Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How to Gain Administrative Supprt for your Fine Arts Program

Fine Arts Teachers are in a precarious position.  Every year as contracts come out, FA teachers worry about if their contract will be renewed. It is a sad state of affairs when budget cuts at the school often mean cutting the Fine Arts Department. Sometimes these cuts come in form of a non-renewal but more often these cuts come from the FA budget being decimated. As a Fine Arts teacher, you must advocate for your program and ensure that your students have the program and supplies they need to succeed. This is often a difficult task. To help make this task easier you must gain the support of your administration. A supportive administration will do wonders to help your children succeed. I have a wonderful working relationship with my administrators that I have worked very hard to create. Now this doesn't mean that we always agree or that I get an unlimited budget (oh man do I not get an unlimited budget) but it does mean that I have a working dialog with my administrators that helps make my job easier. Read on to see what I did to gain support.

Fundraising

It is the sad truth that money makes the world go round. Schools that are strapped for cash will often cut the fine arts programs first. This is especially true if your program is constantly needing money and never contributing to the general fund. Your department needs to become financially independent. If you are constantly going to your administration for money they are going to start thinking that you aren't adding value to the school. Your first goal is to simply raise enough money to run your own program. You should be able to cover your supplies, travel expenses and rights to performances. Check out my five creative fundraiser ideas if you need ideas on raising money. After you are able to raise enough money to maintain your own expenses you then need to start making a. "Profit" for the school. We contribute to our school through out major musical. This year we produced Aladdin jr. We made several thousand dollars for the school! If you are making money for the school, the principal will not want to cut your program!


Community performance

With the new leadership evaluation system that most principals are on, community outreach plays a large in the principals overall score. Going and doing community outreach is great for you and your principals' evaluation scores but it is also great for the students. Kids learn so much when they go and perform in their community. They learn how to adjust to different performance venues. They learn the importance of preparation and also being able to adjust on the fly. Most importantly, student learn about giving back to the community. I will never forget when out students went and sang for a nursing home. They came back talking about how happy the people were that we came and visited. They wanted to go back and see them again!

Be flexible but firm

As we all know in schools, things happen. You can't always avoid the last minute things that pop up throughout the school year. Being flexible with your administration can come in very handy. Principal asks you to put together a performance for a principals meeting "sure I would love to" is a great response. I once knew a theatre teacher who refused to be flexible ever. Her administration had accidentally scheduled the Winter Showcase over one of her early blocking rehearsals (meaning she had several months to make this rehearsal up). She refused to cancel/reschedule her rehearsal and threatened to not excuse students who wanted to perform in the showcase. This caused a lot of animosity between her and administration. Administration still made her cancel her rehearsal and both her and the principal were upset over the exchange. All of this could have been avoided with a little flexibility. If it all possible be flexible when your principal asks for something. If it is reasonable and you can reasonably accommodate them, always say yes.

Not only will flexibility help you create good will with your administration, it will also help you have good standing with your Principal when you need to say NO. My principal and I have a very good working relationship and she trusts me. She knows I will not say No to her unless I have a very good reason. Once we had a disagreement about how many students to put in a dance class. She wanted to let every student who had a desire to take dance on a grade level, take dance. I disagreed. I wanted to cap the class so that the teacher would not be overwhelmed (45 first graders in one classroom is just too many). She and I had a discussion, but I was firm. She could not put that many students in the class. It would hurt the program and that teacher's performances. She finally agreed and we were able to move on. I firmly believe that you need to be firm in your beliefs on what is best for the children. Say yes when you can, but when you feel like you must say no, do so firmly and have very good reasons ("I don't want to" is often not a great reason).

Get parent support

Parents can be your most valuable asset when it comes to gaining support from your administration. Keep your parents happy, and you will keep your administration happy.  Parents love to see their students perform and succeed. They love the opportunities you provide their child. Lets be honest, very core teachers have students performing and competing as much as Fine Arts Teachers do. Use this to your advantage. Give students the opportunity to perform. It always amazes me that no matter how many performance opportunities we give our students to perform (4+ a year), parents still want more. Parents will love you and it will create good good will with your administration.

Parents can also be your biggest support if your position is ever cut. I know of so many stories of Fine Arts teachers being re-instated at schools because parents went to the school board and complained. Parents hate it when the Arts get cut from a school. They really hate it when a fabulous arts teacher gets cut from a school. Sometimes going to the school board often enough will actually help save your job. Keeping parents happy is well worth the effort.

Put on awesome performances

The most important way to gain support is to put on quality performances. Do not throw a performance together at the last minute. Do not put on a performance that you are not proud of. Yes there is always more you can do to  improve your shows, but you need to first put in the effort. Choose quality material that is appropriately challenging. Encourage the students to go beyond their limits and then throw in a small amount of flash. Students love to perform. This is why you became a Fine Arts teacher in the first place. To teach students to love the arts and performance. Enjoy the process and do what you do best. For more tips on how to direct an awesome performance visit my Director's Corner. 

How do you gain support for your administration? Did I leave off any ideas? Do you think it is important to have support of your administration? What do you do if you don't have the support you need?