This week, more than 1,000 teachers will be back on campus to learn creative teaching strategies based on arts techniques. The professional development workshops are part of a district-wide project called the Creative Learning Initiative, led by Austin nonprofit, Mindpop.
Here’s how it works: During the workshop, a teacher of young readers might learn how and when to ask students to act out or “stage” a passage from something they’ve read. In their effort to put words into movement, the student gains a deeper understanding of the passage and, at the same time, the teacher can tell which students comprehend the passage and to what degree, and which don’t.
Campuses that have gone through the Creative Learning Initiative project have seen the difference the techniques can make.
“The teachers on my campus who have implemented it, swear by it,” said Travis Early College High School principal Ty Davidson. “They use these strategies to get students talking, get them moving.”
Lisa Bush, principal of Fulmore Middle School, said the techniques have been especially useful for English-learners and refugee students on her campus. “It helps them communicate in other ways and gets them out of their shells. It really builds their confidence.”
The teacher training is just one aspect of the Creative Learning Initiative, which has an overall goal to make Austin campuses more “arts rich”, said Mindpop executive director Brent Hasty.
The project, which is a “collective impact” collaboration among Mindpop, AISD, the City of Austin and more than 50 local arts and cultural organizations, was launched after a 2011 study showed that access to the arts was inconsistent across AISD campuses. While almost every elementary school student receives instruction in music and visual arts at least three times a week, the project aims to increase instruction about other art forms, as well as access to local performances and more teachers trained in arts-based strategies.
Now entering its sixth year, the project already has had success in Austin classrooms. According to a 2017 report issued by the AISD, at schools that have participated in the project so far, student attendance was higher, students were more likely to pass the STAAR test and they had better social-emotional skills than those at campuses that have yet to participate. The project will reach all AISD campuses by 2022.
Across the country, collective impact projects like the Creative Learning Initiative are rare, said Hasty, in that they engage organizations across different sectors. On August 24, the education director for the National Endowment for the Arts, Ayanna Hudson, will speak at the AISD Performing Arts Center to share her perspective on the unique success of the Austin Creative Learning Initiative. (GivingCity Austin is a presenting partner. The event is free and open to the public.)
“Our role at Mindpop is to work very hard to close the gaps between schools and the arts community,” said Hasty. “In a city like Austin, where we have such rich cultural resources, we need to make sure that we are helping our very busy school teachers have all the connections and tools they need.”
NOTE: This article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on August 13, 2017. Watch for GivingCity Austin articles every Sunday in the Metro section.