Face Your Fears of Arts Integration

We all have them: personal fears and professional fears.  They mostly come out of the unknown.  If you are about to try something new and innovative, your bound to have some.  The best thing to do is to face them – head on.  Here are the most common fears I hear about when it comes to getting started with (or continuing with) arts integration.

Fear #1 – I’m not an artist.

This is the biggest concern I hear from teachers.

“I’m not a musician.  How can I teach my students songs?”

“I can’t even draw.  How can I ask my students to create a visual representation of their poem?”

There are many ways to approach this.   One way is to think that you are on a journey with your students.  This is a good standpoint to take whether you are adept in the art form you bring to them or not.  Having an open mind while you teach will allow you to learn from your students as much as they learn from your example.  Trust the process of things!

You may be the type of person who needs formal instruction before you start something new with your students.  In other words you want to take a class in drawing 101 to learn techniques you can share with your students.  That’s great!  Do it!  Many communities have adult education classes at local schools in various subjects or you could take a class at a local college or university.  There are also some great books that explain art forms in easy to understand ways.   Linda Crawford’s Lively Learning is one.  She does this with nearly every art form.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my book Inspired by Listening which explains how to approach listening experiences in a very non threatening way.

Finally: Collaborate!  Your best allies in arts integration are your colleagues and friends who have those hidden and not-so-hidden talents.  And don’t miss the opportunity to work with the other arts teachers in your school.  Pull from their strengths and create something great for your students.

Fear #2 – The TEST is what I need to focus on.

This can be considered a fear because you have that looming test over your head and you are fearful that if you don’t take every moment to prepare your students for it, they will fail.  I get it!  I live that!

In Massachusetts where I work, 4th grade, the grade I teach, is the first real MCAS year where the score counts.  Yikes…what pressure!  But I’ve come to realize that my students need the artistic experiences I am able to give them.  They need it for a balance and so that they can more completely learn those concepts on which they will be tested.

If you are just starting out, taking a lesson or two to experiment with arts integration is NOT going to affect your students test scores.  In fact, the more you do, it may only improve them!  You just need the guts to believe what you are doing is beneficial for your students.

Fear #3 – My administration/colleagues will think what I’m doing is foolish.

Unfortunately, this is a reality.  So many people who haven’t experienced the process and payoffs of art, just don’t get it.  Here are a few thoughts on how you can approach this.  First, be knowledgeable yourself in the benefits of the arts.  Have a sentence or two ready for those times when you say what you’re doing and get the eye roll.  Mine is something like, “Well, my students really enjoy learning through the arts.  The concepts stick and their understanding of what we do is deepened.  They are even starting to take ownership of their learning.  Can’t beat that.”

I am lucky to have an administrator who believes in the things I do.  Not every teacher has that.  One idea is to be proactive and invite your principal in to see the great things you are doing and how the students react.  Don’t just invite them in for the performance or the showcasing of the product, but have him or her come in during the work.  That time when students are processing, experimenting, reflecting, working collaboratively and independently: that’s time time when the learning is happening.  Interview the students with the principal and get students reactions while they are in the moment.

If your admin isn’t interested in that, then video the kids or blog about your experiences and email your principal the link.  They may get the urge to click it and see what it is you are trying to do.

Fear #4 – I will make mistakes.

Now this is my favorite one to speak to because…you’re supposed to make mistakes.  It’s ok!  Of course you will plan ahead and foresee what you can.  But if your lesson flops, learn from it.  Maybe your class isn’t ready to dance a whole choreographed dance of the butterfly, so next time, take it is small increments.  Maybe you didn’t have all the materials you needed (or couldn’t borrow them all as you thought), so work with what you do have: crayons and markers and skip the paint for this time.

If you find yourself in over your head, ask for assistance (from an arts teacher or colleague next door) or drop the lesson for that time and go to a back-up lesson you have ready for a substitute.  After you have a chance to reflect on what happened and can fix it, go for it again.  The biggest thing is to not give up.  The arts are not quick and they are not always easy, but if you have it in your heart to deepen your students’ learning through the artistic experiences you will provide, then you will succeed.

(And don’t forget to find the lighter side of your mistakes! – See Cheese, Fear and Laughing at Yourself.)

