How to be a good administrator to the arts

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At the most essential level a school attempts to provide for each learner’s optimal academic, emotional, physical, and civic growth. To be an administrator in a school requires passion, dedication and much hard work to ensure all the moving parts of the educational machine are running smoothly.  So tell me, what is the health of the arts program at your school? 

Does that question bolster you or make you cringe? Or maybe you don’t have the foggiest idea. Or worse, maybe you give yourself an A and your art teacher put a C and an “Effort needed” comment on your report card. Let’s talk about your role in supporting your art program and what art teachers want you to know.

The arts aren’t fluff

If you don’t see the arts as an important part of education but rather an “extra” or fluff to the curriculum you are selling yourself and your school short. A significant portion of students and faculty benefit from the art program. For some students, it leads to career pathways. For others it helps develop life skills and make interdisciplinary connections. Math is all well and good but can the student apply the needed skills to a grid drawing? Or geometric concepts to create a mandala? Did you know that marbling papers can teach the scientific concept of surface tension in a very hands on way? 

I have a theory that many administrators who don’t support the arts lack a strong history or relationship with the visual arts. Don’t let a lack of art experience limit your potential as administrators. You don’t need to be artistic yourself to anticipate the benefit to learners. “Interest and acceptance on art as an academic subject, understanding that art can impact learning in multiple ways.” 

Give you students the materials needed to succeed

You can’t run a quality art program with no or insufficient funding unless your teachers are reaching into his or her salary. It is not enough to include art in the curriculum, you need to provide space and materials as well. According to a recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, 94% of teachers spend their own money to stock their classrooms with the necessary supplies and resources.  According to the survey, on average, a teacher will shell out about $479 and 7% spent more than $1,000. Can you imagine what it looks like for a subject that relies heavily on materials? Welcome to our world. In addition, Art teachers also need adequate rooms furnished with sinks, storage and appropriate tables and chairs. 

What does that look like for art teachers? “My principal pushed for a full renovation of the arts and music classrooms this year!” “They make sure I have the latest tech, as in the latest big touch wireless screen. Also a new document camera.” “My admin found unused money from other budgets (our spending is about to close for the year) and diverted it to me when I didn’t get a grant I had hoped for.” “I had a school board member ask me once what would make teaching my class easier. I said Wacom boards and he made that happen.” “[The elective teachers] were talking about our dream list and I said I wanted 6 wheels to build our ceramics program. My principal sent me a message in the private chat ‘give me a price quote and we can work something out.'”

Value your art teachers as professionals

There is a very real discipline to teaching art. Your art teacher is your resident artist and art expert on staff. Ask their opinion when shaping curriculum. Stand up for them when parents question an art grade. Respect their time with students. Respect their talents and remember that they aren’t anyone’s personal graphic designer, illustrator or interior designer. 

Provide art teachers time to both plan and do many of the additional tasks expected of an art teacher including putting up and taking down displays, preparing and delivering work for shows and contests, and  inventory, supply ordering and studio cleaning. When you plan professional days, ask yourself if it is relevant to the visual art teachers. Over the years I had so much time wasted in professional days that didn’t add a lot to my teaching. One was a series on “Writing through the Curriculum.” I did walk away with content I used but not enough to warrant multiple professional days. Don’t be afraid to ask teachers what they need. 

What does that look like for art teachers? “They don’t pull me out of my classroom to cover for others. I always get a sub if I’m out. They excuse me from meetings that have nothing to do with my program. They let me leave early to do art program related tasks.” “They believe that the arts are equal partners in educating students.” “They treat my class the same as the class of a core teacher or coach. They support my recommendations on class size and subjects I teach.”

Sing their praises

This may be the lowest to highest yield suggestion on here. See and acknowledge art accomplishments. Tune in to the accomplishments of your art teacher and students. Take time to look at the art on display. Attend the art shows. Congratulate both teacher and student for both participation in an art contest and when an award is won. See something you like? Write a note. One principle I had wrote notes and it made me glow like when my husband of 23 years brings me flowers. It does not get old. Those notes from my administrator when in a pile in my desk, right side the special one from students, parents and colleagues. When I had those truly awful days, at the end I got them out and read them and they helped put it all in perspective.

What does that look like for art teachers? “[The principle] highlighted the hard work I put into the program, and told people art was an important part of our school. I felt supported and valued.” “They promote our classes on social media and they understand art might be the only thing that keeps some kids in school.” “I appreciated the admin that came by my room with visitors to show off what our students were doing. They not only supported the program with money but were around to show it off.”

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