By Jeff M. Poulin
In February 2019, I published a new framework for the field, through Americans for the Arts, which articulated the aptitudes, practices, skills and commitments, making up the “12 Core Competencies of an Arts Education Leader.” This framework is intended to guide all of us working in the field of arts education toward a new way of leadership and evolved approach towards the work of arts learning in our communities.
From 2016 to 2019, we embarked on a four-year journey to engage the arts education field in a series of research initiatives to determine how to ensure an expanded, well-resourced, and less- barriered pipeline to leadership in the field of arts education. We began by exploring the literature to determine what knowledge was published. Unsurprisingly, there is little in the nexus of leadership development and arts education. What we did find provided us with the undergirding concepts that 1) anyone can be a leader in this field and 2) leadership traits can be learned over time.
Through numerous research inputs from existing and new datasets, we found four themes—aptitudes, skills, practices, and commitments—that served as the guide- posts for the long arc of our work. We also found that a self-predication of mastery usually underpinned leadership competency: one must feel that they already have mastered their individual role within the arts education field (like being a master choral director) on their path to leadership.
As we dove deeper, we identified the individual competencies of leadership, which allow for individuals to reflect, correct, or explore to reach their potential.
Aptitudes—the inherent ways in which we approach our work
- Collaboration – Working together within and without the arts field, we recognize that we are stronger together.
- Criticality – Seeing beyond how the work currently is and envisioning how it can be.
- Creativity – Thinking outside the box to solve problems and imagine the future
Practices—the ongoing processes that sustain our work
- Mentoring – Engaging in multi-generational cyclical learning experiences to foster the next (and renew the current) generation of leaders.
- Networking – Recognizing our own and fostering community among diverse individuals with different strengths to contribute.
- Learning – Continuously engaging in opportunities to attain new knowledge and maintain up-to-date with current trends.
Skills—the developed approaches to interconnect our work
- Policy literacy – Understanding the impact of the implicit and explicit policies which impact our work.
- Evidence use – Utilizing quantitative and qualitative data to illustrate the impact of our work.
- Storytelling – Illuminating the impact of our work through the real-life experiences of individuals and groups.
- Advocacy strategy – Formulating the strategies that unify advocacy efforts to effect sustained change.
Commitments—the obligations that run through our work
- A love for and joy of working with learners and in the arts
- A commitment to social action, cultural equity, and racial justice
Within this framework, I would underscore the importance of utilizing data, understanding policy, partnering with young people, etc. These are all essential components about how we rethink how we talk about music education and how we inform our leadership in the field.
The field must also focus on the four identified skills: policy literacy, evidence use, storytelling, and advocacy strategy. It is these four skills where we fall down and remain stuck in the status quo. As leaders, we must understand the policy landscape which impacts our work – both in the arts and education sectors as well as in adjacent sectors of policymaking. We must use new and innovative evidence to demonstrate the impact of our programs. Alongside this evidence, we must be effective and moving storytellers to illuminate the data. Together, it is essential to craft and adhere to an advocacy strategy; one that moves beyond the age-old tactics and emboldens our reconsidered “why” for music education.
Lastly, I encourage all readers to go back and revisit the two commitments. The words “love” and “joy,” though immeasurable, ground our work in the intrinsic. Similarly, the affirmation of social action, cultural equity, and racial justice, serves as a charge within every action that we take as educators.
I would even go so far as to say that we, as arts education leaders, have a responsibility (beyond just our students or the young people that we serve) to our broader community. Our work is essential in developing young people but also in improving our city, state, or nation. Modeling the type of interaction we hope to see from students as servant leaders must be within our scope of work also. Our professional expectations as choral directors goes beyond music training and performance, instead to community leadership and advocacy.
This post was drawn from an article by Jeff M. Poulin published in Volume 60, Number 2 of the Choral Journal (September 2019), a focus issue on advocacy and collaboration. For the full article, ACDA members may sign-in to the ACDA website and read the entire article at https://acda.org/archives/1169. Thank you to ACDA Advocacy and Communications Committee member Joe Cerutti for preparing the excerpt.