I am exhausted after last week and thrilled about the accomplishments that happened at the seventh Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Summer Institute. Almost 70 teaching artists and pre-K through grade 12 visual and performing arts teachers spent three intense days in a collaborative learning environment. I am proud of these educators who challenged themselves on the topics of teaching, learning, and assessment. I am again reminded of the value of bringing arts educators together to form a community and delivering meaningful professional development!

Since 2011, the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) has been inspiring visual and performing arts (VPA) educators with quality professional development opportunities. During the past 6 MALI phases, teacher leaders have shared their knowledge with over 1,500 educators through workshops, presentations, resources, and webinars at the school, district, regional, state, and national level.

Participants are selected through an application process to become MALI Teacher Leaders (TL). Not only do they attend the summer professional development institute, but they commit to creating a plan for follow up, sharing their ideas and research after building their knowledge. This year’s institute was held August 1-3 at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine.

The initiative originally was established by the Maine Department of Education as the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative (MAAI) to address the need for assessment work in VPA education in Maine. “Assessment” soon became common practice, and a focus on leadership natural. In 2015 a team from MAAI attended the Teach to Lead Summit in Washington, D.C. As a result, MAAI changed its name to the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative after realizing the strong focus on teacher leadership. The mission shifted as well. Not long after that, the Maine Arts Commission (MAC) took over the administration of the program. Even with the slight shift of title, mission, and administration, the initiative always focused on meeting the needs of educators, knowing that teachers are the critical components of quality arts education that impacts student learning and achievement.

We know how essential an outstanding teacher is for every classroom. In the words of Albert Einstein, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” And, we know that to address learners’ needs, teachers need to be learning themselves. Richard Henry Dann said: “He who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”

In addition to the changes mentioned above, MALI began including teaching artists in the institutes, and the need for Teaching Artist Leaders became evident. After seven years, MALI has helped to grow 104 educational leaders.

The summer institute launches the next phase, but work begins before arriving. Participants use a Google site for all communication—introductions, assigned pre-readings with questions, etc. This year’s institute opened with Growth Mindset and was woven throughout the three days. The second day’s opening session was “Examining the World Through Different Lenses: Art and Science.” Throughout the schedule there were sessions on Standards and Assessment, Creativity, STEAM education, Social Justice, National Board Certification, Visual Storytelling, Poetry, Drum Making, Studio Habits of Mind, National Core Arts Standards, Clay Scraffito process, and much more. In between sessions educators were creating their follow up plans, with most using an Individual Action Plan or Logic Model. We’ve seen these guide educators work for many years. The evenings were filled with the opportunity to connect with colleagues around a fire pit which included a drum circle.

Reasons for MALI’s success

  • Teachers teaching teachers is a critical component.
  • MALI is a community that provides ongoing support. Teachers learn that they have peers throughout the state and they are no longer islands in separated schools/districts.
  • Learning is customized for three groups: Teaching Artists, and new and veteran teacher leaders. The strands come together for cross pollination and collaborations are formed.
  • The work is based on research and what is in the best interest of teacher development.
  • A Design Team guides the work of MALI and plans every detail of the summer institute. They are totally committed to contributing above and beyond.
  • Through their work, TLs find their voice and are invigorated to return to their school districts. Many are recognized for their new leadership skills and are invited to lead at the local level. They serve on district leadership committees, lead school and district professional development work for all subjects and grade level teachers, and are honored for their leadership.
  • The institute schedule is different each year to adapt to the changing needs, but the foundation is built on What is good teaching? What is good learning? What is good assessment?
  • In 2015, Teacher Leaders created a set of Belief Statements: Arts Integration, Advocacy, Assessment Literacy, Creativity and 21st Century Skills, Educator Effectiveness, Effective Teaching and Learning, Proficiency Based Learning and Student Centered Learning, and Teacher Leadership.
  • Teachers are connected and become Critical Friends to help support each other’s teaching.

Participant comments

  • “MALI has helped me grow tremendously as a professional and my students grow tremendously as learners.” —Charlie Johnson, Visual Art Phase 1
  • “MALI has made me feel like I have a voice in my school, my community and in my state.” —Jen Etter, Music Phase 3 Teacher Leader
  • “It is a lifeline for arts educators and education.” —Jane Snider, Visual Art Phase 2 Teacher Leader
  • “Through the MALI Summer Session I discovered that both my art and my teaching are really directed at the same goal (engagement/interaction) and that who I am is as important to teaching & learning as what I know.” —Tom Luther, Teaching Artist, Music Phase 7 Teaching Artist Leader
  • “I am thrilled to be part of the MALI team and so energized for my year of learning ahead.” —Kris Bisson, Music Phase 7 Teacher Leader

We know from past participants that the seeds planted through MALI continue to germinate. The impact these educators have collectively made will continue into the future.

“Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.” —Nikos Kazantzakis

The Maine Arts Leadership Initiative is a program of the Maine Arts Commission. If you have questions about MALI, please contact Argy Nestor, Maine Arts Commission Director of Arts Education, at argy.nestor@maine.gov