Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Arts Education Blog Forum Continues

Arts Education Blog Forum – Day 2

Category:  Practice:

Question #2:  Where do we stand with higher academia in their participation in moving forward arts education?

Kristine Alexander:  (Executive Director of The California Arts Project, one of the California Subject Matter Projects, a discipline-based network of university based regional professional development centers serving K - Post Secondary educators within California in support of teaching and learning in the arts).

After agreeing to be a responder for the Arts Education Blog on the question of engaging participation from higher education, I found myself navigating through a set of complex issues, questions and summer musings as I tried to focus and craft my response. This mental journey took place while I was visiting TCAP site programs across the state and talking with teachers engaged in arts education professional development. I found myself struggling at times with some of the Blog’s background context and background materials when juxtaposed to the current reality of arts education in public education, teachers’ practice, higher education and teacher preparation. As the deadline was upon me, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t respond to the question “Where do we stand with higher academia in their participation in moving forward arts education?” if my response gave the impression that I agreed with the assumption that the approach for arts education is arts integration as described by the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities.

So to clarify my stance, I don’t see the struggle of arts education as a choice between the “holy grail” of discipline based arts instruction v. “…the practice of using arts strategies to build skills and teach classroom subjects across different disciplines” but as part of a larger struggle we are all engaged in of rethinking education as a whole. (I am very curious to see others’ comments and interpretation of the meaning of the Arts & Humanities description of arts integration.) I also see vast differences in conversations about arts education in multiple subject (most often elementary) education and single subject (secondary) education.  Often the conversation and generalizations made about arts education are really about the arts education struggles as related to the multiple subject classroom challenges, but are framed as arts education as a whole. This can lead to the alienation single subject arts teachers and to unintended consequences on the single subject arts teachers teaching in elementary and secondary settings. I caution our community to be aware of our language and generalizations when making the case for arts education.  I remember a day that a group of us were in a room gathered about an arts education budget crisis and Barry Hessenius said, “Let us not do what we usually do in arts education to solve a crisis …stand in a circle and start shooting at each other.”

With that being said, and the deadline approaching, I’ll get back to sharing some summer thoughts on the question of engaging higher academia around arts education.

My thoughts about the question posed brought forth four areas of action we might consider in developing a stronger relationship with higher academia.  These are not new ideas nor actions not being taken at the moment in some places, but as the educational landscape has shifted and is in another stage of flux, these ideas are worth revisiting and exploring how we might build upon our collective energies. The first centers on us as a wide and diverse arts education community. One of our issues in gathering support from anyone is that until we as the arts education community clarify for ourselves the language we use and differences in outcomes from the various stances we take in talking about and advocating for teaching the arts, we continue to confuse those from whom we are seeking support and at times alienate factions within our own community. I came to the conclusion years ago that what must happen not only to engage higher academia but other players in arts education, is educating through surfacing the underlying assumptions, and the constant seeking of clarity…clarity of language, clarity of framing the many factors that exist, of the issues, outcomes, questions, and seeking clarity in the goal or goals to be accomplished. So as a first step, I hope Question 1 will help us begin the needed work on establishing agreement, at least for the immediate time frame, upon common definitions of terms we can agree to accept and use to name the instructional approaches being proposed as strategies for arts education, education, and differentiate the expected student learning outcomes related to each strategy. 

The second area of action focuses on how knowing who and how to “hook” various groups with higher academia to engage deeply in the thinking and conversation about arts education. This is not always as easy as it seems given the various configurations existing within the university systems. Teaching of the arts, either through interdisciplinary practice, yet another term, or through discipline specific approaches, or using the arts as teaching strategies for other content areas all require the teacher to have both academic content knowledge and skill in an arts discipline and related pedagogical knowledge and skill in teaching of that arts discipline. When using the arts to teach something else, that specific academic content, skills and related pedagogy is also needed.  The content part of the equation opens up conversations with and support from arts faculties within higher education.  The pedagogy, teaching skill, instructional design, and assessment strategies side opens up conversation with education faculties and researchers.  On some campuses, the faculty might be one and the same. We need all, but the hook to engage the academic most often comes from their passion and field of study and in understanding the specific campus configuration. Does there exist someplace a live, searchable California database of who is teaching what, where, and any specialized areas of research taking place across systems in education and the arts?  Is this something we could organize so we could begin larger conversations?

