felt to this very day (and I fear for many days to come). This disturbance exposed a crisis (already lingering and well within our midst) in every institutional and foundational entity that surrounds us. We saw racial and civil injustice in real time as a captive audience isolated behind our computer monitors. We witnessed the lack of equity in access to the essentials needed to navigate the pandemic - healthy food, safe drinking water, medicine, transportation, technology, broadband, among others. We saw the privilege of those who could work at home and the crisis of those who couldn’t. Underlying the crisis, and because of the pandemic, the mental health and well-being of students has become broadly accepted as a very real concern (regardless of what terms we use to identify this epidemic). Students returned to school, but were they ready to learn?

We may be living in an age of a permanent pandemic necessitating a very long period of recovery. The world seems ever more tightly connected (and a world that had grown accustomed to inexpensive shipping costs to move products across the globe to anticipate demand). As we rebuild our education and community systems to meet these challenges, we need to pay careful attention to the instinct to merely put back what was there before.

What does this have to do with the arts?

I propose that it has everything to do with the arts.

As a field, we’ve spent decades describing the work delivered by teaching art to students. Is the work arts integrated, arts direct, arts infused, arts expanded, arts included, arts cultural, arts based, arts immersed, arts extra? Do the arts have intrinsic and/or instrumental value? Is it a performance, a workshop or a residency?

Researchers Robert Kohn et al in the research study Mental health in the Americas: an overview of the treatment gap[1] tell us that “preparedness and inconsistencies in guidelines, lockdowns, containment strategies, unemployment, financial losses, physical distancing, isolation, chaos, and uncertainty are among factors that lead to a rise in emotional distress, anxiety, and depression. Mental disorders affect social stability and reduce the quality of life. This leads to low educational attainment, decreases motivation and performance, impairment in personal and family functioning, discrimination, low income, increased poverty, violence, and higher mortality and suicide rates.”

As the arts education field focuses on the needs of students and communities (rather than the needs of programs), we need to describe our work in terms of its impact on students and articulate outcomes with all stakeholders in the work – including students and their extended families. As a field, we must resist finding comfort in merely returning to where we were; rather, we must play a leadership voice in communities unsure of what direction has the greatest opportunity to address those outcomes. If we can focus our work to address the needs researchers are telling us are paramount to student success right now, we have an opportunity to lift our work to greater relevance and afford new opportunities in research and financial support.

While we’re at it, we’ll need to define success.

It's a critical point in our evolution; do we become a curricular supplement crowded out of the school day, taking on draconian measures to address learning loss? Or do we become an indispensable tool to address issues that inhibit developmental and educational growth?

Do we collectively have the capacity and understanding to do this work?

The arts community is strong, so I believe we do have the capacity. And the arts have merit – academically, socially and emotionally. Let’s use this moment in time to come together and create something meaningful and lasting for our communities as we take the next steps in arts-in-education and in life.

David A. Dik, National Executive Director, Young Audiences Arts for Learning

[1] Kohn R, Ali A, Puac-Polanco V, Figueroa C, López-Soto V, Morgan K, et al. Mental health in the Americas: an overview of the treatment gap,

Embracing the Arts in Education

Embracing the Arts in Education

Understanding the top 5 reasons for arts-integrated learning from a seasoned educator

Here we are, at the start of the new school year. Schools are back in person after the Covid-driven isolation and disruption of the past two years, which created or exacerbated serious learning gaps. It wreaked havoc on our children’s social and emotional equilibrium. Now, more than ever before, our students deserve to be in schools that harness the power and utility of arts education, so students have what they need to take their rightful place in the world. It is time to bring out all the tools in the toolkit to not only allow our students to regain their lost ground but to achieve by leaps and bounds from where they left off.

Today, just as I stated in Education Week back in 2014, there is a lot of discussion about the role of the arts in schools. Are the arts just frills that add spice and beauty to the otherwise “real work” of school? While the aesthetic benefit of the arts is vital and necessary on its own, the role of arts in schools far exceeds even that worthy outcome. We need the arts and arts integration because they are uniquely capable of offering many ways to connect learning across content so that schools reflect real life and help prepare all schools, all communities, and all children for their next successful steps.

Having spent more than 30 years in the trenches of school reform with success in helping schools bring learning to life across all the grade levels, in all kinds of communities, and in places across the country, I know it is possible to help students achieve, engage, and enjoy learning more when the arts are a fundamental piece of the school experience.

I propose these top 5 reasons to fully embrace arts education for all students:

We know that students with high levels of arts learning do better across the board than those without arts learning.

Whether we consult definitive studies from scholars like Dr. James Catterall or simply ask at our local schools for examples, it is clear that students with arts backgrounds outperform non-arts students and go on to become fully participating members of society. In fact, Oklahoma A+ Schools Institute (OKA+) of which I was part for many years has volumes of research that verify those claims. When I started in OKA+ as a principal of an inaugural school in a historically underserved multi-cultural community, I was part of a cadre of schools who were permitted to participate in the OKA+ network because we were expected to show gains. So, did we? Yes. A five-year study showed the A+ schools not only had higher achievement than the district, but also fewer discipline issues, better attendance of students and teachers, more parent involvement, and a better climate we called the “joy” factor. And that is just one of thousands of examples across the country of what can happen in schools when the arts are part of the daily fabric of learning and expression.

The arts foster 21st century (not industrial age) learning.

