In order to prepare students for the future, we must empower them with a variety of skills that translate across subject areas and support qualities desired in the workforce. We don’t know what jobs will be available in the future, but it is an educator’s responsibility to equip students with the creative leadership and problem-solving skills to help them succeed. To build the creative capacity of learners, we need to first build the creative capacity of their teachers.

It Takes a Village

School leaders must provide structure and guidance to build creative capacity in teachers and students. As the arts-integration officer for Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) in Maryland, I own the role of creating a system-wide arts-integration program. The Prince George’s County School system is a community with more than 200 schools composed of students from many diverse backgrounds. It is the 25th-largest school system in the country, with more than 13,000 students and nearly 19,000 employees. I knew that to achieve a goal of system-wide change, I had to begin with school leaders. Buy-in starts with knowledge and evidence of the impact an arts-infused education has on teaching and learning. The principal alone can’t make it happen, but the principal alone can prevent it from happening.

PGCPS began the implementation of an arts-infused program three years ago, and we have expanded the program from 15 pilot schools to 70 participating schools for the 2017–18 school year. We have staff at schools participating in the arts-integration program sign a letter of commitment that states the necessary requirements to become an arts-integration school and reaffirms the principal’s commitment to the program.

When signing up for the arts-integration initiative, principals must also agree to designate funds to the program. Funding professional learning is essential because schoolwide change starts with educators. Without new ideas, strategies, and refreshed momentum in teaching, it is difficult to make strides in improved student outcomes.

For example, as part of Crayola’s creatED professional learning approach, all participating schools at PGCPS must identify a teacher leader who is responsible for spearheading the initiative at their school. This person works hand-in-hand with the principal and is the liaison with the arts-integration office. Each school must also have a creative leadership team consisting of the principal, the arts-integration lead teacher, and a mix of arts and core content teachers. The creative leadership team takes charge of the arts-integration initiative throughout the school. It is essential that this team is provided with professional learning targeted toward building creative capacity and knowledge of arts-integration strategies.

The Players in Arts Integration

The creative leadership team is thoughtfully chosen by the school’s principal to include risk-takers and dedicated school leaders who are willing to act as change agents. Our schools work closely with a variety of programs and organizations to support the initiative, including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, and Young Audiences/Arts for Learning of Maryland.

CreatED’s professional learning seminars focus on building creative leadership while developing the skills to coach others and charting a strategic course for total school implementation. This unique professional learning recognizes the need for risk takers to step up and lead the arts-integration effort. This team serves as the experts in modeling arts-integration strategies and coaches others to use arts-infused teaching strategies in their classrooms.

Targeted professional learning can also be instructed by school district arts supervisors, when available. In school systems where this is not available, principals can turn to vetted teaching artists to deliver arts-integrated professional learning in each of the art disciplines. Grant funding is often available from state and local arts councils. Arts organizations themselves may also offer funding, as these organizations are committed in their mission to support the arts in schools.

One benefit to this program is that it uses resources available in each community. Because the creative leadership team is unique to each school or district, the team should have the freedom to strategize based on the needs of their specific school. The biggest obstacle to implementing an arts-​​integration program is the element of time: time for teachers to collaborate, time for professional learning, and time to map out an integrated curriculum. That is why creating a flexible schedule is so vital to having an arts-integrated school.

School leaders delegate time for collaborative planning during team meetings, as well as after-school planning sessions. Although allowing time for group collaboration can be difficult, it is critical. The creative leadership team needs time to meet with their colleagues to strategically plan for the implementation of creative leadership and arts-​infused instruction.

PGCPS has discovered the key components in creating an arts-integration school where creativity flourishes. Schools that have made the most progress are those with the same committed leaders. A motivated teacher leader supported by a well-informed and dynamic creative leadership team is integral to building creative capacity for students and fellow educators. A principal who recognizes the value of arts integration, and then nurtures it by providing time to collaborate, will set the stage for optimal results through engaging material that prepares students for the challenges of an ever-changing world.

John Ceschini is the arts-integration officer for Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland. Previously serving as principal of two nationally recognized arts-integration schools, he received the National Arts Education Association’s Distinguished Service Award and an Innovator of the Year Award for his work to creatively expand arts-integration initiatives across the state.