Deirdre Moore | September 2016

Turning Around a School Through the Arts: A Journey

It’s the beginning of a new school year – time for a fresh start and time to build on what you’ve learned from your experiences from the year before. This year I feel a special sense of urgency for the professional lessons I’ve learned to bear fruit. It’s year three – the final year of our three years federal initiative from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, Turnaround Arts, and my last year at the school as a result. It’s now or never. It’s time to begin the journey of turning around a school through arts

Our Arts Leadership Team (ALT) needs to be sure we are leveraging the arts to make the biggest possible impact on the whole school community. At the beginning of each year, we are charged with creating a Strategic Arts Plan – our master plan for having the arts help to turn this chronically underperforming school around. This plan has never been more important than it is now. Turning around a school through the arts becomes our next journey.

Unfortunately, as much as we on the ALT have wanted to include the whole staff in the creation and implementation of the plan over the past two years, somehow other issues always took precedence. There were always new initiatives from the district, pressing issues that ate up precious staff meeting times, math and reading specialists who filled the PLC agendas. Of course, all of these things are important.

That’s what makes it so difficult to prioritize anything – everything feels so important and necessary and immediately needed. However, if this is our last best chance to have the arts really make an impact on the school at large, this year has to be different. We have to keep the arts front and center and include the whole staff in the focus. This is behind the idea of turning around a school through the arts.

Over the summer at the Turnaround Arts Retreat, the California Turnaround schools identified two goals that all CA schools would work toward: increase teacher/staff capacity and improve school culture and climate. I am thrilled because I see both of those as essential to our plan’s success. We need teachers to increase their ability to have the arts as a tool in their toolbox that they naturally reach for when facilitating and assessing learning. For that to happen, the culture and climate of the school need to support that work. The culture of the school sets the tone for all that happens within its walls.

Just as I shared with you the journey of our school as we attempted to produce our first musical last year, I will be sharing with you the journey our school is taking to improve our school culture and climate and really build up the capacity of all our staff members to make arts an essential tool for learning.

Over the next month, we will be working on assessing those obstacles that keep our school culture from being arts-focused and keep our teachers from fully accessing the power of the arts to transform the learning in our school and creating a plan to address those obstacles. My hope is that our journey can inform yours and together we can help the arts to have the greatest impact on our schools and the learning that happens within those walls. As they say, every journey begins with a single step. Here’s to the journey of turning around a school through the arts!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.