Finding the Best Arts Specialist

Who a principal hires to teach the arts at a school can impact student learning and school culture. At the elementary level, an arts teacher serves every student in the school in one art form and provides leadership across all the art forms. At the secondary level, there is often only one teacher in each art form at the school, which means the entire school program is dependent on the skills, ability, and professional commitment of that individual. At both levels, the teacher plays a critical role to build a quality program over time.

To optimize the impact of arts programs, the BYU ARTS Partnership has provided tools for administrators to find the most effective arts educators for their schools. Over the past two years, the Partnership has put together resources for elementary and secondary school administrators with an abundance of information about how to build an arts-rich school, including indicators of a quality arts specialist and how to recruit and hire one.

To create the resources, leaders in the BYU ARTS Partnership worked with the presidents of the Utah Art Education Association, Utah Music Educators Association, Utah Dance Education Organization, and Utah Advisory Council of Theatre Teachers. Each agreed that administrators would like to find the best candidates for their schools because choosing the right teacher has such a strong impact on the school culture and the students, according to Heather Francis, BYU ARTS Partnership research coordinator.

Steps to finding that quality instructor include recruiting from the best pool of candidates; considering licenses, degrees, certifications and accreditation; investigating pedagogical approaches and dispositions; observing teaching; and asking the right questions.

The group determined administrators should know certain questions for each specific art form that can be asked as part of the interview process. The resources include sample interview questions and sample strategies for getting to know the candidates. For example, a strong question for a music educator might be, “What types of ensembles have you directed?” and “What styles of music are you most comfortable directing?”

Administrators might not be certain about which qualifications to look for in a prospective arts teacher. An example, according to Francis, is an administrator who may not know which items on a dancer’s resume prepared the candidate for teaching in the classroom, choreography, or performance opportunities. The resources recommend principals look to see if the candidate is part of their professional dance education organization and if they have previously taught students to choreograph their own work.

Some questions can help an administrator make a decision about an arts specialist, regardless of the art form. What exactly does it mean to be educationally minded in the arts? What kinds of qualifications does the specialist have? What kinds of impact has the candidate had on a school in the past?

Principals may contact professional arts education organizations to inquire about available arts educators. These organizations are also a support and resource as they provide professional development for arts teachers after they are hired.

The process to finding a quality arts specialist can be tricky, but help is here, in the form of the “Building an Arts-Rich School” online resource materials.

* There will be a session at the Learning Edge Administrator’s Conference on November 12th about “Building an Arts Rich School.” Please visit https://education.byu.edu/cites/learning-edge-2019 to register.

Laura Giles is a lover of all things art, a first-grade teacher in Alpine School District, a writer for the Daily Herald newspaper, an Arts Leadership Academy graduate, and has earned the Arts Integration Endorsement from Brigham Young University. She can be reached at LauraCGiles@gmail.com.

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