Transforming A School Community Through Arts-in-Education

Debbie K. Broadnax, Principal, Ford Elementary School

Children sitting on the ground in a classroom learning from their teacher
As a novice principal 11 years ago, I visited kindergarten through 5th grade classrooms and observed that our students were compliant, but they were not engaged in their learning. There was no excitement. Our students were simply going through the motions, and quite frankly, I felt that our teachers were doing the same. Our students were doing an unbelievable amount of what I call, “sitting and getting,” or as we say in the South, “sittin’ and gettin’”. I knew that something had to change. Our school had to undergo an instructional transformation.

I knew that my students were bright and exceptionally talented, but I wasn’t sure what the answer was. Arts integration wasn’t a term I was familiar with at the time, however, I knew that I wanted our students to engage with their learning and we could achieve this through the arts. I received the green light on this idea from my assistant superintendent and district, so I reached out to our visual arts supervisor at the time, Judith (Judy) Condon. Judy introduced me to the term, arts integration. I immediately began to research the model, and I instantly realized that exposing our students to learning this way was exactly what they needed. Little did I know at the time that it was exactly what we all needed.

Professional learning and buy-in is integral to arts integration education

Seventeen of my teachers volunteered to take the “arts integration journey.” These educators were willing to put themselves out there…willing to be vulnerable. They took risks; opened their minds to doing something new. They continued to learn and shared their newfound pedagogical strategies with their colleagues. It was a rejuvenation, so to speak. My students loved learning through arts integration; my teachers were reinvigorated; and parents were loving what they were hearing about this engaging way of learning from their children.
Our classrooms transformed from quiet, compliant classrooms to classrooms where collaborative, active, exploratory learning became the norm. Our students, parents, and teachers were excited about the direction in which we were going.

Lasting change for a community

When I was named the principal of Powder Springs Elementary, our school was one of several schools on a list of schools that needed interventions. These schools were referred to as “I-Team” Schools (Intervention Team Schools). Powder Springs was on this list because of student discipline challenges and low staff morale. I can say without a doubt that arts integration was instrumental in helping to shift the climate and culture within our building and in the broader community.
Morale improved and students enjoyed learning because our teachers loved teaching again. Arts-in-education truly created a domino effect. We were proud of our school and the work that was being done to promote student success. We experienced a metamorphosis. We went from being a school that was in crisis, to one that educators from all over the state of Georgia visit to observe the great things that are occurring with teaching and learning through arts integration.