Happy New School Year! New beginnings are a good time to establish changes, take risks with new ideas, challenge the status quo, and support and celebrate your community of arts education and educators.

Since it’s a new year I’d like you to consider two topics: Advocacy and Leadership. What is your role as an advocate for arts education? Who do you know that has taken a leadership role impacting the quality of arts education?

What are you doing and saying as an arts educator or arts education advocate to support quality programs—and access to them—for every learner from our pre-school children through adults? How do you use your voice and share the story that motivates others to understand why arts education is essential for all learners?

During my 30 years in the classroom, I started each year with questions. My questions led to deep conversations and a plan that helped me focus on the big ideas. I tried to do this work before the demands of day-in and day-out teaching hit me in the face. We all know when that happens it can be difficult to have a clear mind, tackle the big questions, and engage in meaningful conversations.

Let’s take a close look at advocacy. If you’re committed to arts education (whether you are an educator or community member, a school board member or a business owner) I suggest that you have your “elevator speech” in your back pocket ready to use on a moment’s notice. What would you say about arts education if you met an influential person or a funder on an elevator? Remember, you only have the time it takes to go from floor to floor. What are your talking points? If you know what they are, take a moment when you’re finished reading this blog post, stand in front of the mirror, and practice.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” —Mahatma Ghandi

Think about a story—yours or someone else’s—that shows how the arts positively impact life. There are multiple resources available on the internet to help you put your message together. The Americans for the Arts Advocate webpage is a good place to start. Join Americans for the Arts and plan a celebration in conjunction with National Arts in Education Week, this year happening September 9-15. Take a look at their Encourage Creativity videos. They range in length from a few seconds to less than 8 minutes and are a series of videos to inspire support of arts education! They showcase the voices of young people explaining why the arts are important to them. Consider using one (or more) of these videos in a presentation in schools, community organizations, and/or with policy makers.

The Arts Education Partnership (AEP) released a document this past Spring called What School Leaders Can Do to Increase Arts Education. You can purchase it or download it directly from the AEP website. The guide offers “three concrete actions school leaders can take to increase the arts education in their schools.” I suggest that you share this document with school leaders. Remember that school administrators aren’t the only leaders in schools. There are many teacher leaders who would be very interested in this resource.

Speaking of leaders, this takes me to the second topic: leadership. The Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) started as the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative (MAAI) in 2010. The title was changed when the initiative realized that tackling assessment, technology, and creativity was being done through a leadership model. MALI recently launched phase 8 and has 107 teacher leaders and teaching artist leaders whose voices become stronger each year. Each educator has a role as an advocate and a leader while focusing on advancing their teaching practices—in the school and community across the state of Maine. The ultimate goal is to provide quality arts education for every learner. In the early days of the initiative, it became clear that the professional development 3-day summer institute teachers attended, and their follow up work, was empowering. When they went back to their schools and districts, the teacher leaders were asked to take on leadership roles within the larger education system. They took on tough and messy issues on a variety of topics, like assessment. The unintentional consequence was that they were invited to the table instead of asking for a seat at the table. These teachers are effectively leading from the classroom. And, the teaching artist leaders who started joining in 2016 are leading from the community and their studios.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead

Whether you are an educator, an arts education advocate, a policy writer, a parent, community member, or view yourself in another role, everyone has a part to play when it comes to arts education. Let’s start the school year off doing what’s right for every learner. Lean in, create, or brush up on your elevator speech, and commit to supporting access to quality arts education for every learner. Happy New School Year!