In short, fear not!  Do your research, plan ahead, go for it and reflect.  Arts integration is as much a learning process for you as it is for your students.


(Still have that fear?  Please share!  Do so by commenting here or emailing me anytime.  That’s what I’m here for!  …you can get my email on the “About” tab.)

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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of www.theinspiredclassroom.com. She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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  1. Melissa says:

    What a great post! After listening to you over the weekend and reading this post, I see many similarites between the integration of the arts and the integration of technology, especially the excuses for why teachers are not doing either one. I like the way you present your ideas in a non-threatening way to ease teachers into the ideas of trying out things that may make them a bit uneasy at first. 🙂

  2. Melissa, There are a lot of similarities, aren’t there? The unknown can be such a scary thing. I’m know the people you work with are lucky to have you to help them along! 😉

  3. Laura says:

    This really hits the nail on the head. I teach 3rd grade in Colorado, and most people think I’m nuts because I integrate the arts in my classroom. Here’s my response when I am questioned: Engaged students are students that are learning, and the arts engages students in the process of their own education.
    I’m always happy to share what I do- I’ve given workshops for other teachers- but most have an affective block that is rooted in an unfortunate experience in their own schooling. Nobody wants to do something they feel unsuccessful at!

    • Laura, Thanks for your comment and your honesty. It seems like the best thing you do is to lead by example and offer yourself however you can. In many ways we have to educate the educators on the power of arts integration. So, share your stories of success and keep doing the work you are doing!

  4. Sandie says:

    Elizabeth, Thanks for your comments on fear of the arts. As an educator who learns best by making things, I have come to believe and know that all students are capable of artistic expression. Abstract concepts can be made MUCH more concrete and comprehensible through creating things. Students learn more when subjects, including core subjects like reading, writing, and math, are presented through a variety of modalities, requiring different ways of perceiving and thinking. I will keep referring people to your articles here, the same way that Melissa referred me!

    • Sandie, Thanks so much for commenting here. I love hearing from other teachers! It’s great to hear you say that students are capable of artistic expression and an understanding of abstract concepts. In fact, I think they may be better than adults. It seems the older we get (and the older kids get), the less we are free to understand these things. We cannot put those fears into our students. Talk about paralyzing them!

      I hope you keep coming back to visit and adding your ideas to this site! 🙂

  5. Michelle says:

    What a relief to know that I don’t have to be an expert in art to include it in my classroom. I do not teach a specific content area; I am a special educator and I see about a 30 students a day for academic and social/emotional support. I am always trying to think of ways to help them feel connected to their school, to their classroom, to each other, and to me. Through the arts, I hope to be able to help my students know themselves and express themselves in a way that builds their confidence and connected feeling, thereby making them more successful students.Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Marianne says:

    “The arts are not quick and they are not always easy, but if you have it in your heart to deepen your students’ learning through the artistic experiences you will provide, then you will succeed.” I love this quote! May I hang it in my classroom? The arts are not quick and easy, but are the vehicle we can use to scaffold learning and find that “elegant fit”, like an escalator moving slowly but smoothly up to the next level. At first you’ve got to think a bit to jump on, but once aboard, you’ve got a whole new perspective!

  7. Deb says:

    Thanks so much for “reminding” me to give myself persmission to do what I think is right! The demands of our job are so strong that sometimes the things that are so right, such as teaching through the arts, get lost in the shuffle. Because teachers want to do everything they possibly can for the children, we don’t want to miss a beat. As we get buried with what we “should” be teaching and teaching to the test, it is easy to think that we’ve missed something along the way and loose sight of what is most important. Your words hit home for sure!

  8. Laurel says:

    I spent many years teaching at the prekindergarten level where developmentally appropriate practices were valued and respected. Integrating arts into all areas of the curriculum was the foundation of my teaching. As I moved into special education and moved up in the grades, I have found that the opportunities for integrating arts into the curriculum have dwindled as my focus has become meeting goals and benchmarks in reading, writing and math. This year I have had the opportunity to spend a great deal of my time in one first grade classroom with a classroom teacher who is quite open for trying new things. I have had the opportunity to develop and integrate some activities with great results. After hearing about the “elegant fit” of true arts integration, I look forward to learning more about the content standards of the arts at the first/second grade level so I can try more!

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