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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Finding “Groove” in the Arts-Based Classroom

(After attending the form on truancy sponsored by Justice Davis, several thoughts about the current status of public education were directly and indirectly raised.)

For West Virginia public schools in the 21st century to meet the needs of future productive citizens in a democratic society, reform is no longer an effective strategy. There must be a schooling transformation. A transformation in the way schools are funded, how they exist, and the manner in which they operate, how they empower the stake holders, how they engage and support learners and teachers in the education processes and how they develop and sustain “life-long-learning”.

The fact that schools fail on a regular basis has never been acceptable and now, more than ever, we are seeing the short and long term effects of these lapses. There are so many “red flags” appearing daily within our society about schooling ineffectiveness that it is no longer just a “school problem.” Politicians in the past liked to “beat up on” the schooling community with reform rhetoric to garner votes but the realities of schooling failures are now apparent to everyone.
Schools are in need of transformative leadership within the local, state and federal education communities throughout regular and higher education venues. Effective schooling is no longer “their” problem; it is “our” problem. Society can continue to “re-correct” the same “problems” over and over with the same basic strategies and the same failing results or new ideas can be implemented to harvest new learning and more effective outcomes.
Students and teachers need to be “re-connected” to relevant, engaging and emotionally responsive learning practices: practices that value “how” students and teachers are smart, celebrating the “element” of individual “groove” rather than forcing a disconnected curricular agenda void of stakeholder ownership and developmental idiosyncrasies. People searching for such schooling strategies have found them within the Arts… for over 5000 years.
The Arts celebrate the individual through collaborative efforts (plays, concerts, shows, etc.) at every developmental level. Arts-Based Learning brings one’s “groove” into the schooling process at every level and every subject. Students and teachers interact as collaborators of learning, bringing engaging and relevant experiences into every instructional arena. Students can not only show (assessment) how smart they are, but how they are smart. Pencil and paper assessments become the exception rather than the norm because they are not relevant to developmental outcomes. Learning becomes personalized and engaging for students and teachers.
The school “system” needs to support personalized schooling through Arts-Based Learning in every manner at every level. A teacher cannot hope to sustain an Arts-Based classroom without the support of colleagues, administrators, parents and community resources and philanthropy. A shared ownership of the processes and outcomes of an effective schooling system by all the stakeholders in a community must be integrated throughout the publically funded educational journey. Arts-Based Learning doesn’t require a major “re-tooling” of schools with millions of dollars of new technology but begins by encouraging, supporting and sustaining new ways of thinking about how schools approach the learning that is important for students to master. We already know how to implement schooling initiatives, the only question remaining is why we haven’t yet initiated policies and practices that are effective in teaching all the children in our 21st century American society.
Bob Dunkerley is the President and CEO of Helianthus LLC, a West Virginia-based education consulting firm ( specializing in Strategic Research and External Reviews, Arts-Based Learning (school transformation models) and Arts-Based Initiatives (corporate HR professional development) as well as Arts Advocacy. Dunkerley retired from a 34 year career in West Virginia Public Schools and resides in Elkins with his wife, Karen. (Additional bio info available at: )

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Roots of transformational change in schooling

As a central office administrator my experiences and encounters with ideas addressing change are that they are more likely sustained when the concept(s) are organic in nature and become part of the culture of the institution. Sustainable change is also more likely when a shared vocabulary exists among the stakeholders as well as a shared vision of excellence. Building the capacity of sustainable change is the responsibility of the entire organization. This is where initiatives of intervention often erode: The sense of urgency to embrace effective transformational change is not shared by all - teachers, administrators, students, parents, boards of education, community members, businesses. Oftentimes barrier policies and practices impeded the change process…not to mention apathy, incompetence and ignorance. To make change part of a schooling institution there must be a ownership, trust, a tolerance to error, an effective reward system and a process that empowers the passionate participant connection to the goals and outcomes. Unfortunately, not many learning venues are framed in this manner – yet!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Changing Education Paradigms

A "must view" video for those interested in schooling transformation.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Time to talk about pedagogy and school transforation

