US arts education organisations create ground-breaking partnership

Lincoln Center, New York City

The US Government has pledged an $8.5 million federal grant to fund a new collaboration between the bodies of various arts education sectors led by the National Art Education Association (NAEA).

The project, snappily titled Connected Arts Networks: Leveraging Arts Learning Communities for Teacher Leadership and Student Achievement, but conveniently reduced to CAN, focuses on equity, diversity and inclusion, socio-emotional learning and professional learning communities for arts teachers. The government’s involvement means all work complies with National Core Arts Standards, which includes dance, media arts, music, theatre and visual arts.

The other participatory organisations are National Dance Education Organization (NDEO), the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA), and the New York City Department of Education’s (NYCDOE’s) Office of Arts and Special Projects (OASP) and the programme will have a five-year evaluation by Metis Associates.

A national project, it is based on one running in New York City in which different learning communities meet and share best practices in arts education. It’s been regarded as a great success, hence the demand from national organisations to follow suit.

‘Through this unique and unprecedented partnership, the four national arts education organisations can leverage the foundational work in New York City and move the model to a national scale, with the ability to impact over 800,000 students across diverse communities as well as more than 1,600 dance, music, theatre and visual arts educators,’ said Mario R. Rossero, executive director of NAEA.

CAN’s four stated goals are:

  1. Develop highly effective arts educators, building their capacity to address diversity, equity, inclusion, and social-emotional learning in their standards-based arts instruction.
  2. Develop a local and national cadre of teacher leaders in the arts by building their content knowledge and leadership skills to expand the impact of arts learning for students and their communities.
  3. Develop accessible arts-based instructional materials, strategies, and tools to disseminate to the field nationally.
  4. Create a model for developing, deepening, and maintaining effective partnerships among school communities, local education agencies, and national arts education associations.

Participating arts educators will:

  • Be part of learning communities, where they will engage with their peers teaching in the same arts disciplines and grade bands to focus on strengthening their instruction and addressing equity, diversity, and inclusion; social-emotional learning; and leadership in their standards-based instruction and practice;
  • Participate in semi-annual observations and visits to peers’ classrooms;
  • Attend workshops with experts in the fields of equity, diversity, and inclusion; social-emotional learning; and educational leadership;
  • Lead their own learning communities;
  • Engage in summer institutes; and
  • Provide service to the field including designing and implementing professional learning, creating guides and toolkits, and participating in school leadership teams.

The project is a significant agent for change in the way arts teachers can operate over the coming years, despite the relatively small sum allocated. Teachers will be specially recruited to facilitate learning communities and create instructional material resources, online toolkits and guidebooks.

NYCDOE, with its prior experience and established network, will act as the incubator and laboratory for testing, implementing and revising these materials and approaches. Then hundreds of arts educators nationwide will further test and hone this content to create a new world of arts education that is effective, relevant and accessible.

The five-year project aims to improve students’ expression of identity, celebrate cultural backgrounds and beliefs, understanding their peer’s art and processes and to acquire knowledge of societal, historical and cultural context.

This, the organisers believe, will encourage enhanced socio-emotional learning skills, such as self-esteem, self-awareness, emotional resilience, social awareness and conflict resolution skills.

‘NAfME is excited to be part of this new, collaborative initiative, which combines and highlights the strengths of music and arts educators across disciplines at the national and local level,’ said Dr. Mackie V. Spradley, NAfME President and Board Chair. ‘This program will build on and support NAfME’s strategic efforts, and the on-going efforts of music educators across the country, to develop their leadership capacity, effectiveness, and knowledge, skills, and awareness to address diversity, equity, inclusion, and social-emotional learning in their standards-based music and arts instruction.’

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