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Out of Many, One

This is a tree with multiple handprints and it's meant to symbolize Walt Whitman's phrase "I will plant companionship"At the invitation of NCTE’s P12 policy analyst from Virginia, Chantal Winstead, I attended the Teach to Lead Summit in Washington, DC. There, I met and was impressed by team members from the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative, recently renamed as MALI, the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative. These visual and performing arts teachers were so passionate and engaged that they left an indelible mark on everyone who attended. More important, they illustrated how a grassroots movement grows and how together they have created one voice out of many.

Collaborative Professional Learning Plants a Seed

A few years ago, the seed was planted to gather the visual and performing artists from all over the state of Maine to collaborate and work together to have a voice in policy and practice. Argy Nestor, Director of Arts Education, Maine Arts Commission, and one of the co-founders of MALI, was invited to attend a conference. Here, she tells her story:

We had a four-day opportunity to participate in intensive professional development with some of the finest educators and practitioners in the field. We chattered all the way back to Maine and within a month created the mission for the MALI: “Creating an environment in Maine where assessment in arts education is an integral part of the work all arts educators do to deepen student learning in the Arts.” A handful of educators joined us in early 2011 to form the leadership team that has guided the initiative.

By incorporating a grassroots approach, this initial group of three educators has greatly multiplied. This year 75 teacher leaders were trained to span the state of Maine to train visual and performing arts educators. This fall, they expect over 200 educators from all over Maine to participate in their conference: Arts Education: The Measure of Success.

Shared Agreements Provide Direction

Argy Nestor emphasized that their organization is “about community, networking, questioning, pushing back, learning from each other, taking chances, finding one’s voice and a place at the table, communicating, being brave, respect, individual differences, honesty, and honoring what teachers know.”

Core to that approach are a set of goals that they work collectively to realize:

  1. to link up with the allied professional arts organizations in Maine and higher education,
  2. to develop teacher leaders in arts assessment, and
  3. to engage all arts educators in active discussion and collaboration of assessment practices, grades pre-K through 12.

With these goals as a guide, programmatic activities naturally follow.

Julie Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission, echoed Argy, “The MALI provides arts educators the time and space to learn, share and advance arts education in this state . . . . It is a wonderful model for the rest of the country to follow in supporting and strengthening arts education everywhere.”

Data Drives Decision Making

The emphasis on developing strong assessment practices focuses the work of MALI and demands solid data collection.

“[W]e have documented literally hundreds of arts educators breaking through in meaningful ways by collecting data at each professional development opportunity. The side benefits of assessment serves as a powerful advocacy for our profession—putting us on equal footing with the other core subject areas,” explains Argy.

”By embracing where every teacher is at in his or her work, fostering them to think deeply about their own assessment practices, visual and performing arts educators have moved their craft forward in new and exciting ways.”

Collectively, these arts educators have become one voice impacting policy and practice in their state and demanding respect and recognition for the roles they play in educating students. They provide a powerful example of how building the collective capacity of a group leads to sustained and meaningful change.