Why is it that so many school administrators don’t understand the importance of providing arts teachers with appropriate professional development opportunities in their content areas?

For the past year I have been traveling around the state of Ohio providing arts assessment professional development sessions to arts teachers, as a part of the Ohio Arts Assessment Collaborative. I do this in collaboration with a long-time colleague and fellow Ohio Alliance for Arts Education board member. These sessions provide important assessment foundations, as well as arts assessments that focus on student growth.

What we have discovered is that teachers, whether in large urban districts or small rural districts, all crave the same thing: They want to learn new skills to take back to their classrooms and to be able to connect with like-minded colleagues. They are typically enthusiastic to have a workshop in their content area with materials that they can apply immediately. They want to soak up as much knowledge as they can.

The 2009 Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States from the National Staff Development Council states that “professional development is most effective when it addresses the concrete, everyday challenges involved in teaching and learning specific academic subject matter, rather than focusing on abstract educational principles or teaching methods taken out of context.”

Typically, arts teachers work in isolation and don’t have anyone in their school building with whom they can discuss challenges. They have the added problem of teaching all the children in the school building, which can mean anywhere from 500-900 students, depending on the size of the school. Developing high quality assessments for that many students is a daunting task, especially when teachers might only see their students for 30-45 minutes once a week.

In the sessions we have been leading, arts teachers share their challenges and frustrations. It is fantastic to see bonds being made across the table as participants realize that they are not alone in their work. They begin to make connections and learn from each other. I loved this quote from one of our participants: “The fine arts need more quality training sessions like these. Positive, powerful, engaging. The presenters did an excellent job of keeping things positive, focused & meaningful.”

Here’s why I believe that providing professional development is critical to arts teachers: They need the time to network with their colleagues, to share ideas, to buoy their spirits, and to help remember why their work is important to the development of their students.