In my last post, I spoke briefly about the Arts Advisory Council, a new initiative in my district aimed at K-12 program development in the arts. I’ve alluded to it in several posts over the last year, but haven’t sat down to put metaphorical pen to paper until now. This first post of two discusses where the idea came from and how I pitched it to my staff.
Oh, and happy ninth birthday to my blog!
The basis for the AAC came out of my dissertation research on distributed leadership. My review of the literature found that some element of shared decision making was a hallmark of schools with positive cultures and climates and successful distributed leadership initiatives. To vastly oversimplify for the sake of this blog post, including teachers and other non-administrative staff members in such initiatives lead to high degrees of trust and open lines of communication between teachers and administrators and high degrees of investment in implementation of school initiatives. Assuming (!) these initiatives are tied to advancing the organizational mission or vision, the logic then goes that you’re more likely to have more people on board with moving together toward the goals of the organization. Again, a VAST oversimplification, but if you want more details, click the link above and read my dissertation and check out the citations.
In addition to the lit review, I heard first-hand about similar shared decision-making structures put into place when I interviewed the administrators and staff members of two middle schools in the pseudonymous Wellbrook School District in Delaware. While each school does it slightly differently, both schools use a committee structure comprised of not only teachers and administrators, but also secretaries, custodians, food services staff, and anyone else who wishes to contribute to the discussions at the table. Any member is welcome to bring a topic for discussion to the group, and all ideas are given fair consideration and ‘kicked around’ from various viewpoints.
Of course, this research is all relevant to building level decision making; as a K-12 department supervisor who oversees the arts program across 7 different buildings, I have different issues and topics for consideration that could benefit from the same approaches outlined above. Putting research aside for a moment, though: if I have 21 talented, dedicated teachers, all experts in their respective fields and grade levels, why would I not seek to harness their professional opinions and perspectives as I seek to grow the district arts program? To think I could do it all myself – even if I wanted to – seems to me the height of hubris, arrogance, and ignorance.
I decided I wanted to adapt this idea to the departmental level and involve any K-12 fine/performing arts teachers who wished to participate. Our first meeting was in October 2015.
Getting Off the Ground
I emailed my K-12 music, art, and drama teachers in September 2015 with a brief explanation of what I was planning, and when/where we would meet to discuss. Of course, this wasn’t the first most of them had heard of the idea of the AAC. I had also brought it up in personal conversations with many staff members around the district – as early as the end of the previous school year (2014-2015) – partially to feel them out as to their interest level and partially to sow the seeds so the email wouldn’t be the first they heard of it.
I made sure to hold the meeting during a pre-scheduled meeting time. Staff who attended the AAC meeting would not be staying beyond the end of their contract day or going to any additional meetings; they were just meeting with me in lieu of their respective building faculty meetings. Armed with enough coffee & donuts to feed a small army, I made my case for the AAC to about half of the district’s art, music, and drama teachers (plus a French teacher who, while not technically a teacher of the arts, directs the middle school musical. She asked if she could join the meeting and I was only too happy to oblige).
In my explanation, I laid out four broad outcomes I hoped to see come from the experience:
- Give teachers a voice in the direction and development of the district arts program, both curricular and extracurricular
- Give teachers a forum to voice concerns and problem-solve with content area colleagues (many art & music teachers in our district are ‘singletons’ in their buildings and don’t have others in their subject specialty with whom to talk during the day)
- Develop a forum for proposing new ideas and collaboratively fleshing them out, with the benefit of multiple grade level and subject area perspectives
- Develop actionable plans with built-in accountability for bringing solutions and proposals to fruition
As I said in the meeting, I was happy to come up with ideas and initiatives on my own, but I knew that the collective wisdom, experience, and creativity in the room far outweighed anything I could hope to do on my own. To their credit, my teachers didn’t need to be asked twice – they ran with it, and the brainstorming began that afternoon.
In my next post, I’ll speak to what the first year of implementation looked like and what changes we might make as we begin the second year of the Arts Advisory Council.