(Pictured, l - r) Danielle Reo, CoTA Education Director, Lisa Johnson Davis, CRoC Research Associate, Dennis Doyle CoTA Executive Director, James Catterall, CRoC Director, Kim Zanti, CRoC Assistant Director
Dennis Doyle, Ed.D. offers a synopsis of his organization's three year partnership with CRoC in San Diego, California. CoTA pairs individual teaching artists with individual teachers to create multiple teaching plans that were introduced weekly in classrooms and watched closely by CRoC researchers. Three years ago the board of directors of Collaborations: Teachers and Artists (CoTA) formulated an enticing question: What could we learn if we developed three entire elementary schools as arts integration centers of practice in San Diego County over a three year period of time? We wondered out loud what distinguished researchers might learn from CoTA’s professional development process, what the impact would be on teachers and students, and how we would measure growth.
With commitments from two foundations, CoTA’s board and staff developed a request for applicants and 30 elementary schools responded to the opportunity to answer those questions. Ultimately the candidates were whittled down to three finalists. All teachers at the selected sites would be trained for 10 weeks through one-to-one collaborations and hands-on workshops with artists. In exchange, third grade students would be assessed each year through fifth grade and teachers, principals and children would allow their learning to be transparent.
Teachers at each school had to vote, with a minimum of 80% in favor, in order to take part.
Seeking both a qualitative and quantitative assessment, CoTA contracted with the Centers for Research on Creativity (CRoC) to measure student growth using CRoC’s Next Generation Creativity Survey. In addition, ethnographic fieldwork conducted by research associates using classroom observations, online surveys, interviews, and focus groups would document changes in pedagogy and consequent shifts in school culture.
Three years later, CoTA is reaping the results from this intensive professional development and documentation. The three Beacon Schools: Park Dale Lane Elementary School in Encinitas (North San Diego County), Flying Hills Elementary in Cajon Valley Union School District (East SD County) and Kellogg Elementary School (South SD County) are yielding a wealth of significant outcomes.
For example, we saw significant quantitative student gains following the student cohort from third grade to fourth grade in the first two years, with large gains on NGCS scales measuring critical thinking, empathy, and collaboration - all essential cornerstones for innovation and creativity. Of equal importance were the qualitative conclusions capturing rich descriptions of mechanisms of change (see graphic below) for both students and teachers.
Enduring changes in teaching and learning occurred when the teacher’s current practice was observed without judgment before new arts integration methods were introduced. Once a safe and secure, evaluation-free environment was established, teachers were willing to be vulnerable and to consider new pedagogical possibilities.
Inquiry was a vital strategy for CoTA artists who introduced arts integration by asking questions instead of defaulting to telling teachers what to do. Success was linked to a sense of agency on the part of teachers - unlocking possibilities; imagining the project-based collaboration; designing the unit with the end in mind; and transitioning from being co-planners to makers.
Weekly reflection allowed ongoing refinement, with a focus on engagement of previously disengaged students. This emphasis, we learned from CRoC, put a focus on developing new roles for students who had not been active participants and allowed for new opportunities among English learners and special needs students.
Finally, presentation was important, not only to communicate with specific audiences, but to spawn meta-cognitive awareness. Students, teachers and CoTA artists know what they have learned and how they learned it.
Indeed, the mechanisms of change seemed to work in parallel both for teachers and students. The degree to which teachers were willing to tap into their own creativity appeared to better equip teachers with the capacity to engender more creativity in their students.
In summary, we wondered if the same mechanisms of change could be applied to other constituencies in the ecology of education. Presently we are prototyping parent classes that will move from inquiry to presentation. Principals have presented the work at their schools in panel discussions at conferences, and school board members and superintendents have presented the Beacon School work at professional meetings, allowing for reflection, dissemination, and broader engagement.
Tuning protocols have also been introduced, whereby teachers share their CoTA units with each other, actively borrow ideas, and give each other positive coaching on a quarterly basis. Artists also use an adapted tuning protocol as a method for continuous improvement.
CoTA’s iterative approach to professional development over three years allows for a gradual release of responsibility, moving from artist-led to teacher-led units and, as CRoC has observed, posing the greatest likelihood for sustained and enduring arts integration strategies in classroom teacher practice.