Key Themes / Questions in our Conversations Thus FarPosted: May 2, 2012
How can we collectively transform public education through the arts to create a better future for everyone?
It’s been amazing to see the number of people having conversations that matter and sharing what they discussed on this blog. One of my roles, as part of the Groupaya team, is to help this community build stronger muscles for online engagement. In the two months since we kicked off this process, there have been 45 posts from 28 different people!
These posts have represented conversations with at least 115 people in the community. Of the 61 people who attended our kick-offs in February and March, 18 (30 percent) have participated in additional conversations.
I’m thrilled by these numbers so far, and I hope they continue to go up. As Eric Engdahl pointed out, it’s important that we have the right representation of people participating. I hope all of you continue to host conversations using the Conversations-in-a-Box as a guide and that you all continue to share what you discussed on this blog.
In the meantime, I’d like to point out some key themes and questions that I’m observing from this online stream of conversations thus far.
Where are we now?
So far, the conversations seem to tell two different stories. On the one hand, there’s the ongoing question and challenge around how to keep arts education alive. How do we get schools to buy into the importance of the arts? What about parents and society at large? Underlying these questions is a more fundamental question: How do we help others understand the importance and value of arts integration?
On the other hand, this community seems to have made tremendous progress over the past 10 years. In both of our kick-offs in late February and early March, we did an exercise where we asked participants to build a timeline of the last 10 years together. When examining the timeline, many expressed surprise over how much progress has been made, in not only shifting perceptions about the value of arts education, but also demonstrating it. People have shared great stories about programs such as the East Oakland Leadership Academy, whose teachers are “people who have passion about teaching and learning with the arts,” and Peralta Elementary, which has integrated performance-based assessments into its curriculum.
People shared stories about how they’re using digital media to… well, share stories. For example, the Luna Dance Institute is using mobile phone to text choreographic prompts and to document and share their work. And people are sharing stories about similar initiatives to move the arts education community forward, such as SLANT and Create CA.
So where exactly are we? What can we say with confidence about what the arts are doing and are good for, that is being demonstrated across the community?
Where should we go, and why?
If we were successful beyond our wildest imaginations in 2023, what would the world look like?
The frame that seems to be emerging from the different conversations is that the vision of this community is to focus on the needs of the students. It’s less about how much arts are being taught in schools and more about creating great learning experiences for the students. Regardless of the topic being learned, arts can play a role in this.
As for this community, on a collective level, there is a great opportunity for a broader shift in mindsets from “me” to “we.” First, we are not alone. When people are sharing conversations about what matters most, it is apparent we exist in an ecosystem of people who care about the same things, and over the past 10 years, many of those connections have started to result in important changes. We need to continue to strengthen those connections and develop a stronger sense of “we.”
Second, “we” is about individuals and their relationships to each other. “We” transcends organizational boundaries. The shift that’s begun is a result of individuals deciding to make change themselves rather than waiting for others to make change for them. The opportunity is to figure out ways to see how our individual work is connected to the collective. That is very much what this visioning process is about.
Many people shared great ideas around what they’d like to see in education in 10 years:
- Systematic funding and buy-in for arts integration programs in all schools, with professional teachers, teaching artists, and guest artists. This could include professionalization of the teacher artist
- A stronger alliance of artists, educators, parents, community stakeholders collaborating in schools and in community
Can we be more concrete about this vision for 2023? What would the world look like if we were successful? What would the Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership look like?
How should we get there?
“We need to demystify the discussion about the arts. We need to connect the terms of the new economy to the arts in a more concrete way. We need to articulate the place of the arts in the greater world.”
As I read through the blog, the predominant theme that emerged for me about how we move from where we are now to where we want to be in 2023 was better, collective storytelling. In particular, we need to start exploring the following questions:
- Who’s already sharing stories, especially with critical audiences such as students, parents, legislators, and other community leaders?
- Where can we find these stories?
- How can we use language that engages key audiences (especially students and community members) about these issues, rather than confuses and isolates us from them?
- What are the tools that will help us to share these stories and make them more visible, accessible and easily understood?
Better storytelling will help all of us understand the models that are already working, which will allow all of us to further build on those.
“Stories are where people in power remember why–they connect people who can make change to their hearts and minds. Stories are also historical documents that leave a trail so we can scaffold upon what’s been built. Stories inspire others and are calls for action.”
There were lots of great ideas for how this community can get better at storytelling, many of which all of us can do right now. Start by reaching out individually to someone who matters. Ask them to share stories of how the arts have impacted them. Connect them with others who have been impacted by the arts. Leverage the media — both old and new — to get the stories out.
One of the key barriers is clear, shared language. What language have you used to effectively communicate the importance of this work with other stakeholders?