Brianne Gidcumb | July 2014

Stepping Outside of Your Curriculum Comfort Zone

When I speak with teachers about arts integration strategies, one of the initial concerns teachers express is a lack of comfort with the idea of teaching outside of their content area. This concern is understandable and fairly deeply engrained in us. We spend four years in an educational program focused primarily on our content.

We spend countless hours in professional development and graduate courses honing our craft. We pour our time and energy into planning instruction based on what we know. Many of us are, by nature, planners, and things outside our curriculum comfort zone can be intimidating. There are many reasons that stepping outside the box can be scary. However, it can be extremely valuable and empowering to explore outside of our curriculum comfort zone.

When I first began exploring this idea of arts integration, I had many of these fears. I’m a music teacher- I’m sure the classroom teacher can do a better job of teaching those ELA standards than I can. I’ll focus on what I know I can do well. But as I began to delve into standards in curriculum comfort zone mapping, to look at arts and Common Core standards side by side, to explore various means of assessing arts integrated lessons, I was empowered by my new understanding of these various content standards and how they could be integrated into my classroom and content without sacrificing the integrity of my music curriculum.

In the traditional school model, information is divided into content areas, for the most part, with little connection between contents. As educators, there are times we contribute to this division in learning by dividing our responsibility to different contents. Granted, it’s vitally important to have a deep understanding of your content, and the integrity of this content should never be sacrificed. However, when it comes down to it, our responsibility is to our students, not solely to our content.   In order to provide students with authentic, integrated learning experiences, we must have our students’ entire educational landscape in view. By having this working knowledge, we can intentionally plan for naturally connecting and aligning standards with ease.

Making cross-curricular connections is obviously much easier when we can put our heads together, and collaboration time is a crucial piece to any arts integration initiative. But the reality is that time is precious and for many of us, this collaboration time can be quite difficult to accommodate. By having a functional understanding of content standards outside of our own, we can come to the table ready to make intentional connections. We can begin the work meaningfully, in a way that ensure the validity of both content standards.

Regardless of whether or not your school is involved in an arts integration initiative, whether you are an arts teacher or a classroom teacher, we can all benefit from learning outside our content. It will take a lot of time and work to really develop an understanding of the scope of standards that we are asking of our students across all contents. The good news is that with an abundance of information online, there are some wonderful and accessible opportunities to dip your toes in the waters of a new content. Here are some resources I’ve used to step outside of my curriculum comfort zone of music and into something new: arts integration and, more specifically, visual art.

  • Online courses from EdCloset: I can say, from my own experience, that I have walked away from each course I’ve taken with a wealth of knowledge, as well as a better understanding of what is expected of my students across their entire educational landscape.
  • Online courses from the Museum of Modern Art: MoMA provides both self-guided and instructor-led online courses- a great opportunity for people wanting to learn more about visual art.
  • ArtsEdge: It’s so valuable to look at the abundance of resources at ArtsEdge and study how the arts have been integrated to teach content standards.
  • Google Art Project: The Google Cultural Institute has a wealth of visual art resources, including videos of various art talks.

What resources have you used to learn about another content area?

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: