Arts Working Group 2017

January 12, 2017; February 3, 3017; April 19, 2017

During the course of the three session working group for the 2016-2017 school year, arts educators came together to focus on one theme: Teaching Artist Support.

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During the first session, we collectively learned about each other and each other’s organizations to better understand and prepare for in depth conversations to follow. As a group, we defined the following areas in need of additional teaching artist support:

  • Supply of teaching artists
  • Quality control of programming
  • Embody mission while out in the field
  • Intentional in curriculum/lesson planning/writing clear objectives
  • Processional Development of TAs in general (awareness of opportunities and motivation)
  • Collaboration among arts groups
  • Assessing student assets and needs, in addition to the school culture

As we brainstormed and discussed these issues, we weaved in the idea of cross-agency observation as a way to combat some of these issues and create opportunities for TA professional development and support.

During session two, we explored the logistics of cross-agency observation including agreements, an observation guide, an observation form, and how to sign up to participate. (Materials are at the bottom of this post) Additionally, we participated in a gallery walk to collectively use the expertise in the room to help with some of the issues we defined in session one. That information can be found by clicking here. Note: These are living documents – meaning you may add to the information as you see fit!

Between session two and three, it was time to make it happen and observe folks outside your organization! Many of us signed up, a few were able to make that tall order happen and we all gained a lot of great insights. Below are the reflections to the overall observation process including ideas for a second time around!

What worked?

+The Google Drive worked well- clear and organized

+ Flexibility of participation- they key is making it optional for participants within your organization when you are first starting to add observation as professional development

+ Conversations during pre/post observation discussions were useful and provided context

+ The takeaways from just observing co-workers were worth the experience alone

+ TA observing TA: less anxiety in this approach

+ Importance of Pre/post discussions= lessens the feeling of judgment

What could be improved/barriers to participation:

  • Hard to get TAs to sign up and sign agreements
    • Need a digital agreement option
  • Need better training and prep for the logistics aspect of the process
  • $ for TAs to observe- their Professional development funds in general
    • CIS of Chicago note: If you start small, you are essentially paying a TA for another hour of work. Perhaps start with only a few TAs and add as your budget allows. Make the case to your board!
  • Freelance mentality- getting paid for extra training vs. including pay in the overall salary

Ideas to try next time around/as observation becomes part of your organizational structure:

◊ Record TAs= Have video option for busy schedules?

-With this, you miss context and the student interaction

-Consent forms for students being taped can also be a barrier

-Video may capture a more “real” class experience- a guest may improve student behavior

◊ Do more intra-agency observation via videos

◊ Work towards an observation feedback loop “Come see me now!”

◊ Observe CPS teacher prior to teaching the students

◊ Prioritize observation of team teachers if TAs teach in pairs

◊ Take into consideration teaching styles/comfort of noise in classrooms- can be weaved into the pre-observation discussion

◊ Clarify expectations of what can be/cannot be shared- can be weaved into the pre-observation discussion

◊ Share with TAs what is being observed before the observation= share the observation form and discuss at the pre-observation meeting

◊ Intro email explaining what to look for and what to expect might be a good first step to the process

◊ In the sign up form- add program bio for the person observing

  • School directors
  • Grade/teacher
  • What the class experience has been so far

◊ Consider observing the most challenging class

◊ Consistent reflection questions from TAs for every lesson

◊ Are summer camps a good reflection time?

◊ Making observation the culture of the org is key- start within your org or make the case to your Program Director or Executive Director or both!

So, what now? There is a Teaching Artist Group page on Facebook that CIS of Chicago will help to populate and moderate to continue this conversation. Please “like” it HERE

Additionally CIS of Chicago can continue to host the Google sign up excel so that organizations may still participate and have the benefit of having all the information in a common space.

Ultimately thought, the what now, is up to you. How will you incorporate observation into your work? What can/have you gained from seeing others do what they do?  At the end of the day, good teaching is good teaching. So, go forth and see what’s out there!

Materials & Arts Working Group Resources 



Participating organizations include:

Adventure Stage Chicago
Auditorium Theatre/DePaul Community Music Division
Barrel of Monkeys
Chicago Jazz Philharmonic
Chicago Opera Theater
Crooked Door Storytelling, LLC
Design Dance
Emerald City Theater
Foundations of Music
Guitars Over Guns Organization
Lizzie G Entertainment
Museum of Contemporary Art
National Veterans Art Museum
Northlight Theatre
Old Town School of Folk Music
Porchlight Music Theatre
Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago
The Joffrey Ballet
The Simple Good
The Viola Project
Urban Gateways
Wellness for Everyone



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