School reform has traditionally come in three basic flavors: Curriculum, Assessment and Pedagogy. It is time to seriously discuss pedagogy. The connection to student achievement is through the teacher – we all knew that and know there is research that proves it. (Surprised? NO!!!)
The most important link in learning excellence is engaging teachers and students at the emotional level – bringing passion into the learning arena. Researchers promoting the “latest – greatest” instructional practices and materials (O-B-T-W-…promoted by publishing companies for profit) have systematically eliminated teacher creativity in the instructional process – taken away the source of their “element” (a la Ken Robinson) that engaged them in the learning process, thus disengaging the students, parents and community in the same process. Additionally, principals have not been able to support teaching excellence through cynical supervision because there are no clear descriptors defining what they look like in the classroom. (Maybe this is where Bill Gates is heading?)
Arts-Based Learning engages the student, teacher and schooling community in meaningful and rigorous learning processes. We’ve known this about the Arts for over 3000 years. Maybe there is a hidden message in our cultural ethos?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Helianthus LLC - Education Transformation Components

Transforming American Education:
The HELIANTHUS Learning Model
1. Graduation rates = Student engagement/relevancy
2. Arts-Based Learning and Creativity
3. High stakes testing and accountability
4. Effective parent involvement
5. Using technology: access + ethics + interface
6. Effective support: out-dated school aide formulas = teacher allocation based on student enrollment
7. Extended learning: place-based learning – pop-up schools
8. Assessment models that measure learning – not test taking skills
10. Passion driven pedagogy
11. Local control: site-based curriculum
12. Value-added learning
13. Know the students: Meet the students where they are
14. Student academies and Parent College
15. Curriculum organized schools: PreK, K-2; 3-5, 6-8; 9-11; 12-14

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Arts-Based Initiatives: Thinking Differently, Differently.

In today’s global economy, organizations are searching for new and innovative strategic and managerial approaches to be competitive and create value in the marketplace. The complexity of today’s competition requires organizations to build up new competencies capable of driving business growth and new business solutions. The successful 21st century organizations will be those able to develop competencies to manage their energy and emotional states in order to govern the value creation dynamics. Dimensions such as passion, emotions, hope, moral, imagination, aspirations, and creativity are now being established as the new strategic organizational value drivers.

Today’s activity is a small sampling of a professional development arena designed to transform a work group from task management into a dynamic, collaborative and synergized creative force focusing on innovation and productivity. Typically a two to three day environment is necessary to fully awaken the internal engines and connections needed to envision a transformed work environment. The arts are not only a mechanism to spur and develop emotional and energetic states within an organization; they can play a range of instrumental functions generally related to the development and transformation of an organization. The set of the possible involvements are grouped in and represented by the professional development and strategic concept known as Arts-Based-Initiatives (ABIs).

To explore the adoption of arts within organizations an analysis of the Arts-Based Initiative (ABI) concept is needed. An ABI can be defined as any organizational and management intervention using one or more art forms to enable people to undergo an art experience within an organizational context, as well as to embed the arts as a business asset. It is primarily and fundamentally an experience-based process involving and engaging people both rationally and emotionally through either active or passive participation.

The focus of an ABI is not the work of art in itself, which can be a painting, a poem, a film, a dance, a musical or a theatrical performance, but the arts experience instead. An ABI is intended to use works of art and arts as media to trigger, catalyze, drive, harness and govern the emotional and energetic dimensions of an organization which can have an impact on people and/or on the organizational infrastructure of tangible and intangible assets, supporting corporate change in order to develop a new organizational culture, which encourage creativity and entrepreneurship among employees.

Given a significant ABI professional development environment, different issues related both to people and to the organizational infrastructure are addressed, and are summarized in four main areas: mindsets and behaviors change; communication and coordination enhancement; organizational creativity development; and improvement of organizational atmosphere. ABI’s help move people to see their job and their organization differently and most importantly to develop a better awareness of themselves, of the organization and of the world around them. In today’s activity we will only test the waters of thinking differently – embracing the sensory palate with a mere wafting of the aroma from the main course of ABI activity.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pageantry Arts: Engaged Learning for Music Students in WV

Bringing the elements of student engaged Arts-based learning into a multi-disciplinary schooling environment supporting formative assessments of rubric-defined criteria, PLC’s (Professional Learning Communities), peer instruction, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication in a nine-state regional cohort sound like a dream scenario for any 21st century effective learning theorist implementing school transformational models. Yet, these descriptors are components of the framework for the Tournament of Bands (TOB) organization, part of the educational platform of the National Judges Association, now in its fiftieth year serving school bands and directors in the United States. In March of this year, the TOB Rules Congress established the Mountain State Chapter of TOB, combining WV counties from two chapters into one state-wide organization. With this action, every county (school system) in WV can now adopt the learning outcomes mentioned above as their strategy for developing excellence for the students participating in their school’ marching band, aligning all school systems under one set of criteria whereby establishing a truly connected state learning circuit for marching band (music outcomes), also known as Pageantry Arts.

