Skip to main content Skip to main content

The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers

Principles of Artful Teaching

The program opens with teachers sharing passionate insights about why they teach the arts to young people. Then short classroom segments illustrate how arts teachers employ seven “principles of artful teaching” to meet the needs and imaginations of their students. Participants explore how these principles can affect their own teaching. Subsequent sessions will examine each principle in depth, with examples from dance, music, theatre, and visual art.

In this Program


A band teacher works with beginning and advanced music students.

Visual Art

In a visual art foundation class, the teacher takes on different roles in response to varying student needs.


A theatre teacher chooses how active to be as his students explore playwriting, and encourages communication across artistic disciplines.


A dance teacher creates a rich environment for learning, and offers effective feedback to his students.



The Art of Teaching the Arts examines how seven “principles of artful teaching” influence the curricular and instructional choices that high school arts teachers make. Each program in the workshop includes examples of teaching in dance, music, theatre, and visual art.

This program begins with teachers sharing passionate insights about why they teach the arts to young people. Then short classroom segments illustrate how arts teachers meet the needs and imaginations of their students by using the seven principles:

  • Developing students as artists
  • Addressing the diverse needs of students
  • Choosing instructional approaches
  • Creating rich learning environments
  • Fostering genuine communication
  • Making the most of community resources
  • Nurturing independent thinkers

Subsequent programs will examine each principle in depth.

Learning Goals

The goals of this workshop are for you to:

  • Describe principles of good teaching that apply across the arts
  • Consider similarities among teachers, actors, dancers, musicians, and visual artists
  • Identify teaching goals that you and fellow arts teachers share that you would like to work toward in the rest of this workshop

Getting Ready

(15 minutes)

What makes teaching both an art and a science? What do good teachers in all disciplines know and do that has sustained, substantial, positive influence on students?

As you begin this series of eight workshop sessions, reflect on your current teaching practices. Make notes in your journal and then discuss and compare how you:

  • Develop students as artists
  • Address the diverse needs of students
  • Choose instructional approaches
  • Create rich learning environments
  • Foster genuine communication
  • Make the most of community resources
  • Nurture independent thinkers

Keep your initial journal entries to compare with your developing ideas about artful teaching practice.

Watching the Program

(60 minutes)

In this program you will see teachers applying the principles of artful teaching in dance, music, theatre, and visual art classes. As you watch each of the seven teaching segments, consider how the teaching shown – regardless of discipline – relates to your own teaching.

Print out the Viewing and Discussion Sheet (PDF) for this program, and fill it in as you watch. This will help you prepare for the activities that follow. Also, these information sheets provide helpful background on the schools, arts programs, and individual classes featured in the program:


Segment 1:
Developing Students as Artists (PDF)

Segments 2 and 6:
Segments 3 and 5:
Segments 4 and 7:

Activities and Discussion

(45 minutes)

Part I: What All Good Arts Teaching Has in Common (25 minutes)

In this workshop you are joined by colleagues who teach art forms other than yours. What broad goals for students do you and your colleagues share? What teaching ideas and approaches do you have in common? The following activities are aimed at helping you identify the common teaching goals that you would most like to work toward in this workshop.

Where, in the program you have just seen, did a teacher who was NOT in your discipline inspire you the most, or remind you of a goal or a value that you hold important in your own teaching?

Look at the notes you made on the Viewing and Discussion Sheet (PDF) while watching the program. Take turns describing for the group the teaching moment that most resonated with your own practice.

As a group, try to name five or six broad teaching goals that you all hold in common. Compare your list to the seven “artful principles” above. Where do the lists agree? Where do they differ? Decide as a group which artful principles are most important to you.

Part II: The Improvisational Act of Teaching and Learning
(20 minutes)

Read the following passage about the similarities between teachers and jazz musicians:

Master teachers — teachers who teach all students well — make decisions about what to teach and how to teach it based on an ongoing conversation involving their students, the course content, and themselves, with the ever-present goal of improving learning and the educational experience. Master teachers understand that each day is an improvisational concert, a musical conversation with their students.

Good improvisational jazz musicians don’t know until the music starts where the night will take them. What they play and how they play it depends on the other musicians with whom they perform, their moods, the atmosphere, and the audience. Such musicians are not seeking consistency or replicability; they are striving for magic in the moment. They create something unique by listening carefully to one another; by anticipating their fellow musicians, and their instruments; and by surprise. A welcome element of the unknown keeps them exploring new territory, discovering new possibilities making new music. Good jazz musicians are tireless learners. If they stop listening to others, stop seeking new paths, stop inviting surprise into their musical conversations, they lose their mastery. Mastery in teaching follows the same path.

Excerpted from “Jazz at the Improv” by Corinne Mantle-Bromley, Kappa Delta Pi Record 41(1). ©2004. Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education. Used with permission.

Discuss how useful the comparison between jazz musicians and teachers is to you. Are there important differences as well? Would you amend the comparison in any important way?

Then, propose and discuss similar correlations between teachers and actors, teachers and dancers, and teachers and visual artists.


(Do on your own)

Read the following passages about five characteristics of art and artists that can be applied to teaching. Then, in your journal, rate yourself twice on each characteristic, once as an artist, and once as a teacher. For example, for the characteristic of creativity, first rate your creativity as an artist — i.e., a practitioner of visual art, dance, music, or theatre — from 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest and 5 the highest). Then rate your creativity as a teacher. When you are done, look over your ratings. Which area would you most like to work on and improve as a teacher? Why?

