Teacher Spotlight: Kimball teachers are strong advocates for arts-infusion
The arts are alive and well at Kimball Elementary in Seattle Public Schools. Thanks to committed teachers, administrators, and parent volunteers Kimball students have access to arts integrated lessons, quality art supplies, and artists in residence. The following article is based on an interview with two Kimball teachers who trained with Arts Impact as teacher leaders in arts-infusion.
In 2008, Kimball was one of four Seattle schools that began a six-year journey with Arts Impact to develop and pilot a teacher leader model for arts integration. Ultimately, three Kimball teachers, Aubrey Ashenbrenner, Kristina Thorpe, and Karma Sawka completed six years of training with Arts Impact and worked along side Arts Impact Artist Mentors to bring arts integration training to the entire Kimball faculty.
As a result of the immersion in arts integration, Kimball has initiated activities and programs to keep the arts available to students and a part of their Kimball experience.
The annual spring Art Walk displays student artwork in local businesses. Families and community members stroll through local businesses and have the opportunity to purchase the student artwork. Businesses like the additional traffic in their stores, students experience a sense of accomplishment, and parents feel like they are contributing to something positive when they purchase the art. The money raised from the Art Walk buys supplies and pays for an artist in residence.
A small group of committed parents support the arts at Kimball by donating their services to create the Art Walk poster, organizing and ordering art supplies, advocating for the arts at PTSA, and generally supporting the teachers to keep the arts on the agenda.
Kimball also has three half-days dedicated to professional learning in arts-infusion. This year the three teacher leaders, Aubrey, Kristina, and Karma, are teaching Arts Impact arts-infused math lessons to the staff.
This teacher team define themselves as advocates for sustaining arts-infusion at Kimball, “we are the voice of the arts, the stopgap” rather than as teacher leaders, which has the connotation of a formal position. These teachers support the arts because they are passionate in their belief of the benefit to students. They are committed to being the voice of the arts because as they point out, when students are involved in making art, dancing, or acting they are very engaged in learning.
English Language Learners at Kimball are helped a lot by arts-infusion. Learning in and through the arts levels the playing field for ELL students because English-speaking kids are learning the arts vocabulary for the first time as well. Kinesthetic kids are really helped by learning through the arts also. “Criteria-based assessment of the Arts Impact lessons is accessible for all kids and there is a lot of success around that, which builds confidence in struggling students. Kids remember hands on lessons much more than the traditional bookwork lessons.”
They acknowledge that it is difficult for teachers to find the time to include arts-infusion due to an emphasis on meeting a rigorous district pacing for units in the tested subjects; math, English language arts, and science. It is often a challenge to include arts-infusion as a regular part of instruction. But this dedicated group of teachers support their colleagues by offering their time to teach arts-infused lessons in other teachers’ classes, helping organize arts supplies for lessons, assisting them in teaching an arts-infused lesson and generally being the go-to person for questions and encouragement to keep arts-infusion going at Kimball.
They also note that even though all the teachers at Kimball have been trained by Arts Impact to infuse the arts, including it in instruction is still somewhat outside of what is comfortable or required of teachers. They said while teachers were directly involved in Arts Impact, participating in the summer institutes and getting support from an Artist Mentor, it was easier for them to sustain enthusiasm for arts-infusion. However, the farther away from the training they get, the harder it is to maintain momentum. Ongoing professional learning and outside support is needed in all content areas but it is especially critical to maintain confidence to teach arts-infusion.
When asked what the future goals for arts at Kimball is, one teacher responded, “to get more parents involved so that their voice influences what is taught and we can begin to realize the potential of what is possible. What if you walked into every classroom and every kid looked like they were engaged and motivated? As teachers, we know what engagement looks like. We know the difference between learning noise and just noise. I would love to see kids excited about learning all the time.”
Arts Impact is a professional learning program of Puget Sound Educational Service District that trains teachers to infuse the arts throughout the curriculum. It has demonstrated through quasi-experimental studies that the program improves teacher effectiveness across all subjects and eliminates the opportunity gap as indicated on performance based assessments of arts-infused lessons.
For more information about Arts Impact contact Beverly Harding Buehler, Director of Arts Impact at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 425-917-7816.