Deirdre Moore | April 2017

Collaborate?! When? How?

One of the hardest things about teaching is the lack of time to actually talk/collaborate/share with colleagues.  It can be a very lonely profession.  Although I do see school systems trying to facilitate more collaboration among teachers, I also see that there are so many things that compete for our time in the few meetings that are set.  Even though the district in which I work affords teachers the opportunity to meet one day per month as a Professional Learning Community (PLC) in grade level teams, the agenda is generally packed full and not always with things the teachers might have chosen to do.

Trying to support teachers in embracing arts integration has been made that much more difficult because there are so many other priorities demanding their time.  Teachers are very busy, pragmatic people.  They want ideas, preferably ones they can use tomorrow, ideas that will be effective in engaging students and helping teachers and students alike achieve their goals.  That makes perfect sense to me.  That’s why I tried to introduce the idea of an arts integration log.

Collaborate with an Integration Log

The first two years I tried to introduce the log it failed to catch on for a variety of reasons not the least of which was because teachers are busy and if no one is making them do it  they won’t.  They need to prioritize.  If it is not on the “must do” list, chances are, it’s not going to get done.  Paperwork takes time and is often just one more thing that is not generally very useful to teachers.  I totally get that.  They also did not have many arts integration tools in their toolboxes yet.

This year the log idea resurfaced.  As part of a plan outlined in a grant we received, the log was included as a way of documenting the work that teachers were doing with arts integration.  As a result, the Arts Leadership Team (ALT) seemed more amenable to getting behind the logs and trying to facilitate their grade level teammates to fill out and share these logs at the monthly PLC meetings.  The logs would be collected by the Arts Leadership Team representatives to be shared at the ALT meeting.  So the log was, yet again, introduced at a staff meeting.  It was emphasized that it was not only a means of recording the work being done but also a concrete way to share with colleagues the different techniques being tried and a way to learn from the mistakes and triumphs of our peers.

The Response

The next cycle of PLC meetings has come and gone and the first round of AI logs have started to roll in.  Not all the teams have complied, but many did.  The ALT had the pleasure of looking at the forms together and discovering the variety of techniques their colleagues are using – tableau, Visual Thinking Strategies, puppets, visual art – and the applications across the curriculum in language arts, English language development, social studies and math.  We had rich discussions and generated even more ideas, some about great ways to share these AI lessons and to encourage more teachers to complete the logs.  I smiled on the outside and on the inside.  Yes, it’s taken 2 and 2/3 years but I am finally starting to see these logs do what I had always imagined they could.

Teaching can be lonely.  It can be so demanding that sometimes the idea well runs dry.  Yes, there is Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers and google searches and even Education Closet, but there is nothing like hearing about a great lesson a colleague just a few doors down from you created with a technique that you already know with the exact content you need to teach.  There is nothing like learning what a colleague at another grade level is doing to inspire you to think about a technique in a new way.  These are ideas that teachers can use tomorrow and they know they are likely to work because a colleague of theirs in their school with the same training and the same population of kids explained how it worked in her/his classroom.  And if it doesn’t work, these teachers know just who to ask for advice.  Now that is what I call a Professional Learning Community.

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.