Arts Learning – Synthesis of Readings, Week 7

Week 7 – Teaching Artists

This week’s readings examined workforce issues with a particular emphasis on teaching artists in the Rabkin et al. (2011) report on teaching artists and school reform. This report was the most informative piece I feel we’ve read to date and benefited from long quotations and rich case studies. The large sample also gives me confidence in its findings. I appreciated the holistic portrait the report presented about teaching artists in this country. The history was moving, especially the links through Hull House between Jane Addams, John Dewey, and Viola Spolin. The authors make a strong argument for the natural fit between arts education and good teaching practice that is student-centered, cognitive, and social in nature. The demographic statistics give an clear portrait of the sector and the TA workforce. The descriptions of the political dynamics behind school, institutional, and systemic partnerships is helpful to think about what type of approach to an arts education intiative would be effective, whether at the school or the city level.

Ann Galligan’s 2001 piece on culture, education, and the workforce feels a bit dated now as the political landscape has changed quite a bit since 2001. But I appreciate the discussion of workforce issues and her argument that the federal government can play an important role in research and coordination seems eternally valid. The need to ground a policy argument in unassailable research findings reinforces how important solving the assessment puzzle is. Rabkin et al. didn’t have specific answers but I appreciated how they said that good assessment part of good teaching, not in the future but in the lesson itself, because it makes a lesson more student-centered, cognitive, and social. This is one important take away for me as a future arts administrator. If I am managing a TA program, I will want to look for ways to use assessment to strengthen the overall program and the specific lessons being enacted with students.

The other takeaway is the need for arts administrators to think like organizers and use their position to document the impact their program has, to pull together partnerships to advocate for arts education, and to connect to broader local, state, and national initiatives that can strengthen the field. It feels as if only when there are real success stories and a broad majority of community residents get behind arts education, will the sector get the support it needs. I appreciate the argument in Rabkin about needing both arts integration and TA programs in schools and how this could lead to a new, more productive chapter in education reform. I believe it, but in order to make it happen, arts administrators will need to be conveners, facilitators, diplomats, and advocates for the cause.

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