In my last post, I described the origins of my district’s Arts Advisory Council. This post describes how the first year of implementation went and how things may change in the year to come.
The Past Year
We planned to meet a total of 5 times this past year; we actually met 4 – October, November, February, and May (I ended up having to cancel our April meeting due to PARCC preparations across the district). The general structure looked like this:
- October: Establishment of purpose, brainstorming goals for 2015-2016, set “mini-goals”/benchmarks to be achieved by next meeting.
- November: Check in on progress toward goals, work in subcommittee as necessary, revisit mini-goals to be achieved by next meeting.
- February: Same as November; also, I solicited feedback from staff on new district curriculum document format
- May: Re-cap of goals achieved this year; preliminary discussion of goals for 2016-2017, including developing mission/vision for department aligned with district strategic plan
I need to stress that when I say “accountability”, I do NOT mean accountability to me. There are no administrative consequences attached to achieving or not achieving goals set here; if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. In this context, it is accountability to the group that matters, and we help each other meet the “mini-goals” along the way in order to get to the bigger goal at the end.
One major success to come out of the AAC was our spring Arts Festival at Lawrence High School, which our teachers resurrected this year after a few years of not doing it. The AAC also sparked conversations between our intermediate, middle, and high school instrumental music teachers that got them collaborating on inter-building activities with students, with an eye toward retaining and recruiting students for the instrumental music program as they advance through the grades. We also discussed other things we’d like to see happen with the program eventually; we weren’t able to do them all this year, but they’re up for discussion for 2016-2017.
It’s worth noting that while most of our time was spent on goals we collectively set, the AAC was also a good way for me to get feedback on initiatives that may not be exclusively arts-related (e.g., district curriculum documents) but that impact our department. If I was a building principal, I might be able to address this with all my staff at once at a faculty meeting. Since my staff are spread out across 7 buildings, the AAC is a chance for many of us to all be in the same physical location for a discussion. Folks who do attend the meeting can then return to their respective buildings and speak with their art/music colleagues to share the discussion highlights and get their input as well.
In retrospect, you could say I got a little ahead of myself by implementing the AAC before we had a unified departmental mission and vision. After all, if not for that, how do we prioritize and make informed decisions about how to grow the program? I’ll concede that valid point, but I stand by my decision. This year was experimental, and I said as much to my staff at the very first AAC meeting. In the first year, I was more concerned with feeling out the format and seeing how folks would work within the structure.
So what’s next for Year Two? In keeping with the spirit of things, that’s the council’s call, not mine alone. Given my druthers, these are some things I’d like to see us improve upon in 2016-2017:
- More art teachers represented. I’m not sure why this was, but of the 10-11 regulars at the AAC meetings, only two were art teachers. They did a great job, of course, but it definitely tilted our discussions toward the music end of things. I plan to speak to more art teachers individually about joining the AAC and finding out if there are any barriers preventing them from attending, or if it’s just a question of priorities.
- Develop an arts program mission & vision. We spitballed this a bit at our May 2016 meeting, and my ‘mini-goal’ for this coming October is to create a first draft of each from the bullet point ideas we brainstormed. The council will refine it from there and align it with the district’s five-year strategic plan that lasts until 2020.
- Develop ‘ground rules’ for our meeting time. This is more preventative than anything else, but I think it probably makes sense to establish some behavioral norms or expectations. By and large we are a very mutually supportive group, but there are bound to be disagreements at some point. I think having a mission and vision to refer to can help with some of that, but it’s probably worthwhile to have something to point to that outlines how we disagree with each other, and we need to have it in place before we actually need it, if that makes sense. I think I need to bring this to the council to flesh out a bit more.
- PD on how to make it better. Once we collectively reflect as a council on how last year went and what the group wants to improve, I’d like to research more formal models of what we do to see if we can make it even better. I like a lot of what I’ve seen of the World Cafe Method, and my friends Rich Wilson and Mike Ritzius are doing some wonderful things with Art of Hosting. Undoubtedly, they would take issue with some of the language I use in these posts (I don’t have to “give teachers a voice” – they already have one; it’s not my place to give them one!), but that’s what I mean – I don’t even know what I don’t know, but I know there are organized models out there for this sort of work we’re doing, and if nothing else, it’s my responsibility to make sure that if we’re going to do it, we are going to do it well. Mike and Rich offered an AoH workshop in Philly earlier this year that I couldn’t make, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled for future opportunities (and of course, bringing as many council members as I can with me).
Overall, I’m quite satisfied with our first year of the Arts Advisory Council, and am excited to see what it becomes in its second year. I like the idea that we were able to adapt something that is typically used for decision making at the building level for use with our academic department, and I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has done this and is further along in the lifespan of their own committee and can give me some hints or advice.