School leaders are an integral part of creating an “arts-rich” school environment in which students have daily access to arts instruction and resources are used creatively to support learning in the arts, according to a document released Monday on the first day of the National Association of Elementary School Principals' annual conference in Orlando, Florida.
Jointly prepared by the Arts Education Partnership, “What School Leaders Can Do to Increase Arts Education,” provides specific steps for how to incorporate the arts into what the Every Student Succeeds Act refers to as a “well-rounded” education. These include tapping into Title I and Title II federal funds, allowing arts teachers time to collaborate with core content teachers and incorporating the arts into after-school programs.
Setting a “school-wide commitment” also includes identifying the arts in school budgets and giving parents multiple ways to participate in supporting their children’s learning in the arts. The brief report also cites examples, such as Corinth Elementary School in Mississippi, where Principal Brian Knippers has even integrated the arts into teacher evaluations, expecting them to include the arts into lesson plans.
And at Coleraine, Minnesota’s Vandyke Elementary School, teachers work with artists at a local studio to blend the arts into science and social studies lessons. “Arts integration can happen across all content areas and enhances instruction for our students,” Principal Susan Hoeft says in the report.
Principals can address adverse childhood experiences
Most students with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as having separated or divorced parents, not having enough to eat or being verbally abused by someone older, will never be involved with child protective services. But that doesn’t mean that those experiences won’t impede their ability to learn or contribute to long-term health issues, retired principal Paul Young told administrators at a Monday morning session.
“If I had known then what I know now, I would have been a whole lot better principal,” said Young, who stressed that principals need to consider how ACEs affect students as well as teachers. In fact, he added that in a college class of aspiring teachers, it’s likely that at least 40% or more of the students have high ACEs scores — meaning that they have experienced at least four of the adverse conditions early in life.
Students, Young said, demonstrate ACEs in three primary ways:
- Flight — such as being withdrawn, skipping class and avoiding others.
- Fight — meaning showing aggression, being silly, cursing and arguing.
- Fright — exhibited through being numb, refusing to answer questions and being highly anxious.
Students might also lack focus, have trouble finishing their homework and struggle with reading comprehension.
Young, who later served as CEO of the National AfterSchool Association, stressed throughout his presentation that after-school directors and staff members need to be included in conversations about students’ needs as well as professional development about how to build their resilience. In fact, after-school programs and extracurricular activities are what students need to overcome the adversity that they might have experienced, he said.
“Resilience is when kids know how to solve problems and build healthy relationships,” he said, but added that often the prevailing theories about developing grit and a growth mindset are ineffective for a student with ACEs. “How do you tell a kid who’s hurting, ‘you’ve got to have more grit?’ ” Young asked. “We have to figure out ways to relieve some of those stressors. That’s your work.”
Young added that the only way for educators to help children or adults cope with some of the serious difficulties they might be facing is through one-on-one relationships.
“You’re not going to buy a program that’s going to solve ACEs,” he said.
Principals should set narrow goals
Most school improvement plans are so lengthy that it's not surprising schools don't make progress toward their goals, author Sean Covey, who leads FranklinCovey Education, told attendees during the opening general session.
“Most people have far too many initiatives,” he said. “ If you really want to get something done go narrow.”
Covey's school improvement model, Leader in Me — now in 4,000 schools in 50 countries — emphasizes setting “wildly important goals” or WIGs. That’s the first of what he calls the “four disciplines of execution.” Schools, administrators and students are far more likely to accomplish two or three significant goals than several, he said.
The second principle is acting on lead measures — those action steps that can help an individual or an organization make progress. At Leader in Me schools, for example, students might be given a choice of four or five reading practices that can help them reach their literacy goals.
It’s important to keep track of the measures being used, Covey said: “It’s one thing to know it; it’s another to track it."
Creating a “compelling scoreboard” is the third principle. “People play differently when they’re keeping score,” he said.
While some educators disagree with publicly charting students’ progress toward academic goals, saying it can demoralize struggling students, Covey said “there is so much power” in posting progress toward classroom, grade-level and school-wide goals. He did say, however, that some information should be kept private.
Finally, a “cadence of accountability” includes checking on one’s progress, meeting with an “accountability partner” and celebrating progress.
Covey then had a conversation with three students from Highlands Elementary in Immokalee, Florida, which uses the Leader in Me model and moved from F to A in the state’s school accountability system in a three-year time period. The students articulated their academic and personal goals.
“Now that we have goals for attendance; it helps students be there every day because we get incentives each week,” said Faustina Francisco.
Angelo Dossoos, a rising 4th grader, demonstrated how students “wiggle on Wednesdays” and talked about his practice of reading 30 minutes every evening to boost his reading scores.
Finally, student Cay Lee Gallegos had some advice for principals: "When you're in the process of meeting your goal, don’t keep adding a bunch of stuff, because you won’t really know what you’re doing."
Education should be 'like clean drinking water'
If principals can get their teachers to have students spent 30 minutes a day using Khan Academy lessons to address gaps in their learning, performance is likely to increase, said Sal Khan, founder of what he referred to as a virtual "personalized practice" platform, during a NAESP afternoon keynote.
That's the time commitment that efficacy studies are beginning to show can lead to “substantial gains” for students, said Khan, a former hedge fund manager who created the videos to help his cousins with math. With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google and other investors, the nonprofit organization has grown to roughly 200 employees, and its videos are used around the world in remote locations such as orphanages in Mongolia and in Afghanistan, where girls still face danger if they try to earn an education.
While Khan Academy has made free education available to more people around the world, with the goal of being “a bit more like clean drinking water,” Khan said his purpose is to also “supercharge the physical classroom” and give teachers more effective tools for intervention.
Khan will teach math this summer at his nonprofit lab school, located at the Khan Academy office in Mountain View, California. He described how he’ll use the platform and the teacher dashboard to perhaps spend individual time with a student struggling in one area, create a mini lesson for 10 students with a common learning gap and then plan a fun project when everyone is caught up. Meanwhile, students continue to work individually.
Some principals — and one asked a question at the end of his talk — have the misperception that Khan Academy is some type of virtual school. Others, Khan said, say they can’t use Khan Academy because their district or school has purchased a program for targeting students’ needs. But the founder said even asking parents to have their children spend 30 minutes a week using the program can achieve the same positive results.
“These ideals of differentiated instruction can now exist,” he said. “It feels like we’re at a special time in history.”