How can an administrative team, who may or may not have experience themselves in the arts, go about cultivating and developing fine arts programs and teachers?
Develop Their Own Aesthetic Sophistication
First, administrators need to develop their own sophistication in the arts areas they are responsible for cultivating. They need to find out what makes good art in that area and what underlying richness it can bring to scholars and the community. They must also try to genuinely experience it themselves. They can do this through observing arts classes with the intention to learn, discussing the artform with the teacher, listening to TED talks, watching "Great Courses" on the arts online, and otherwise educating themselves so they know what to look for (perception) and appreciate in good arts programs. Every little bit of learning and experience in this area will pay huge dividends in the administrator's ability to understand and guide the success of the arts program.
Focus the Program on the Right Objectives
As the administrator comes to understand the point of arts programs, they can participate more in helping it develop and meet its objectives more effectively. They can help the arts teacher ask:
- Are our scholars developing the ability to see (perception) artistic elements in the art form? Can they draw aesthetic conclusions from them?
- Are our scholars developing the technical skills necessary to participate in the art form? Are they developing confidence in performing them?
- Can our scholars identify the "contours of reality" in art works and discuss how they connect to other art works, subject areas, and real life?
- Are the works of art used in class well executed, rich in meaning, and uplifting? Are they approachable to the level of understanding of the scholars? Do they generate good discussions and personal reflections? Do they reflect the best of the cultures and values of the scholars in the class? Do they address the problems of these cultures in constructive ways?
- Do scholars feel safe and supported enough to participate in the inherent "risk" of the arts? Are they developing support and compassion for one another?
- And so on...
Provide Support and Facilitation
Once an administrator understands what the arts program is meant to accomplish and how it is currently doing at accomplishing its objectives, they can substantially help the program be more successful. They can help identify the particular needs of the scholar population to the teacher and help create ways to meet them through the arts. They can help the teachers set and make progress towards short and long-range program-building objectives. They can provide materials and equipment that will actually be helpful in meeting those objectives.
(Tangent: It is unfortunately not uncommon for arts programs to receive -- and even request -- expensive equipment that will not be that helpful towards improving the program. A bank of computers will not be that helpful unless they are to be used regularly in a class that needs them, like graphics design or sound engineering. A class set of African drums may not be used as frequently as a middle school teacher thinks they will be. As in any other subject, throwing money at mediocre teaching never improves an education. If a teacher is struggling at getting their scholars interested or developing their skills, the money would probably be better spent on sending the teacher to a professional arts educator conference, or a summer workshop where they can get more training and ideas to use in the classroom.)
It also means a lot -- to teacher and scholars -- when an administrator takes the time to attend concerts, performances, and arts shows and interacts with the scholars in a genuine way, showing appreciation for what they have accomplished. All the better if they have the aesthetic "chops" to be able to join in the conversation discussing the meaning and value of the works with the teacher and scholars. When the administrator can comfortably and productively "speak" the language of the arts with the teacher and scholars in the arts programs, they will know that they are on the right track.