What Does an Arts Integration Specialist Do?

By |2021-02-23T11:44:42-07:00March 2nd, 2021|

Sparkchasers Episode 25 | Show Notes

What Does an Arts Integration Specialist Do?

As you know, our Arts Integration Certification program is open for enrollment. And I’ve gotten lots of questions about it, but the biggest questions center around what – exactly – does an arts integration specialist do? Since I’ve been living in this role for over a decade, I thought I’d give you a peek into what it’s like, what you can do with a certification in this field, and even bust some misconceptions along the way. Ready? Let’s get started.

What Is an Arts Integration Specialist?

At its heart, an arts integration specialist is someone who helps connect, facilitate, and lead arts integration efforts. If you need something a little more concrete, here’s what a job description might sound like: An arts integration specialist provides arts integration instruction of students by working with teachers to develop, select, and modify instructional plans and material, and presenting them using arts integrated instructional techniques which meet the needs of all students. The specialist assists schools to provide an atmosphere and environment conducive to the intellectual, physical, social and emotional development of students. Additional position attributes include:

  • Designing co-curricular programs in a variety of school-related settings and activities.
  • Monitoring and evaluating student performance. 
  • Developing and implementing plans to improve student performance through arts integration, especially in the areas of the core academic subjects. 
  • Working with schools to model how to plan and implement high-level arts integrated lessons, assessments, and curriculum mapping across the disciplines. 
  • Conducting professional development in Integrated Arts Teaching and Learning with faculties district-wide throughout the academic year. 
  • Monitoring and assisting in the management of the elements of Arts Integration at elementary and secondary schools

So…have you ever thought about being an arts integration specialist?  If this sounds like it might be right up your ally, you might be wondering a couple of things:

  1. Are there really jobs out there for this?
  2.  What does an arts integration specialist do?
  3. How do you become an arts integration specialist?

All are great questions!  Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail and explore some new possibilities.

The Job Market

Before making any kind of career decision, it’s always wise to consider if there are really jobs out there in the field.  As schools evolve and change, more and more are finding a need for educators trained in using integrated approaches like Arts Integration, STEAM and Project-Based Learning.  While many would love to hire a dedicated teacher-leader for these roles, the pool of candidates is limited.  This means schools may have to turn to repurposing teacher positions in a building or adding more responsibilities to current teacher roles.

This is definitely not ideal, and if a candidate is available who has been trained in the approach, they are much more likely to get some dedicated time towards becoming a mentor or facilitator in this role.

Additionally, as the new ESEA law has started to come into effect, more schools than ever are applying for (and receiving) funding for arts integration and STEAM initiatives.  Part of the funding equation is providing for a specialist to work with teachers, plan lessons, demonstrate strategies and help review data.

Finally, don’t forget to think outside of the school walls!  Central offices are hiring arts integration specialists at district levels to both begin and continue integration efforts.  And of course, many curriculum companies, museums and private education firms are always looking to hire educators who have received training in arts integration.

Job Responsibilities

If you’re interested in an arts integration specialist position, you’ll want to be prepared for everything the job entails.  One of the great things about being an arts integration specialist is the sheer variety of what you get to do.  The creative possibilities are exciting and the leadership experience is so valuable.  Of course, it can also be overwhelming if you aren’t aware of everything that goes into this role.  Here’s just a few activities arts integration specialists are responsible for:

  • Planning and preparing arts integration lessons, assignments, assessments and materials
  • Developing an arts integration budget
  • Creating and delivering professional development and online resources
  • Recruiting and supporting arts integration efforts in the school or district
  • Curriculum mapping standards across multiple content areas and the arts
  • Planning and administering arts integration assessments
  • Modeling various arts strategies to be used in the classrooms
  • Demonstrating and co-teaching arts integrated lessons
  • Maintaining and analyzing arts integration-related data
  • Counseling teachers when academic and adjustment problems arise related to teaching through the arts

Common Misconceptions about Arts Integration

One of this BIG things an arts integration specialist does is help others to understand the approach. With that, you’ll find there are 3 big misconceptions most people have about arts integration. As a specialist, you’ll be able to debunk these myths and help people understand how to integrate the arts effectively. Here’s some examples:

Misconception #1: Teachers need extensive knowledge and training in the arts to teach Arts Integration

Truth: Most teachers don’t have time to lesson plan, let alone take on additional coursework learn about each of the arts. Fortunately, teachers don’t need extensive training in the arts to use Arts Integration in their classrooms.

When it comes to AI and STEAM, teachers act as facilitators of student exploration and learning.  Students learn the arts skills and processes in arts classes.  They learn content skills in their content classes.  Any teacher can then provide the opportunity to extend that learning through creativity.   