Another aspect of engagement is building within our community an understanding of the framework that guides teacher preparation and how to influence change, if needed as part of the arts education solution, in that framework.  If we are knowledgeable as a community about the various constraints education faculty and credential programs are under, as guided by Commission of Teacher Credentialing, this can also open up avenues for gathering support from and opportunities within existing teacher preparation faculty. Just as much of K-12 is under mandated and prescribed programs, which often allow little flexibility for the teacher, the universities are the same when it comes to preparing teachers.  The undergraduate preparation programs, single subject and multiple subject programs, have specific mandates and guidelines that the campus faculty must follow. California’s Teacher Performance Assessments (TPA) that all teacher candidates must pass to earn a teaching credential is the primary focus of teacher preparation students. Changes in the teacher preparation guidelines happen at the Commission level, not at the campus. As a field we can join forces with higher education in recommending changes, but first we must determine if and what changes are needed to support arts education. A current reality and growing trend that should also be considered is the large numbers of new teachers who have obtained or are choosing to obtain their teaching credentials through for profit universities which provide fast tracking of the teacher preparation process. How do we engage these institutions? 

The last area that comes to mind at this time, is our need to continue to engage higher education in helping us make the case for the need of on-going professional development for educators, both multiple subject, single subject, and post-secondary in the arts.  Professional development for educators is needed just as in any profession and should not be limited to mandatory programs or teachers of specific subjects, but available to all teachers at all levels. It has been demonstrated and researched over and over again of the need for professional development to support the multiple subject teacher in teaching of the arts or in using the arts to teach other subjects. University faculty engaged in professional development for K-12 must also have that work recognized as a valuable service and given credit such service as a university professional.  As we begin to see the curriculum widen and shift, an opportunity arises for a collective voice of educational researchers, faculty and K-12 teachers to impact arts education through advocating for expanded professional development opportunities for all teachers.

In closing of my summer musing on this question, I do not want to give the impression that higher education has not and is not currently engaged in supporting arts education.  For over twenty years the three university systems, UC, CSU and the privates, have provided support for on-going professional development in-service teachers in the arts as stewards and champions of The California Arts Project.  When the curriculum and related professional development efforts were narrowed, the choice was made to continue to support the three marginalized subject matter projects of the arts, foreign language and physical education and health.  This demonstrates the three systems’ recognition of the need to and value of engaging higher education faculty and K-12 teachers in a community of learners focused on the improvement of teaching and learning of the arts and the recognition of importance of those marginalized subject areas in overall K-12 curriculum. Faculty from education, the arts, and other disciplines have rallied tirelessly over the years and work daily side by side K-12 educators in support of arts education. 

Paul Ammon: (Professor Emeritus, Graduate School of Education, University of California at Berkeley --retired after 45 years as a professor in Education at Berkeley, including 31 years as director of the Developmental Teacher Education Program, which prepares elementary school teachers, and 5 years as director of the Arts Education Initiative, a funded project promoting arts integration in the initial preparation of new teachers and school leaders.)

If our goal is to give the arts a much more central place throughout the educational experience of all students—both learning in the arts and learning through the arts—then I think higher education offers tremendous potential, but also tremendous challenges that must be met in order for that potential to be realized.

The basic problem is that most people who are becoming educators today have not experienced the arts as central to their own education. And so the beat goes on: as new educators, they continue to see the arts as peripheral to what really matters in their schools. Higher education could play a key role in breaking that cycle, and that’s because higher education has played a key role in creating and maintaining that cycle to begin with. Being an academic myself, what I see in the world of higher education is a lot of silos. Faculty members tend to be firmly entrenched in their own disciplines, and in traditional ways of teaching those disciplines. Whoever said that getting a Ph.D. is a matter of learning more and more about less and less was on to something important, and highly problematic. The result of such narrow specialization is that an idea like arts integration seems unnecessary to many academics and, even worse, is perceived as a threat to the integrity of their own beloved discipline—a view that may be held by academics in the arts as well as other fields. And because “higher education” sits atop the educational system, and because professional educators are college graduates, this point of view tends to filter down into “lower” levels of the system as well.

