Risky Business

Being an educator doesn’t always mean you personally want to keep learning, growing and changing, but when it does it is stunning. The Perpich Arts Integration Network of Teachers is a group of nearly 100 teachers from 21 elementary, middle and high schools who have dedicated themselves to continued growth in order to better meet their students’ needs. Teachers come from two regions in Minnesota: the Lakes Country Region in west-central Minnesota and in the Southeast Region. Teachers work in teams that must include at least one arts teacher (dance, media arts, music, theater or visual arts).

The focus of the arts integration project is to incorporate the arts across the curriculum in order to increase student learning and engagement. In the process of developing their integrated units, teachers put themselves out there to learn new things that help them become more effective teachers. It can feel risky to expose your teaching methods, philosophy, content knowledge and pedagogical skills to colleagues in your own school and to teachers from other schools.  Thankfully these teachers took the risk to collaborate with each other to design lessons incorporating knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines in compelling ways that captured the attention and imaginations of the students. They addressed Big Ideas and Essential Questions, using the McTighe and Wiggins framework for Backwards Design. They used hands-on learning in and through the arts.

Outside evaluators identified several important ideas in which teachers engage in the project:

• How to understand, use and “make teachable” standards and benchmarks

• What good planning looks like

• How to connect learning in multiple subject areas

• How to engage students

• How to make instruction meaningful and productive.

The evaluators also described what teachers see as sustainable after the formal three-year project ends in their communities:

• Collaboration with other teachers

• Alignment with academic standards

• Modifying instruction based on student work

• Creating arts-integrated units

According to the evaluators’ report, students benefitted from their teacher’s new capacities by learning that:

•  Knowledge, like life, is connected

• Classrooms can be interesting places

• The arts can enliven learning

• Creating puts learning in motion

Schools are hard to change, innovation is difficult to sustain, but because these teachers have made a strong commitment to their own continued growth and to supporting their students’ achievement and success, this is an optimistic time. The Perpich Center is honored to work with these stellar teachers and share their stories and arts integrated units with other educators who may be inspired to continue their development and bring learning to life in their classrooms by incorporating the arts as equal partners across the curriculum.  I see these teachers as heroes doing the daily work of educating the next generation of citizens. What more important job can there be?

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