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 currently 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.