getting off islands

R – Visual and performing Arts educators are in an extraordinarily unique situation in Maine. True for all arts educators, but especially so for PK – 8 and dance and theater of all grade levels. The situation is one of isolation. Physical and educational. It’s too easy to overlook this as a fundamental concern, due to the fact that it’s always been like this. At the conclusion of the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative’s Summit for Arts Education this past Summer, about 80 educators and teaching artists spent three and a half hours presenting closing action plans and professional development workshop proposals based on their work during the week. I left the experience inspired in many ways.

Individuals are furthering their work based on deeper understandings and discussions. For many, this took the form of changing how they will be delivering instruction. For others it ties into the logistical bear of reporting out progress towards proficiency of standards and indicators. Others still are tying in assessment strategies for the first time or redesigning their assessment practices. This has staggering ramifications for Maine’s arts classrooms and our students. Where there is a transformation of thinking, or reporting, or managing, or assessing, or delivering, there is a furthering of the Arts in Maine.

Professional Development will continue to be offered. The growth opportunities that will be available to everyone in Maine via regional workshops are tremendous, both in number and in scope of subject matter. We used to have a state that does annual “one shot deals” at state conferences for Professional Development via organizations such as NAfME or the Maine Art Education Association. Many of these workshops had little to do with assessment or standards or proficiency. Today however, that is not the case. As a matter of fact, you have to work really hard to avoid opportunities year-round to further professional growth as arts educators, particularly in standards, assessment and proficiency. The Maine Arts assessment initiative has organized and announced its Mega-Regional workshop schedule for the 2014-2015 school year. You can see what is being offered and register online here. The afternoon sessions at each of these is being devoted entirely to music educators talking to music educators about how they are doing in their transition to proficiency based assessment; visual art teachers and even drama and dance teachers doing the same. The morning sessions allow you to plug into workshops that focuses your thinking on a specific topic or strategy. Our hope is that the combination of the morning sessions coupled with the afternoon roundtables will result in attendees leaving charged and filled with practical new ideas and approaches that can immediately be applied and implemented in meaningful ways in their own journey with their own students.

But what in the meantime? Technology. Google Hangout, Skype, and my favorite: Zoom… among others to choose from. My colleagues at the high School? I talk to them all the time already, but that’s because we’re on the island together (YHS). My choral colleague at York Middle School? We google hangout twice a week. Minimum. And it is almost always random too. “I wonder if Jen’s in her planning block right now…” *Rob clicks on the video icon next to her name in gmail* She often does the same. We quickly bounce ideas off of each other or ask quick questions. Sometimes we start one at 2:30 and by 3:10 we realize we’ve been talking for 40 minutes and we are still bringing up things we want to discuss. The point is that Jen and I are no longer on our islands. We never will be again. We’ve actually had our choirs digitally perform for each other, do warmups for each other, it’s been great and we don’t even do it all as often as we want. But we make it work within our own unique confines of time. The leadership and teacher leaders of MAAI have also enjoyed great success with Zoom meetings. How great is it to be in a meeting, IMG_0907talking about the “good stuff’ while sitting in your favorite chair at home and drinking hot cider with your feet propped up on the coffee table? Let me fill you in: it’s really great!!!

I don’t mean to bore anyone to tears in the above paragraph talking about technology that I know most everyone already uses. But 2014 is the 100 year anniversary of the start of a war in which its Generals at the outset made it clear that the airplane was neat but served no strategic purpose (bonus literary points on my part for comparing google hangout to a world war). We need to be looking at strategic purpose. Why aren’t we skyping with our colleagues from the other schools in our district once a week? “I don’t have time”. Really?? You don’t eat lunch? Why aren’t we skyping every two weeks with a colleague from a similar grade level schools as ours in another town? You already know who they are, I moved to Maine in large part because of the District structure for music educators. We know our neighbors, why aren’t we talking with them more? How about skyping once a month with a colleague in a different county or part of the state. How about skyping once a quarter with a colleague from out of state??? “I don’t know anyone well enough to ask.” Don’t even go there. Are you telling me that if a music teacher from Connecticut e-mailed you and said they’d like to meet you and talk for 15 minutes about what is going on in Maine, your school and your classroom as it relates to music education you’d say “no”? Guess what – neither would they. Reach out!! Do it!! Don’t be that World War 1 General!!!

Get off your Island and keep furthering your thinking and your craft. A great reminder this past week from Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin who said that his coach told him throughout his career, “Either you are always working to get better, or you are automatically getting worse.” Not bad advice. Get off the island and access your colleagues in person – physically or digitally – routinely to keep furthering your growth.

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