Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spending Time

Monday I am spending a whole day at Skinner Magnet Center. This is very exciting as I often do school and classroom visits but they are so short that I do not have enough time to sit and talk at length with multiple groups of teachers. As we planned our work this semester, the emphasis was on understanding what is happening in our schools. The results is this visit coming after multiple observations of participating teachers' classrooms.
The questions on my mind are many:
What is working well?
What are the obstacles to arts integration in the different grades?
How is the depth and consistency of arts integration mediated by teacher dynamics (leadership, group vs. individual teacher)?
How do they feel collaboration with Arts specialist is going?
Are teachers stretched or is there some capaciuty (now in our third year) to push even further?
Most important of all- how do they see and feel about arts integration? will they still be doing it after we left?
More questions than answers this week. I'll fill in some answers (or more questions) next week.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Change in Teacher Practice

It is still cold but I am assured that spring is almost here...
The question that is always on our mind is how do we help teachers change their every day practices while honoring the efforts and pressures they have to contend with daily.
Recently I read a masters thesis by Alinda Stelk one of Dr Kathy Wilson's students in it she quotes from Black and William:
Similiarly, Black and William state in their 1998 volume Inside the Black Box, "Teachers will not take up attractive sounding ideas, albeit based on extensive research, if these are presented as general principles which leave entirely to them the task of translating them into everyday practice- their classroom lives are too busy and too fragile for this to be possible for all but an outstanding few. What they need is a variety of living examples of implementation, by teacher with whom they can identify and from whom they can can both derive conviction and confidence that they can do better, and see concrete examples of what doing better means in practice" (pp.15-16)... Cahnages require teachers seeing temselves as learners and working with researchers to learn more."
The fit to our experiences is immediatly validating and daunting. Validating since it is identical in many ways to our practice, daunting because we need to imagine what such a system might look like. It does show as many of the AEMDD grants have in past and present that demonstration projects are invaluable labs for examining such change.
The question still remains; How do we translate it beyond existing projects? Or are we 'doomed' to have pockets of excellence in a sea almost completely devoid of Education in and trough the Arts? One possible answer has grown out of practice in Reading and more recently Math- coaching. Coaches are part of schools but they have the great advantage of focusing on "close distance". They are not of the classroom, but available enough and know enough to be immediately helpful. Their focus is mainly on helping teachers reach their potential and thus reach students mostly through the change in teachers practice. Coaches have the time and distance to think compare and transfer new ideas as well as plan, assess, and critique.
In a recent visit to a reading first school I discussed the new vocabulary emphasis with the coach (one of our best).
She said "We wanted all of our teachers to go into the units and decide which vocabulary should be taught. It was too much for them, finally me and [a coach from another school] used some time in the summer to go through the units and pull the vocabulary out. They simply did not have the time!" Her experience similar to ours is that teachers can be asked to do so much at any point, as expertise grows they can do more but still they need modeling, support and ideas- and I would claim, coaches in their close distance are the way to go.
We can think about it as re purposing the teaching artist/ artist in residence more explicitly guiding them to work with teachers as many projects have been doing to a certain degree for a long while. But as I read my own text I realize that repurposing is the wrong approach. We need the artists to help us build domain knowledge but coaches who are (were) classroom teachers as coaches. It goes back to the observation of Black and William:"What they need is a variety of living examples of implementation, by teacher with whom they can identify and from whom they can can both derive conviction and confidence that they can do better".
Can we (those outside the classroom) do better?