To be sure, there are some bright spots in this generally bleak take on the culture of higher education—places where arts integration is a reality, or is at least taken seriously as a worthwhile goal. But I think the exceptions are more likely to be found in the teaching practices of individual academics than in whole programs or institutions of higher education. Still, though, bright spots of any kind, while few and far between, might provide the kind of leverage that will be needed to bring about more widespread cultural change in academia. The question, then, is how to make good use of those exceptions toward that end.

Entrenched academics seem most likely to listen to other academics they respect, particularly others in their own field. So one key to change may be testimonials from such colleagues who can attest persuasively to the benefits of embracing the arts, not only for teaching their disciple, but also for learning and practicing it themselves.

If that sort of testimony succeeds in persuading resistant academics to give arts integration a try, then the second key is to provide the kind of support they will need in order to get started and to see some benefits early on. Some of that support might come from academic colleagues who have already begun taking steps along the road to arts integration. But the possibilities for that sort of collegial support may be limited by other demands on the time academics have—particularly in these times of shrinking budgets for higher education. Fortunately, though, there is, in the world of the arts, a vast support system that could be connected with the world of higher education. It’s a question, then, of how to forge such connections and make them work well.

I’m inclined to think that a particularly promising approach would be one that emphasizes partnerships between individual academics and arts educators, so that the academic’s initial efforts to integrate the arts are tailored to the curriculum he or she is teaching. That sort of partnership seems most likely to succeed when there is mutual respect for, and understanding of, the disciplines that are being brought together. In other words, there would have to be an openness to learning in both directions. The partners might co-teach for a time, but the ultimate goal would be for them to practice arts integration of a particular sort on their own.

The idea of promoting individualized partnerships between artists and academics in other fields raises a host of questions. Not the least of them, in view of shrinking budgets, is how such a support system could, itself, be supported! I doubt that we can count on virtue being it’s own reward, so we need to address questions about appropriate compensation for the time and effort it would take for partners to engage with each other, and where that compensation would come from. But there are also questions about how to make good matches between people from the arts and people from other fields. These are the sorts of implementation questions I would like some help with, so that I can try to make the idea of partnerships work. But, of course, I’d also like to know if others see that as a worthy idea in the first place.

Eric Engdahl:  (Long ago, Eric Engdahl, Ph.D., ran away and joined a one-ring circus as Ringmaster.  He found this experience invaluable in his other roles as a theater director, artist educator, curriculum writer, charter school administrator, and now as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at California State University, East Bay.)

When I first read this question I noticed a bias in the wording which implied to me, a “we”/ “they” dichotomy.  I hope we can rapidly move beyond that and make individuals in both higher education and arts education realize we are all part of the educational continuum.  I, for example, am a member of the community of arts educators who does most of my work in an institution of higher education.  Members of the arts education community work throughout higher education, a broad category including researchers, policy makers, professional arts programs and undergraduate education.  I am going to focus on the sector of it that I know best: teacher education in a large state university, those departments which train the majority of teachers across the country.

Teacher education is a latecomer to the arts education table.  For many years the arts education community thought that professional development was the way to inform teachers about arts content, arts integration, working with artist educators and bringing arts into the schools.  Indeed, having spent a good part of the 1990’s working with The California Arts Project I was of that opinion.  I loved working with the teachers, learning from them and seeing learning communities evolve at schools.  Most working teachers who came to professional development were a great co-learners (since we were all learning) – eager, enthusiastic, and open to diverse methods of learning.  By contrast, official “Teacher Education,” when it was thought about at all, was separate and not part of the conversation.

As my career path took me into teacher education, I along with many others began to realize the importance of it to arts education.  In the earlier model where professional development was the main vehicle for reaching teachers there were always some who were not interested in the arts.  Some of them were disinterested due to a lack of exposure, understanding and knowledge.  But as we live through a generational turnover in the teaching profession the number of teachers with an interest in the arts could, I fear, dwindle further, reducing the audience for professional development even more.  I say this because, at least for California, many of my current students in teacher education courses have had little arts exposure and lack basic experience and knowledge in the arts. This is due in large part to the “arts poor” California public school system that educated them.  (I am still always a little taken aback when I have to teach college juniors the difference between primary and secondary colors.)

