Arts Integration: Fundamentals for Getting Started

Becoming an arts-integrated school doesn't happen overnight, but there are ways to enhance the process. Two veterans of successful transitions share tips from their experiences.

Becoming an arts-integrated school doesn't happen overnight, but there are ways to enhance the process. Two veterans of successful transitions share tips from their experiences.
Artwork; John Ceschini smiling

A former principal of arts-integrated schools, John Ceschini (right) now spreads the word about the positive impact of arts integration, such as the improvements in academics and behavior seen at Bates Middle School (left).

Credit: Zachary Fink

Arts integration (AI) is an approach to teaching that interweaves arts education with standard curriculum to help create a richer context for learning and can deepen student engagement. Educators at Wiley H. Bates Middle School in Annapolis, Maryland, where all teachers have been trained in and are committed to using AI, credit the strategy for successfully turning their school around.

Here are some tips from two veterans of successful AI transformations.

For the Administrators

Principal John Ceschini successfully transformed two Maryland schools with arts integration. Since then, he’s served as the executive director of the Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance (AEMS).

  • Culture: Ceschini believes one of the most important things for an administrator is the right attitude. The leadership must decide that the arts are essential for all children and be willing to make funding, scheduling, and hiring decisions accordingly.
  • Funding: “I’m not talking about a great deal of money,” says Ceschini, “because it’s a mind-set that you’re changing more than anything else. But administrators have to put some funding into the arts because teachers understand that if leaders put up the money, that means the program is important.” In the case of Bates, the district applied for and received a four-year grant to help them get arts integration started. The bulk of the grant money has gone to professional development. Because the arts have helped build community awareness about the school through public performances and school- and community-based projects, donor campaigns for musical instruments and art supplies have been successful.
  • Schedule: Time must be built into the schedule to accommodate both PD and collaborative planning time (PDF). At Bates, one hour every day is earmarked for collaborative planning, and they have PD sessions every other Thursday, at least one of which each month is about the arts.
  • Hiring: Most teachers will not have had experience teaching with AI, so you will need to hire people willing to take on the challenge of integrating the arts in their lessons and learn to maximize art’s potential to engage their students. “At first I was not sure about it,” says Bates Middle School math teacher Laura Casciato. “Now, with the practice and training I have had, I look at my pacing guide and think, ‘Oh, I can develop a dance to show that.’”

For the Teachers

Pat Klos was the dedicated arts-integration specialist at Bates Middle School and recently was appointed the arts-integration specialist for the county, where she will work with multiple schools. Her primary goal is to provide the resources and support teachers need to grow their repertoire of arts-integrated lessons and techniques. She brings in teaching artists and visiting artists, develops and leads PD sessions, and collaborates with teachers to create integrated lesson plans. Here is some of her advice on how to help teachers be successful with arts integration.

  • Professional development serves many purposes: It enables teachers to learn the fundamentals of various art forms (PDF); it teaches them how to develop integrated lessons; and it provides them with the opportunity to experience art for themselves. The biggest resistance that Klos has encountered from teachers is that they think they’re not artistic. But with PD they realize the arts are for anyone, and they come to better understand the experiences they’re giving their students.
  • Use AI intentionally. At Bates, every teacher is required to use AI in some shape or form, although not every lesson needs to be, nor should be, taught with AI. Klos uses two main criteria for implementing AI:
    • Look for a natural fit with the content. Don’t try to shoehorn it in or it can make the concepts more confusing. “The idea behind arts integration,” says Klos, “is that it opens a new door to understanding so it has to connect with the content standard for it to make sense.”
    • Identify where the students are struggling. AI can be an effective way to differentiate instruction and break through with hard-to-reach kids. It provides a context that will help students build connections and gives them triggers for remembering the content later. At Bates, teachers use formative and summative assessments to find the areas where kids are struggling and then target these standards with arts-integrated lessons. They track the standards (PDF) that are taught with AI and have seen clear improvements in comprehension and retention.
  • Collaborate and brainstorm. Brainstorming is one of the best ways to develop arts-integrated lessons. Bouncing ideas off each other within and across subjects and disciplines helps develop deeper lessons, the goal of the daily hour of collaborative planning time at Bates. As lessons get classroom-tested and refined, you can build a repertoire of vetted lessons on a shared drive.
  • Leverage community resources. You can bring in teaching artists and trainers from arts programs or partner with community art organizations, or teachers can enroll in PD programs such as Changing Education Through the Arts from The Kennedy Center. At Bates, getting involved with the community has resulted in greater support from the community in return, including donations of time and resources.

