An interview with Dan Donovan, Digital Media Arts Teacher at Willard Intermediate

What is the Arts Leadership Team (ALT)? How did you form Willard’s team?

The ALT is a core group of teachers and administrators charged with leading a positive shift in school culture and building staff capacity to utilize arts-based teaching strategies and arts integration to boost student achievement. Following the 2016 Turnaround Arts Summer Leadership Retreat, which I attended with our principal, Amy Scruton, and our 8th grade Science teacher, Laura Compton, we were energized to share this amazing program with our Willard Intermediate School community. Part of being a Turnaround Arts: California partner schools involves developing a Strategic Arts Plan (SAP) to identify our school’s short- and long-term goals and guide our use of the arts to move toward those goals. With the development of this living document in mind, we set out to create an ALT that was representative of all grade levels and content areas.

Tell us about Willard’s first few ALT meetings.

We realized early on that we needed to plan a cluster of meetings at the beginning of the school year that focused on key components of the SAP. Frontloading this work allowed us enough time to dive into the planning process with our ALT and also receive input from our full staff. We met twice a month in the beginning of the school year, and being organized and intentional with our time was key because we wanted a draft plan in place prior to our ALT training with Turnaround Arts: National Implementation Specialist Deb Brzoska in October.

Arts Leadership Team training with Willard Intermediate
Arts Leadership Team training with Willard Intermediate

What were some highlights of this ALT training?

This training was an amazingly positive step, especially because we were able to share the experience with the ALT members from Sierra Preparatory Academy. It drew us together, and it made things feel real. There was some concern early on that ALT members who hadn’t attended the summer retreat might have a hard time getting onboard right away — they hadn’t “been to the mountain top” and up until this point it was a lot of tell with little show. Any concerns we had just disappeared because our staff embraced the process so positively, and Deb Brzoska did such a good job of recreating some of that feeling from the retreat. She gave us simple, tangible tools and strategies that helped us map out our team’s next steps. We participated in and learned to facilitate arts integration techniques such as Adjective Relay, Snapshot, and Tableau. Things went so well that we were even able to plan out our next faculty meeting and assign roles for sharing these tools out with our entire staff. Very cool!

For me, the Turnaround Arts program is really about relationships. Sure, Turnaround Arts helps with direction and resources, but — without a team that is willing to pull together — those things can only go so far. One obstacle we’ve run into is that teachers who aren’t in the same department often don’t hang out unless they’re in a meeting. As a school, we are doing better job of creating activities that bring everyone together like our recent Staff vs. Student football game, but it is still an area that we are growing in. That’s why the ALT training in October with Deb Brzoska was so important — it created another venue for team members to interact and build positive relationships. I think one way I contribute as a leader at this stage is to keep myself positive and encourage others to keep an open mind as we walk through this process as a school.

How has your full faculty responded to the trainings led by your ALT?

We’re just feeling a lot of momentum right now! Teachers completed feedback surveys after our ALT introduced some of the arts integrations strategies that we learned from Deb Brzoska, and we were happily surprised to hear how well our staff is responding. Our artist visit, all staff Visual Thinking Strategies training at the Bowers Museum, and ALT-led staff meeting are check marks in the win column that help us all to see that the Turnaround Arts program is making a difference.

What’s next for Team Willard?

We have completed our SAP, and now the real work begins! We are all new to this, but we are all learning to trust the process and hopeful that it will continue building positive outcomes for our school. I think our focus now is mobilizing resources and continuing to ensure that our staff feels equipped to integrate the arts across content areas to positively impact our school and community. It’s only our first year, and we’ve already had some important wins. But, we still need to be diligent moving forward and seek ways to keep winning without overstretching ourselves. I believe that you get what you put into things, so I’m just going to keep approaching everything we do here at Willard with a positive attitude that seeks to do things in a way that shows everyone they are valuable — I want to encourage everyone with that attitude!