This is where teacher education can play an important role in the training of “arts aware” elementary teachers.  Through teacher education programs the next generation of teachers can gain an understanding of the arts, be made to see the importance and usefulness of the arts in the classroom, understand that there are standards in the arts, and learn basic processes of curriculum integration.  Perhaps most importantly, it is during teacher training when students are most impressionable and receptive to the integrative processes and power of arts education.  The arts are not something to add on later, but integral to the entire of process of education.  It is a common occurrence for my students to report that their first successful solo lesson in their student teaching was an arts lesson learned in their Visual and Performing Arts Methods course.

Teacher education, it should be stressed, focuses on the complex skills of teaching.  It does not focus on content knowledge.  No teacher enters or exits an education program with all of the knowledge in all of the content areas in which they will teach.  Teachers should leave their programs knowing that they are on the beginning of a lifetime of learning.  In terms of the arts, the teachers should leave the programs ready and primed for professional development.

Does this occur all of the time?  Unfortunately no.  How can arts educators help to integrate arts education into more teacher training programs?  It is important to remember that these programs undergo rigorous accreditation procedures through agencies such as NCATE (The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education) or a similar state agency, such as the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.  These agencies are not Departments of Education and do not set curriculum standards, they have no regulatory power over K-12 but they are all important to higher education teacher programs.  But I have never seen them at the arts education policy table.  We need to bring them into the conversation and help them to understand the need to include the arts in all teacher preparation programs.

So far I have been discussing the training of elementary teachers who in programs like the one I teach in, are taught the arts in a separate course.  This is not true for middle and high school teachers.  This group of pre-service teachers focuses on their content area.  They are taught how to teach math or theater or social studies or dance or music or visual art.  They are not taught how to integrate between content areas.  I believe that increased integration between secondary teachers (in all content areas) is vital to improve student learning.  Theater teachers need work with social studies teachers who need to work with math teachers who need to work with music teachers and so on.  In this area, I believe that higher education can help.  There is a movement in some teacher training programs to teach active collaboration between teachers as part of their training.  It is a trend which I think will grow and this cadre of teachers has the potential to become powerful practitioners of integrated curriculum and to help to more fully integrate the arts.

We should not forget that higher education is also responsible for teaching the future principals and administrators of schools.  We all know the importance of a leader at a school site.  A principal committed to the arts can change the direction of an entire school.  Conversely, a principal without enthusiasm can defuse the energy a staff may have for arts education.  I have been fortunate to be part of the Arts Education Initiative (AEI) at UC Berkeley, a Ford Foundation funded program of teacher educators in northern California.  One of the most important outcomes from AEI for me is a collaboration I have established with a colleague in the Department of Educational Leadership at CSU East Bay.  My teacher education students teach her educational leadership students about the necessity of the arts.  Over the last three years we have been raising the awareness of the arts among the next generation of school leaders and we hope our colleagues at other institutions will follow.

Finally a postscript about professional arts training programs in universities.  I am a product of a university professional program and have taught in them as well.  The two years I spent earning an MFA were perhaps the most powerful and influential of my life.  I learned much, much more than just becoming a conservatory trained actor and that training prepared me for a lot.  Reflecting on it, all of the competencies that Daniel Pink outlines in “A Whole New Mind” were part of that training.  But no part of the program overtly touched upon teaching or education or had a metacognitive component to reflect on the greater ramifications of what we were learning.  In Eric Booth’s excellent “The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible: Becoming a Virtuoso Educator,” he says that in essence all artists are educators.  I would ask that my colleagues in professional training programs include some reflection on the richness, complexity and importance of deep artistic training in shaping a whole individual.

So what is the state of the relationship between higher education and arts education?  I would say generally positive but with enormous untapped potential.  And in this time when we must band together to harness the power of collective impact, that potential is a resource we must develop and use for the sake of our students.

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