Bringing the Arts Alive in the Classroom

by Angela Cassels and Norrie Hamby

All across the country more and more schools are integrating the arts into other curriculum areas as a strategy to increase creativity

All across the country more and more schools are integrating the arts into other curriculum areas as a strategy to increase creativity, engage each unique student, and demonstrate the interconnectedness of every discipline.

In the late 1990s, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Silverman L. & Layne S., 2010) began a “network of partnership schools in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area to provide professional learning experiences for teachers to learn about and implement arts integration. The program, known as Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) uses a comprehensive definition of arts integration as its foundation.” They define arts integration (2010) as an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both. Our school, Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic School in Berlin, MD, follows this definition.

Put simply, arts integration is the content and skills of an arts and co-curricular subject taught simultaneously. You might ask, why are the arts so important in schools?

In May of 2010, “according to a major IBM survey of more than 1,500 chief executive officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, chief executives believe that—more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision—successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity” (Tomasco, 2010).

In their book Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education, Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica (2015) state that “propositional knowledge is sometimes called knowing that, and is distinguished from procedural knowledge or knowing how.” Organizations like Americans for the Arts have current data which supports their position that “Arts businesses and the creative people they employ stimulate innovation, strengthen America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace, and play an important role in building and sustaining economic vibrancy” (Creative Industries Report, 2015).
Educators who use arts integration strategies place an emphasis on learning the arts as well as the general areas of curricula. When the arts are incorporated into everyday learning, teachers cultivate whole-brain thinkers. In order to be creative, a student must practice using the left hemisphere of the brain in collaboration with the right hemisphere, using both divergent and convergent thinking. Integrating arts standards with other disciplines accomplishes this quite nicely, requiring no more time and only slightly more planning and habit of thought. It will be through the acquired knowledge and learned creativity of these whole-brain thinkers that modern economies will continue to thrive.

Arts integration also re-frames the concept of “achievement.” Achievement is not just a score on a test. It is the ability to function in a 21st-century world of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

While we cannot know what kind of world for which to prepare our youngest students, we do know that they will need to have problem-solving skills and be engaged in the creative process in order to have a deeper understanding of evolving world issues.

What does arts integration look like? There is no single recipe for success, so it does not look the same at each school. At Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, with supportive leadership, we created a vision for our school which we organized into an action plan. Our action plan included three simple goals:
1. To use a variety of resources to enhance staff implementation of arts integration.
2. To enhance student-centered learning in all curricular areas through an arts integration approach.
3. To share the value of an arts integration approach with the community.

Our staff is encouraged to participate in arts integrated conferences in our region and throughout the country. Each summer our teachers have the opportunity to participate in a paid, three-day arts integration professional development in which the object is to learn, create, and practice arts strategies. Educators work alongside teaching artists and master teachers for three days in classrooms, artist studios, and other satellite learning environments. Together, they identify the natural skill and process connections of arts area objectives with other content objectives. Facilitators guide teachers as they work together to build comprehensive, cross-curricular practical experiences that allow for discovery of real-world connections. Teachers also collaborate to create essential questions for study and innovative teaching strategies. Although focus is given to arts processes and strategies during the arts integration professional development sessions, the importance of integrating all content areas together in order to prepare students to live in a 21st-century world—in alignment with National Core Arts Standards, Common Core standards, and Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, Math (STREAM)—is stressed.

At Most Blessed Sacrament, an arts integration leadership committee assists teachers in designing arts integrated lessons throughout the school year. This committee also arranges artist residencies and explores strategies for schoolwide assimilation in order to create or revise a unique approach for arts integration at MBSCS as part of our school improvement plan.

We developed a middle-school activity period which takes advantage of student-directed and project-based learning. In addition, we have different celebrations which highlight the arts, such as drama productions for both the elementary and middle-school levels, a STREAM Night, and a Christmas pageant which all have integrated themes for learning. It is advantageous to use currently scheduled events and modify existing events to model arts integration. A posted curriculum map assists in designing arts integration lessons.

We work with artists in our community, in their spaces or ours, to combine processes and techniques with Common Core standards. We partner with local and state arts organizations for funding artist residencies, and to introduce educators to arts integrated learning opportunities in our region which is so rich in resources. This year we are also hosting Worcester County Arts Council’s summer arts camp. We invite parents and other people in our parish to be the helping hands. Our showcase in the front office is a dedicated arts integrated space.

As a school, where do you begin in creating an arts integrated learning environment for your students? In general a good way to begin is like any novice, with a beginner’s mind; look at everything differently and more closely. You can begin as a school team or by yourself in your classroom. The good news is that curricular connections are already there; you just have to know where to look for them. A dance, like a story, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Terminology such as “ABA form and composition” are found in both arts and language standards. These and other National Core Arts Standards can be found at According to Arts Partnership, in 2014 all states have elementary and secondary arts standards, but not all states have an arts instructional requirement. Check here for information about your state: or These websites can help you identify arts standards in your state and connect you with people who are ready to assist and support you.
There are many good resources online for schools who want to get started:
Americans for the Arts:

The next big question is how your school will keep arts integration going throughout the years. Arts integration is a teaching initiative that must be monitored continually in order to ensure a school’s ongoing success. It is imperative for a school to develop a leadership committee to revise and update the school’s arts integration action plan on a yearly basis.

In order to continue the transformation from an arts-utilization to an arts-integration approach, proactive school administrators research the possibility of acquiring additional arts resource personnel with either an education or teaching experience in arts integration, in addition to classroom teachers.

Knowledgeable and passionate special-area teachers can help mentor and advise classroom teachers about how to incorporate the arts into their curricula areas. Administration should allow for collaborative planning time to enhance the implementation of arts integration in the classrooms.

School administration should also provide teachers and staff with ongoing arts integration professional development opportunities. These professional development sessions should incorporate all areas of the arts to help deepen teachers’ knowledge and understanding of each area. When educators have a firm understanding of any subject area, they are more comfortable teaching students. A teacher’s understanding of the arts should be viewed with the same level of importance as their understanding of the content areas.

Although supportive administrators are essential, many arts integrated schools are the result of parents and teachers who believe in the value of the arts and their place in a student’s education.


Americans for the Arts (2015). Creative Industries, Business and Employment in the Arts. Retrieved from
Robinson, K & Aronica, L. (2015). Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. p. 77
Silverman, L. & Layne, S. (2010). “Defining the Arts.” Retrieved from
Tomasco, S. (2010). “IBM 2010 Global CEO Study: Creativity Selected as Most Crucial Factor for Future Success.” Retrieved from



Source: Today’s Catholic Teacher, October 2015