(See our Resources and Downloads and our Pinterest board for other arts-integration PD presentations and arts-integrated lesson plans.)

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This article originally published on 8/29/2012

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Arts Integration Specialist

At Bates MS, we have had the

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At Bates MS, we have had the luxury of funding through the arts magnet program. Now that I am working with elementary Arts Integration (AI) schools in our county, I find that they are struggling with the same problems you have mentioned. What has helped the AI process in both our middle and elementary schools is that dedicated collaborative planning time built into in each teacher’s weekly schedule. There is a commitment at the AI schools that the discussion during these collaborative planning includes AI planning; it becomes part of the regular agenda. But the arts teachers are generally not able to participate in this conversation because they are teaching while grade level teachers are meeting. Here are some solutions that have been put in place to address this issue: Principals use whole faculty meeting time periodically that is dedicated to curriculum mapping for AI. In this case, everyone meets in the same room and the arts teachers move from content to content or grade to grade. One school has developed a topic/standard matrix which is posted on a board inside the teacher’s lounge that tracks what is being taught when and where. This allows the arts teachers to see where they can connect with their arts lessons. We have also developed an Arts Integration Request Form that the content/grade level teacher completes (content, standard, topic, struggling point for students) and forwards to the arts teachers who responds with ideas, connections, and standards. Truth be told, however, collaboration often happens because the teachers believe in arts integration or there is an expectation is at the school that they will implement AI in their lessons and they choose to use their own time to find moments during the school day to have a quick conversation with their arts-content counterparts. Clearly, until we can convince the money holders that AI is a superior way to teach, we will have to be creative about this!

K-5 Instructional Technology Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Hi Karlene, I feel your pain.

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Hi Karlene,
I feel your pain. My principal has spent years trying to work the budget so he can hire some lunch/recess aides to watch the kids so we have more flexibility for our teachers, but he hasn't been able to convince the school board to do it yet.

Director of Arts-infusion, Art and French educator K-12

I'm really interested in how

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I'm really interested in how the schedule works. I'm not sure I quite understand the example provided from Bates. This is an area that my school is really struggling with.We are a very young JK-12 school and still trying to build our foundation. Who supervises the students at lunch or when teachers are collaborating? Any suggestions?

Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Thanks for your comment Carol Ann

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Hi Carol Ann -

Glad it's preaching to the choir for you but unfortunately it's not for everyone :) We're hoping that this package on arts integration not only tells the story of a school successfully integrating the arts (and gives other resources to do it themselves) but also shows a school that uses arts integration to increasing learning. I'd encourage you to check out the research page (, which we hope will give some talking points and stats to help continue the conversation about the arts in education.

Thanks again for your comment and support!

Visual arts teacher from Georgia

WOW you are preaching to the

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WOW you are preaching to the choir here! Would it not be wonderful if all the politicians who seem to know better than us what works in the classroom and what does not would look at successes, like yours, and wake up and smell the coffee?????
Nothing new here. The arts have forever been a way to improve student achievement. But even more important than that, the arts help students find their soul again. In this ridiculous act of teaching to the test, we are killing our children. As a creative person, if I had to endure some of the classrooms and curriculums in today's schools, I would be a drop out.
Let me know when you have a job opening! God bless you for using your eyes and hearts to really see how to engage children so that they truly learn. I so miss seeing that wonderful spark our students used to have.

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