Have you been hearing about Arts Integration lately? It has been around for decades but has really become an education buzzword in recent years. If you’ve ever read the blogs I write for InService or Party in the Art Room, you’ve definitely heard of it. I write about it all of the time because I believe in the power of the arts to transform schools and improve outcomes for students. However, there is also a gamut of research to support the value of arts integration in raising student achievement. It is also a vehicle for reaching the Whole Child as defined by ASCD. Educators are definitely about the business of reaching and teaching all learners.
But, did you know that Arts Integration can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of teachers? I’ve read several dissertations that explore the correlation between arts-rich curricula and teacher job satisfaction. The Arts Education Partnership website offers information on studies about this as well.
I’d like to summarize some of that information for you. Teachers are knowledge workers. Daniel Pink presents evidence that knowledge workers are motivated by things like autonomy, collaboration, and reflection. Arts Integration allows teachers to make decisions about the students they teach based on their professional knowledge. The collaborative experiences of planning arts-integrated instruction with other educators and teaching artists helps teachers feel supported. The partnerships that are formed create stronger ties to the school and community. Teachers who use the arts as the vehicle for instruction of other content are able to engage with their pedagogical approaches in new ways. Reflection on these experiences and how their teaching impacts students provides teachers with the opportunity to be creative as they design and redesign instruction. All of this leads to self-efficacy, which can be defined as one’s belief in their ability to ensure their own success. If teachers believe they have the power to ensure their own success and the success of their students as a result, they will engage in their work in ways that are meaningful to them and to those around them. This increases happiness and wellbeing.
It is a win-win-win-win. The students win, the teachers win, the community wins. Everyone wins! Are you intrigued?
Just in case you aren’t convinced yet, I thought I would share a bit of a personal testimony.
I am the coordinator for the Arts Integration efforts at my school. This means that I work with other teachers to integrate the content they are required to teach with the arts. I love it when teachers come to me with a skill that needs to be addressed. We brainstorm and bounce ideas off of each other. We collaborate to find solutions to the problems students are having with those skills. This helps me feel connected to my colleagues. It allows me to engage with the content they teach and my own subject area in new ways. Together, we get to celebrate the success of our students. Together, we get to reflect, revise, and reteach as necessary.
Theme is a concept that is very difficult across all grade levels. When we began using an arts-integrated approach to teaching this, it became everyone’s priority. The language arts teachers no longer needed to carry the burden of addressing this concept in their own individual classroom. Teachers began to collaborate across grade levels and disciplines. We also brought in teaching artists to help. The saying, “It takes a village to teach a child,” epitomizes how we approached this.
This environment has been very beneficial to me. I have greater self-efficacy as a result, which has opened many doors for me as an educator. I also have a deep-rooted connection to my community. I believe this is a direct result of the arts efforts at my school. We have rallied community members to raise money for our arts programs, and we have engaged them in the creation of art gardens and installations. When we have arts-related activities at our school and community members attend, I get to know them in a way that I would not otherwise be able to do.
The things I am describing are great for me, which also positively impacts my own family. I am happy and engaged at my job. I love teaching my students and spending time with them. I enjoy my colleagues. All is well with my soul. Isn’t that something we want for everyone, including ourselves?
You deserve to be happy and well. Your students deserve you to be happy and well. The relationship between teachers, their students, and their communities is not disconnected. It is social and reciprocal. What is good for one in the relationship is good for all. So, please make the most of your new year and take the time to learn about and plan some arts-integrated lessons for 2017. You owe it to yourself, to your students, and everyone else who is impacted by your profession.
Amanda Koonlaba teaches visual art in Tupelo, Miss., and serves as an arts integration instructional coach. She is an ASCD Emerging Leader and just completed a specialist degree in educational leadership in December. Connect with her on Twitter @AKoonlaba.