AI and STEAM are teaching tools.  These tools allow students who may otherwise be unable to access the material being taught, to engage in content lessons.  These tools also allow students who may be advanced in one academic area to explore and push themselves beyond the scope of the original lesson.  Teachers can utilize online resources, teaching artist videos, online programs like ArtsEdge, or museum websites to help them.

To support their Arts Integration programs, schools can implement professional development sessions led by teaching artists. These individuals can provide teachers with a toolbox of “arts related knowledge”.  Additional training is an added advantage to teaching Arts Integration, but not a necessity.  

This myth of believing teachers need extensive training hails from the idea that creative artists are cut from a different cloth than everyone else.  In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Every child is an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”  

Can you purposefully cultivate creativity in the classroom? Yes! Do you need a MFA to do so? No.  There are numerous studies on schools where teachers with no formal background in the arts teach Arts Integration on a daily basis.

Misconception #2: Arts integration takes too much time

Truth:  I cannot begin to count the number of times teachers have told me that “Arts Integration takes too much time.” Or that they “already feel stressed just trying to meet the deadlines of the existing curriculum.”

Luckily, I can share that Arts Integration does not have to take any additional time. Instead, it is a method of teaching the existing curriculum in a new and engaging way.

As an Arts Integration Specialist, I always look at curriculum goals and how we can find a natural fit with the arts. Rather than using the same old worksheets and bookwork, I look for different routes to learning concepts.  Music, theater, visual arts, and dance can be these pathways to learning.  Teachers can do this (at some level) on their own, too.  Arts Integration should not be a “separate” lesson. It’s also not something that gets tagged on at the end of a unit. It is meant to be a teaching method that allows students to learn and practice the standards outlined in the curriculum.

When Arts Integration is used as a method of information transfer, it will not take any additional time away from content learning.  As a side note: how sad is it that the goal for many of us as educators has shifted from “educating students” to “getting through curricula by a certain deadline”?

Misconception #3: Turning STEM into STEAM is counterproductive to protecting Arts Education

Truth: Oftentimes I hear the argument that STEAM learning is taking the place of arts education or “art for arts sake.”  This assumption that STEAM learning leaves no room for arts classes is totally untrue.

In fact, STEAM learning is a complement to what students are learning in their arts classes.  Yes – there are areas where arts classes have been eliminated due to funding suspensions or reductions.  That is a something we need to keep fighting until every school has a dedicated arts program. In situations like these, STEAM learning did not lead to the demise of art class. Art class was slashed when the government cut budgets.

Keep in mind that STEAM doesn’t replace a school arts program.  It’s meant as a way to extend and deepen the arts’ natural connections with other contents.  High quality STEAM education cannot take place without dedicated arts instruction.  Therefore, STEAM education acts as a way to increase arts education, not eliminate it.

Curator and Connector

As an arts integration specialist, you’ll be able to confidently support others in navigating through push-back and getting to model creative and engaging lessons that work. 

One of the best parts of this job is what I call the Curator and Connector side. As an arts integration specialist, you’ll spend a lot of time curating ideas, coaching teachers in aligning content, and connecting with others – other teachers, community members, and teaching artists. Basically, you get to live and breathe the creative process.

Last month, I was fortunate enough to use this same process in our Arts Integration Bootcamp. We spent 4 weeks helping over 1,000 teachers imagine, develop, and refine their own arts integration lesson ideas. And the results were amazing! I just want to brag on a few of our participants and what they created:

Amber Bennett worked to connect Poetry and Visual Art. Her idea was to have students write original poetry focusing on adjectives to describe their observations of the sun or moon. Students will learn how poetry often inspires artists to create visual art. Students learn about the importance and connection of nature, shape, line, patterns and balance in visual arts and are given the opportunity to explore these with different mediums. Finally, students present their products to the class and explain how they were inspired by their own poetry and observations.

Or Amber Thomas’ lesson called “Plants Can’t Sit Still” which connects Dance and Science for her K-2 students. Students will read the book Plants Can’t Sit Still and explore the science elements of things plants need to live, thrive, and reproduce. Then, she plans to introduce students to dance elements such as locomotive and axial movement, pathways, level and size, and self vs. shared space. Students will then create their own life cycle dances using what they’ve learned about both the plant life cycle and creative movement.

These are just two examples of the hundreds we received. It was such an honor to work alongside these educators and help them see their ideas come to life. And that is the true work of an arts integration specialist. Supporting the process of integrating the arts as a natural access point for teaching and learning.

So, what’s next? If you’re interested in becoming an arts integration specialist, I’d love to invite you to apply for this year’s arts integration certification program. Our staff of trained Level I and Level II certified coaches walk you through this process, give you tons of support, and cheer you on to meet your own goals for the future. Applications close on March 19, so head over here for all the details and to apply. That’s it for me today! Remember that together, we can chase the spark of our ideas and make a brighter future for everyone. I’ll see you soon.

Additional Resources:

Arts Integration Certification

Arts Integration Job Description

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