They say that “necessity is the mother of invention” so it should come as no surprise that the changing needs of a pandemic would result in major shifts in the ways we communicate, connect, and work together. One of the biggest and most recent shifts in our work has been how we approach teacher professional development. Part of our mission includes providing “educator training and strategies for weaving arts across the curriculum”. We do this by bringing teaching artists and arts and cultural institutions to teachers and schools through fun and innovative arts integration-focused workshops and courses. Not only did we offer professional development to teachers in schools participating in our Schools Program, we also held what we call our Summer Arts Integration Institute that we open up to all Maryland educators.
After some strategic planning and extensive research into various online learning platforms, we decided to try out a service called Thinkific. Our Thinkific platform allowed us to build customized courses using video content from teaching artists where students could track their progress and access courses on their own schedules. One of the benefits of virtual engagement was that it allowed us to also bring in teaching artists practicing from other regions therefore expanding teacher’s exposure to even more practices and ideas.
With each new course that gets added throughout the school year, our library of offerings grows. This allows teachers to have a multitude of choices that include each grade band and covering a variety of arts disciplines like “Visual Storytelling” with Vonnya Pettigrew of Root Branch Media Group or “Using Theatre Tools to Explore the Ocean with Cori Dioquino, a Filipino American actor based in NYC and Baltimore. Through these extensive courses, teachers learn about and demonstrate keys arts integration skills that can easily be adapted for classrooms. The courses are engaging, fun and when we incorporate synchronous courses during the summers, then they become interactive as well!
Since we began using the online platform this past summer, we continue to listen to teacher feedback to ensure that quality course content and user experience is consistently carried out. This shift has made teacher professional development more accessible and we plan to continue developing more efficient ways and seeking out new partnerships to help educators brings the arts to their students easier than ever!