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Preparing Educators for Arts Integration: Placing Creativity at the Center of Learning

reviewed by Susan Bennett - October 03, 2017

coverTitle: Preparing Educators for Arts Integration: Placing Creativity at the Center of Learning
Author(s): Gene Diaz & Martha Barry McKenna
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807758485, Pages: 224, Year: 2017
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Art is not the possession of the few who are recognized writers, painters, musicians; it is the authentic expression of any and all individuality. (John Dewey as cited by Hickman & Alexander, 1998, p. 226)

We are all born creative. (Diaz & McKenna, 2017, p. 19)

In the current climate of accountability, high stakes testing, federal and state mandates, limited financial resources, arts funding cuts, and curricula focused on academic content, such as math and literacy, educators encounter challenges when creating meaningful arts integration. However, researchers contend arts integration benefits students and teachers in various ways: emotionally, physically, mentally, and socially (Burnaford, Brown, Doherty, & McLaughlin, 2007). For educators, arts integration research illuminates connections to enhanced literacy skills, critical thinking, communication, and problem solving. As authors of Preparing Educators for Arts Integration: Placing Creativity at the Center of Learning, Gene Diaz and Martha Barry McKenna recognize “the arts as fundamental to every child’s learning because they have engaged in research in schools and observed the benefits for children when teachers are able to integrate the arts into and across the curriculum” (p. 1). Therefore, they embarked on a journey to develop a book that emphasized the importance of arts integration, which is imperative to our prevailing environment.

This edited book contributes significant understandings and insight into the field of arts integration, while offering a plethora of perspectives. Diaz and McKenna organized the text into five parts, which provide examples of programs and approaches to prepare inservice and preservice teachers for arts integration. Each section is well supported with current, seminal, and relevant research to support specific examples of arts integration in practice and in high-quality, successful programs. Diaz and McKenna not only concisely introduce the book but also each section, and then offer recommendations and conclusions to further the conversation for future development and improvement in arts integration.

The five parts are theory and practice, statewide models, leadership, arts specialists, and arts integration in practice. Part One, Theory and Practice, consists of three chapters and focuses on creative process pedagogy, aligning standards, and using a curriculum design framework for arts integration to meet the needs of all students. Creative process pedagogy allows space for an engaging and supportive environment with learning and teaching intertwined in new ways of thinking and experiencing art and life. This part also highlights the connections between literacy, other academic, and art-based standards with broader goals as ways to deepen understandings, engagement, and learning. Part Two continues the dialogue with two statewide models of arts integration. These models illustrate professional development and leadership as necessary elements for implementation and sustainability of arts integration. Teachers must recognize and understand how to put theory into practice, participate in ongoing education, and be reflective. The leaders serve as primary communicators while bringing together and encouraging the key stakeholders, from faculty to community members, to board members, to policymakers. Part Three, Education of Leaders in Arts Integration, shows a principal in action at a charter school, a model leadership program, and preservice teachers teaching the principal candidates. This section reinforces the assorted levels of achieving arts integration noting that when principals “are aware that arts integration adds value to the learning environment, they are more likely to support teacher leadership,” (p. 88) and empower those teachers.

In addition to principals and leaders, arts specialists play an important role in arts integration. Part Four exhibits different ways arts specialists contribute and share responsibility with classroom teachers to integrate the arts. Arts specialists collaborate, mentor, and provide educational experiences for classroom teachers. The final part provides explicit examples of various art forms and academic discipline, such as science, dance, technology, and literacy. This section ends with a chapter exploring arts integration with students who have special needs. These examples connect not only academic but also cultural and global opportunities for students to develop more comprehensive and sophisticated understandings through the arts, and therefore, become global and critical thinkers. Diaz and McKenna conclude with recommendations for higher education to become a leader in professional development and ways to design and implement arts integration through ideas revealed in the book.

Leadership, collaboration, partnerships, and ongoing professional development emerged throughout the chapters in the text as essential components of authentic and meaningful arts integration; these components point to community of practice, which comprises a substantial theoretical framework for the work in this text. In a community of practice, novice and experts collaborate, problem solve, share in real life experiences, and gain knowledge and understanding through interaction within sociocultural contexts (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). Each role within the community of practice plays a pivotal role: principals maintain the culture and expectations while leading the continued arts within a school. Professional artists or community members provide expertise and professional development while mentoring academic teachers who are novice artists within the school. Collaboration between school faculty and staff, as well as within partnerships in the community, connect real world and authentic learning while offering extensive resources.

Diaz and Barry McKenna strategically chose authors who present critical and relevant understandings to establish meaningful arts integration, and the editors achieved their intention with multiple, diverse perspectives. As a teacher educator, I reflected on dialogues with my preservice and inservice teachers and suggest, as further and continued development of these ideas, to expand on a few questions, the first being “what do we do?” This “what do we do” refers to two different ideas: first, more specifics and examples of lessons and units, actual arts integration in practice. Second, we should tackle the question of “what do we do to change the leaders in the district or state mandates as it pertains to arts integration?” The teachers who ask this question in school are sometimes bound to scripts or pacing guides; accountability hangs over their heads. They say there is just not enough time, especially for the arts. The book presents some ideas for practitioners; however, from conversations with my fellow teachers, this extension would promote additional support for the conversation and even more research-based practice for arts integration in the classroom. Leaders in the schools and districts should be required to read this book to gain awareness and knowledge of arts integration across disciplines and begin to view the arts as a crucial component of education.


Burnaford, G., with Brown, S., Doherty, J., & McLaughlin, H. J. (2007). Arts integration frameworks, research & practice: Literature review. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership. Retrieved from

Hickman, L. A., & Alexander, T.M. (Eds) (1998). The essential Dewey: Pragmatism, education and democracy. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 03, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22179, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 11:35:21 PM

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About the Author
  • Susan Bennett
    University of South Florida St. Petersburg
    E-mail Author
    SUSAN V. BENNETT is professor in Literacy Education at the College of Education at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, and prior to this was a literacy professor at the University of Mississippi. She taught elementary school on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and in urban schools in Ohio and Florida. Susan integrates diversity and multicultural education into her undergraduate and graduate courses. Her research interests include culturally responsive pedagogy, creative arts, multicultural literature, and literacy. She has presented her research nationally and internationally. Recently, Susan began to teach creative arts with literacy to incarcerated youth.
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