Establish Roles within the Team
The first step in team building is to establish your role within the team. As the assistant director of fine arts, my role is to be the instructional leader for the content areas that I oversee, similar to the role of a campus principal. The goal is to support, inspire, train and develop teachers to reach their full potential. The instructional leader should serve as a learning partner with teachers. A learning partner is more aligned with being a coach, someone who will provide consistent feedback for teachers as they progress throughout the school year and, ultimately, their career.
Empowering Teachers: Facilitators
The Fort Bend Independent School District consists of 11 high schools and 15 middle schools. All of the 26 secondary schools offer fine arts courses in band, orchestra, theatre, choir and visual art, and all 11 high schools offer dance. The district serves more than 70,000 students, and about 50,000 of those students are enrolled in fine arts courses.
This massive undertaking requires the central office staff to train and develop teachers into leaders to serve as liaisons between their campuses and the district office. These roles are termed facilitators. For each content area (middle school theatre, high school theatre, middle school band, etc.), there is a classroom teacher designated as the facilitator for his or her teachers across the district.
Facilitators receive an annual stipend for serving in this leadership capacity as they assist in producing district-wide contests and events, along with the development of curriculum, content for Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and professional development sessions. This leadership position is crucial in bridging the gap between the various campuses and district offices by empowering campus teachers and enrolling them in the vision of the district and the Department of Fine Arts.
Strategic Planning Session
Each summer, the Fort Bend ISD Department of Fine Arts invites its facilitators from all fine arts content areas to participate in a strategic planning session. During this session, all administrators and teachers work collaboratively to develop goals for the upcoming semesters, the school year, the next three to five years and the next 10 years. Additionally, the team revisits the mission and vision of the department in an attempt to create the yearly motto.
The annual strategic planning session serves as a foundation for operating with teachers throughout the school year. All key decisions made throughout the school year are based on this crucial strategic planning session. During the session, we foster a collaborative environment and value the input of all stakeholders. When faced with tough decisions during the school year, those goals are revisited to ensure that the outcome is aligned to the core values and goals set with our teachers.
Professional Learning Communities
The Fort Bend ISD strongly supports teacher collaboration; however, fine arts teachers may be the only teacher on their campus who teaches a specific course or subject. One practice in Fort Bend ISD that fosters team building and professional growth is quarterly meetings (Professional Learning Communities) with all teachers in a content area from across the district. For example, four times throughout the school year, all 27 middle school theatre teachers from the 15 campuses will meet for an hour and a half. These professional learning communities are teacher-centered. During PLCs, teachers review data (video recordings of their students’ work) and share best practices aligned to the current curriculum in order to achieve horizontal alignment across the district.
The Fort Bend ISD offers professional development days during the school year and summer, and the Department of Fine Arts uses this time to develop content for teachers. These professional development sessions are content-specific and usually consist of guest presenters who are master-teachers in their fine arts discipline. Many districts do not have the luxury of providing content- specific professional development for fine arts teachers. Those teachers are often required to stay on their campus and participate in several hours of content that may not be related to their field. It may be a difficult task to get approval for fine arts teachers to leave their campus. However, as a fine arts administrator, it is my job to advocate for fine arts teachers and request that they have these unique and essential educational opportunities.
In the creation of professional development for dance teachers, feedback is solicited on areas in which the teachers would like to explore and grow. For example, an eight-hour professional development day may consist of four hours of curriculum and four hours of teacher-selected material and presenters. During a PLC, teachers are able to suggest ideas for their professional growth and those responses are archived to use for future professional development opportunities.
When dance teachers wanted to find more ways to incorporate technology into their daily teaching, the Technology Integration Department worked to develop a session for dance teachers to use new applications within the learning management system. The Technology Integration Specialist was able to develop the training session using dance education content, making it more relevant to the teachers.
It is imperative to engage teachers in their professional development, much like teachers engage students in the classroom. Furthermore, the Fine Arts Department makes it a priority to send its teachers to local, state and national fine arts conferences for professional development.
Setting Standards and Guaranteeing the Buy-In
A district fine arts administrator is responsible for effectively measuring and evaluating fine arts programs. Although there are various forms of program evaluations available, our fine arts team decided to develop a measuring tool that is user-friendly and teacher- centered. We engaged our teachers in the development of the program evaluation rubric known as the Standards of Excellence, which is designed to increase the quality and quantity of program participation in fine arts.
From this one-page rubric, teachers are able to highlight program strengths and areas in which improvement is needed. The teachers helped to define the descriptors within the rubric and understand how the tool may be used to set goals in order to move their fine arts program in a positive direction. Because teachers were engaged in the development of this rubric, it was easier for them to buy-in. Consensus building begins with engaging the stakeholders – teachers – in the process.
Phillip Taylor earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas in Austin and his master’s in theatre education from the University of Houston. He is currently working on his doctoral degree at the University of Houston. As a director, he advanced to the UIL One-Act Play State Meet four times, winning the state championships twice. He taught high school and middle school, and coached students to the UIL Academic State Meet in numerous events. Currently, as the Administrative Supervisor of Fine Arts for the Austin Independent School District in Austin, Texas, he oversees various fine arts programs and initiatives that directly support 130 schools.