We know that chief executives and managers across the country have repeatedly shared the attributes they must have in employees to be competitive and productive. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills lists things like the ability to collaborate, the ability to predict potential problems before they become problems, perseverance, being self-starting and motivated, and the ability to think not only critically but creatively. Arts learning fosters these skills and attributes as a natural part of the learning process. Whether a student is preparing to be part of a musical team, a theatre troupe, a dance ensemble, or a visual arts exhibition, the habits of mind that help a student create in an art form also help prepare that student for life in a functional society.

The arts have been present since the beginning of time, are the oldest forms of human expression, and must remain on the table for use in schools.

Just watch a baby when a snappy tune comes over the speaker. The innate connection that human beings have for music has followed us through the ages. Movement is part of who we are as a species and how we communicate, gesturing, clapping, hugging our way through our lives. Visual images bring to life those things that we might never be able to adequately describe otherwise. So why is it difficult for some to understand how valuable these tools are in schools? Not only do the arts provide vehicles for self-expression and awareness, but they facilitate learning across content. Singing the ABCs is a simplistic example, but the power of the arts goes far beyond a frill or a treat and have helped humanity move ahead beyond current understanding and into the imagination. In fact, it is Albert Einstein who stated, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” You must be able to imagine a better world in order to create it.

The arts are present in all the best schools in the nation.

There is an equity issue that the pandemic has done nothing but exacerbate and expose. Students are coming back to schools fundamentally changed by the Covid experience. Evidence documents that marginalized communities suffered disproportionately in access to pretty much everything. Those students in homes rich with resources – books, music, internet, social bubbles, and so on – had avenues not only for continued learning but for expression. Now it is time for the arts to play its essential role in providing avenues for healing as well as learning. Look at the best independent private schools everywhere. They are rich with arts learning and opportunities in the arts. By denying the same access to the arts and what they can do especially for the most marginalized students, we risk deliberately discriminating and inhibiting learning in ways that can penalize students for generations. In short, we know the value of the arts for our own children, and it is important to be advocates for those experiences for everyone’s children.

Now is the time to lay the groundwork for what we want our world to be in the future.

I have never claimed that the arts are a silver bullet. But the research is clear that when the arts are part of learning, students tend to stay in school, do better in school, and become well-rounded, productive citizens. If we expect to have communities where our children, and our children’s children, can work, play, and live in the future, we must ensure the inclusion of arts education and arts strategies in teaching so we have the kinds of thinkers, creators, and producers that will enable those communities to thrive. The pandemic has given us the chance for a fresh start. Arts education can lead the way to a better future. Let’s embrace that!

Jean Hendrickson, Educational Consultant
Director Emeritus for Oklahoma A+ Schools

ArtsNOW is a Bright Spot in Education

ArtsNOW is a Bright Spot in Education

Rebecca Parshall, PhD, is the Director of Strategy at Learn4Life (L4L), where she leads collective impact efforts to improve early literacy in metro Atlanta. L4L identifies and scales proven strategies in key outcomes along the cradle to career continuum.

As metro Atlanta school districts finish two years of deeply disrupted instruction due to the pandemic, they are looking for creative ways to address learning loss, especially for our traditionally underserved students. In response to the great need for additional literacy support, L4L’s Early Literacy Network and Leadership Council worked to identify another layer of Bright Spots to supplement the early grade literacy interventions already in place across metro Atlanta. Bright Spots are strategies or programs that are showing uncommon success in raising a key outcomes along the cradle to career continuum. One of L4L’s newest Bright Spots is ArtsNOW.

To identify ArtsNOW as a Bright Spot, L4L’s cross-sector network members engaged in a rigorous process to understand the research factors most affecting student literacy during the pandemic, and which of those factors the network could support. They arrived at three factors:

• Teacher preparation and effectiveness
• Children’s mental health
• Early childhood education

Network members proposed 17 programs that addressed one or more of these factors, and narrowed these proposals down to several for the L4L Leadership Council to make final selections. That process resulted in selecting ArtsNOW as a new Learn4Life Bright Spot.

ArtNOW supports educator preparation and effectiveness, improves student literacy, and places a heavy emphasis on providing equitable access to arts-integrated instruction for Black, Latinx, and low-income students. ArtsNOW teaches educators how to integrate the arts into core content instruction, an approach that increases student engagement and academic outcomes.

Over the last year, L4L’s Early Literacy Network has supported the growth of ArtsNOW across metro Atlanta giving more educators and students access to the benefits of arts integration educaiton. In particular, they studied the conditions that facilitate the successful adoption of ArtsNOW in schools, reviewed data to provide continuous improvement, and worked to raise awareness of ArtsNOW’s effectiveness, especially in addressing some of the key challenges of learning during the pandemic.

A positive result of this process is a new, fully grant-funded cohort of metro Atlanta elementary schools in ArtsNOW’s professional development beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. This cohort of 4 handpicked schools will engage in arts-integration this year.

The challenges schools are facing as they come out of the pandemic are many, but with the help of identified Learn4Life Bright Spots, like ArtsNOW, teachers will learn to integrate the arts into their lessons, enriching the classroom learning experience, and creating conditions to improve early grade literacy that will place students on a path toward future success.

To join the collective impact conversation happening in L4L’s Early Literacy Network, sign up here. All voices are welcome, including parents, nonprofits, school districts, business, philanthropy, and more.