School marching bands engage in the TOB framework by participating in performance arenas on Saturdays throughout the fall. The “Band Shows” are divided into four groups (I, II, III, IV) of participants based on the number of instrumentalist in the band and can select from one of three levels of engagement: Festival (non-competitive), Class A (competitive level designed for emerging programs) and Open Class (competitive level on a national standard known as TOB linear). The National Judges Association (NJA) provides highly qualified adjudicators, the operational format/rules and criteria (judging forms) for show hosts. Most TOB shows are hosted by band boosters as a fundraising activity for their band. At the “end of the day”…after the bands’ performances, judges critique and trophy awards, band students will have engaged in a meaningful learning activity, many shows often providing enriching experiences that last a lifetime.

What does this mean for music students in West Virginia?

Marching band contests are not new in WV. Just about every fall festival throughout the state hosts a competitive marching band event – either a parade or field show (football field) or both and has done so for over 40 years. Bands vying to “be the best” often travel far distances to engage in shows that embrace excellence in supporting pageantry arts. However, each show may have a separate set of criteria by which the bands are judged. Additionally, judges are often selected by their experience as teachers. If ranking and rating are the only goals of a show host, this system works fairly well. However, in this age of heighten accountability and every school organization competing for limited finds, school bands and their directors are looking for additional learning outcomes for the dollars spent to participate. The Mountain State Chapter of TOB provides the sustainable framework for pageantry arts excellence in adjudication and assessment on a state-wide and regional stage, providing the high level of accountability many school music programs now embrace. (TOB also provides learning arenas for Indoor Color Guard, Indoor Percussion and Jazz Bands.)

With the advent of the structured TOB growth model in music assessment and pageantry arts, WV bands are now poised to select state-wide champions, an outcome deemed unattainable under the “silo system” (every show isolated) of marching band adjudication used since the early 70’s. In the first ever TOB Mountain State (Chapter 13) Championships held October 23 at Lewis County High School, bands from 13 counties competed for the top spots in their classes. By virtue of their final chapter championship scores, seven bands from the Mountain State Chapter continued to compete at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships in Hershey, PA. A first year chapter accomplishing such a feat is very remarkable and reflects the hard work and dedication of the students, directors and parents to achieve excellence in competitive Pageantry Arts. The TOB leadership in WV aspires to have bands representing a majority of the 55 counties at the chapter championships in the very near future…constituting a true West Virginia State Marching Band Championship. (Results of the Chapter 13 and ACC championships can be found at the NJA/TOB website: )

About the author: Bob Dunkerley has been a certified NJA band adjudicator since 1993 and was a band director/music teacher/administrator in WV public school for 34 years. Currently Bob resides in Elkins with his wife Karen and is President/CEO of Helianthus LLC, a professional education consulting group.

WV Superintendent of Schools addresses 2011 WVMEA - Huntington, WV

Highlights from Jorea Marple Speech: 3-24-11; WVMEA

Four goals for improving education in WV:

1. Personalize the curriculum – holistic approach, addressing the needs of individual students; engaging lessons; planning time necessary to achieve this goal
2. Elevate teachers/ respect for the teaching: for all teachers; pay issues; advocate for schools; high quality teachers; message to the country
3. Lighten up on barrier policies – re-work 2510; no time restrictions except those codified (PE); 8100 minutes – too long? Reduce graduation credits – rigor within the curriculum…not so wide but deeper
4. Communication as high level of effectiveness – schools are under resourced; empower all the stakeholders, yes - and make supportive agencies accountable, too;

Bob’s response

The implication for the Arts within this speech for West Virginia is huge and will require an informed administrative staff (issues specific to the Arts) to address all the characteristics of a successful implementation plan taking these concepts to scale.
Leadership will be the key – I do not ask that counties add another position to the administrative staff…but do recommend that the person asked to address Arts-based initiatives within the county have an Arts background OR have participated in Arts-based training that heightens their understanding and sensitivity (eliminating the “don’t know what they don’t know” concept) to the curriculum…developing a shared vocabulary to reach the heightened level of communication” needed to implement effective 21st century leaning concepts. The Arts need a voice at the table – an informed and articulate voice…not necessarily a full-time person.
County superintendent’s need to identify their Arts person and send them to a professional development training to gain some insight into the state-of-the-art for exemplary Arts programs in West Virginia and beyond. Arts Alive is a good start but has failed to attract the audience of leaders and policy makers needed to impart informed decisions, heightening Arts-based learning in West Virginia.
At the very moment that informed and insightful local leadership in mandated we find that the cupboard is bare.