Finding a Comfort Zone in the Arts
October 01, 2021
Appears in October 2021: School Administrator.
Creativity and the arts, the
focus of this issue of School Administrator, are critical to our students’ development — especially as we recover from the pandemic. It is through the arts that many of our students connect with school and society at large.
Participating in the arts taught me life lessons that still inform who I am as a leader and as a person today.
Because my family frequently moved when I was growing up, it seemed as though no sooner had I formed friendships and connections than it was time to move again. When I was in the 4th grade, I decided that I wanted to learn to play the trumpet — a decision that, unbeknownst to me, would change my life.
I continued to play the trumpet through elementary school and middle school, and in 9th grade had the opportunity to join the marching band. I didn’t, however, because I was worried about going to band camp and being bullied — a common experience for me, as I was always the new kid at school.
In 10th grade, I joined the band but changed my mind at the last minute. When I told the marching band director, Jim Morgan, about my change of heart, he said something I will never forget: “No, Paul, you need band, and the band needs you. You are going to do this.”
He was right. It was in the world of band that I found a home, friends and acceptance. It was there that I also found a mentor, Mr. Morgan, who challenged me to do more than I ever thought possible.
Mr. Morgan and my high school band experience opened doors for me professionally and personally. They taught me always to look for the good in people, to be quick to laugh, to be unafraid to say “I’m sorry,” to not accept the first solution. They taught me to be creative, keep exploring and be willing to love in a big way.
As we lead the nation’s public schools, we must remember the importance of educating the whole child, which means maintaining a clear commitment to the arts and creativity. Many students, like me, connect with the world and one another through the arts, whether it’s visual arts or performing arts. We all have seen the students who come alive when they are drawing, sitting at a pottery wheel or stepping onto a stage. The arts give these students the confidence to attend to core academics and learn the “soft skills” crucial to their success after school.
During the pandemic, we were reminded again of the importance of student wellness in the educational process. Students who are not healthy cannot learn. Continuing to focus on the arts and creativity positively affects the wellness of a large segment of our student population.
Although education leaders know the connection between participating in the arts and achieving in core academics, as we advocate for arts funding, we must teach and remind our political leaders of this connection as they make decisions about education funding.
The importance of the arts is also a critical reminder to us, as superintendents, about the power of our presence. Let’s not miss the opportunity to attend art shows, concerts and theater productions. The students love to see us and share their amazing work.
Each day as I face the challenges of being superintendent, I remember the confidence Mr. Morgan had in me and the lessons he taught. Let’s resolve to make sure each generation of young people has the opportunity to learn and grow in schools that value the arts and creativity.