Teaching As Art

Artists are fully engaged and committed to purpose. In the case of teachers, the engagement and commitment are to learning. ”To facilitate student learning artistically you must be a student yourself, fully engaged and committed to learning, actively seeking new ways to understand your discipline and how your students learn, gaining insights and nuances from the material, from the students’ interpretations, and from connecting students and material.”

Artfulness embodies art and science. For teachers this means drawing on the intrinsic link between art and science to enhance learning outcomes. Painters’, sculptors’, and printmakers’ success depends on a full understanding of the chemical properties of the materials they use. Teaching becomes artistic when we understand in a detailed and scientific way how it affects learning.

Art requires creativity. Artful teaching is not craft; it is more than the skillful application of teaching techniques. The artful teacher is always trying new materials and new approaches to fit the needs and interests of the specific learner at hand, never feeling that the ’perfect material’ or the ’perfect approach’ has been found. The teacher’s world is dynamic, filled with uncertainty and challenge, and teaching strategies are guided by a compass, not a road map. Artful teachers have the ability to be spontaneous and to improvise: to seize the moment and make it into something larger and more compelling.

Artists grow and stay inspired through play, experimentation, and practice. When unexpected things occur they are embraced by artists as valuable opportunities to learn, the specks of irritant or dust that lead to pearls. Likewise, teachers must draw on their ability to always remain learners. In serious and intense academic environments, it’s hard to be “playful,” but the notion of having fun is a way of taking ourselves less seriously, and from that perspective we often see and understand things more clearly. This orientation can give us the space we need to experiment and to fail.

Finally, there is between artists and their material a special relationship. With teachers, the materials are our students and the special relationship is the need we have to create communities of learners. We can develop these strong relationships with and between students in the content materials through which we seek to engage them. We can nurture it by setting and keeping a reasonable pace. We can further promote it by setting the tone, which involves everything from the configuration of the classroom space to the way people are included in the unfolding action.

As its core, artful teaching focuses on learning — learning for teachers and learning for our students. It means being involved in a dance in which we may lead in the beginning, but then we let our partners provide movement and energy and direction. Artful teaching is helping self and students become artful learners, and there are as many paths to do this as there are teachers who are trying. Artful teaching lies in liberating the gifts that students and teachers bring to the classroom.

Adapted from Weimer, Maryellen, “Teaching As Art” in The Teaching Professor, Vol. 12, No.3, March 1998. Reference: Bickford, Deborah J., and Van Vleck, James. “Reflections on artful teaching.” Journal of Management Education, Vol. 21, No. 4, 448-72 (1997).

Additional Resources

On the Web

The Art of Teaching
Mortimer J. Adler’s insights into the nature of teaching

The Seven Deadly Comments that Get in the Way of Learning About Teaching (PDF)
A rebuttal to a litany of arguments about why we can’t or shouldn’t bother to learn about teaching

The Gallery of Teaching and Learning
Web-based examples of ways that teachers can make ideas, insights, and new understandings available so that others can build upon them


National Dance Association

National Dance Education Organization


MENC: The National Association for Music Education

American School Band Directors Association

National Association of Teachers of Singing


National Art Education Association

Magnet Schools of America


Christopher Columbus High School
Web site for this Bronx, New York high school

Nottingham High School
Site for this New Jersey public school

Grounds For Sculpture
The public sculpture foundation where Jan Wilson takes her students

Mamaroneck High School Performing Arts Curriculum Experience (PACE)
PACE Web site, including descriptions of the program and curriculum, and staff and student information

Denver School of the Arts Dance Department     Select: Majors, then Performing Arts Department
Dance department site, including descriptions of majors, curricula, and academics

In Print

Dee, Peter. Voices From the High School. Walter H. Baker Co., 1982. ISBN: 9992892447
Dee, Peter. —and stuff—. Baker’s Plays, 1985. ASIN: B0006ELRNY
Dee, Peter. Voices 2000. Baker’s Plays, 1994. ASIN: B0006F5SPG

The books from which John Fredricksen chooses lines of dialogue to help his students start writing their scenes
Eisner, Elliot. The Arts and the Creation of Mind. Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN: 0300095236

Describes different approaches to the teaching of the arts and the virtues each possess when well taught
Jensen, Eric. Arts With the Brain in Mind. Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2001. ISBN: 0871205149

Presents the case, based on what is known about the brain and learning, for making arts a core part of the basic curriculum
Nagel, Greta. The Tao of Teaching: The Special Meaning of the Tao Te Ching As Related to the Art of Teaching. Plume Books, 1998. ISBN: 0452280958

Applications of the ancient Chinese wisdom of the Tao Te Ching to a contemporary public-school setting
Rose, Karel, & Kincheloe, Joe L. Art, Culture, and Education: Artful Teaching in a Fractured Landscape. Peter Lang Publishing, 2003. ISBN: 0820457450

Offers helpful parallels between the work of educators and of artists, including similar motivations, and opportunities to convince, inspire, and persuade others to action
Sarason, Seymour Bernard, & Greene, Maxine. Teaching as a Performing Art. Teachers College Press, 1999. ISBN: 0807738905

From a perspective that views teachers as actors, uses the traditions of stage performance to inspire connections between teachers and students
Simpson, Douglas, Aycock, Judy, & Jackson, Michael. John Dewey and the Art of Teaching: Toward Reflective and Imaginative Practice. SAGE Publications, 2004. ISBN: 1412909031

An accessible introduction to the art of teaching as seen through the eyes of John Dewey


Produced by Lavine Production Group, Inc., in collaboration with EDC's Center for Children and Technology and the Southeast Center for Education in the Arts. 2005.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-769-X