Michelle Simmons | June 2018

3 Ways to Advocate for Arts Integration

Integrating the Arts has been in the forefront in my teaching toolbox since I was first introduced to it five years ago. While some of my coworkers resisted this shift in teaching, it quickly became second nature to me. As more and more teachers bought in, I was quickly encompassed in an environment where this was the norm. This became the way we taught. My colleagues and I became this interworking network of best practices in Arts Integration.

The funny thing about getting into a routine is that you forget that not everyone functions the way you do. So, when life happened and we had to relocate to a new state, I just thought I would go back into an environment where Arts Integration was a common practice. This was one of my “selling points” in my interview. I had the smiles and the nods and the “oh wow” when I explained my passion for integrating the arts into the Gen Ed curriculum. After accepting the job at my current school, I was excited about creating an even bigger web of collaboration.

Unfortunately, Arts Integration is a hidden treasure in the current district where I teach. What I thought “everyone” knew, I quickly realized only a few knew. As a result of my struggles, I want to offer three ways to become an advocate of Arts Integration in a school where it isn’t embraced (yet).

Arts Integration Advocacy Tips

Stand Out!

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and enemy of growth. – John F. Kennedy

I always push my students to be individuals. I stand at the pulpit of my classroom and preach to be unique, to embrace individualism, to respect differences. BUT – what I found was that I was not practicing what I was preaching. In order to “fit in” at my new school, I began to do the things that had always been done. This led to me being extremely unhappy in my own teaching style. I wasn’t being me! When I finally let go and went back to integrating art throughout my units, I began to feel like myself again and felt that drive and passion spark back to life.

So, don’t be scared to stand out! The research proves that Arts Integration is a powerful tool for children to connect with the curriculum. Practice what you preach and be an individual!

Start Slow!

If you are persistent you will get it, if you are consistent you will keep it. – Unknown

I am very lucky my administration is on board with me being different, and supports my creative decision making in the classroom. This makes my progress much smoother.

I am aware that I am extremely fortunate. I’ve spoken with enough educators to know that not every principal or district is okay with teachers expressing themselves through creative lessons. Some prefer the scripted programs and plans that do not allow any leeway. If you are in this situation, I believe that through persistence and consistency, you can create a classroom that is strengthened through the arts.

When presenting an idea to administration, start small and build up. Come prepared. Show the research that backs incorporating art into the curriculum. Here is a great infographic. If you come with your facts in the forefront, they will be hard pressed to turn you down.

Plan a lesson out from start to finish and present it to your principal ahead of time so he/she can see what you plan to do. Explain your objectives and anticipated results. Implement your plan in the classroom. Then, follow up! After you are finished with your lesson, gather your data, schedule a meeting, and prove to your administration what we already know… your kids were engaged and the mastery proves it. This gains credibility.

Supplement Your Knowledge!

Educating yourself does not mean that you were stupid in the first place; it means that you are intelligent enough to know that there is plenty left to learn. – Melanie Joy

If your district does not invest in Arts Integration and the development needed to make you successful, then go get it for yourself! I realized my school and district were not going to help me continue to learn and grow in my Arts Integration practice. It is more difficult but it is not impossible to find your own professional development. Here are some ways I have found to foster my creativity:

  • Subscribe to Periodicals (EducationCloset)- If you are reading this, you’ve already taken the first step, so pat yourself on the back and mark today a win!
  • Follow Relevant Web Pages – Arts Edge is a good starting point for a variety of lessons and research.
  • Follow Bloggers – My personal favorite is Amanda Koonlaba. Her lessons are straightforward and easy to follow.
  • Go-to Conferences during the summer – EducationCloset has an amazing online conference planned! Many local and regional Art Commissions also put on a Summer Institute for teachers. A quick search to your local organization can tell you!
    • If money is an issue, did you know you can write a Donors Choose grant for specific development?

Stay Committed

It is so easy to throw in the towel when “everyone” else is doing something different. If you are like me and in a setting that has not fully embraced Arts Integration, I challenge you to make a plan of action for this upcoming school year. Set a meeting with your administration and request to teach ONE Arts Integration lesson. Or, go out and write a grant for your entire school to have professional development in integrating the arts. Wherever you are in your journey, just know that you are not alone. Stay committed. This is what the students want and need!

About the Author

Michelle is a 5th grade ELA teacher in Pensacola, Florida. Originally from Mississippi, she has over seven years of experience in grades 2nd - 5th. She holds a Education Specialist Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Delta State University. Michelle is an avid lover of the arts and believes in using them as a gateway to broaden her students' understanding and compassion.