More than 300 arts educators from across the country visited Belmont this week to participate in the 2018 Tennessee Arts Academy (TAA), an intensive training experience that provides professional development and support to K-12 teachers from across the state. Now in its 32rd year at Belmont, TAA’s participants choose one of two divisions (either K-6 or 7-12) and then their track — music, theater, visual art, a combination of all three or arts leadership — allowing them to further hone the skills they teach in their classrooms each day.
Although the Academy exists to ensure Tennessee educators, primarily those within the arts, are utilizing advanced curriculum and cutting-edge methodology, the program’s purpose expands beyond professional development. TAA Project Director and Professor of Music Dr. Madeline Bridges said that in addition to the classroom skills participants walk away with, camp staff is dedicated to treating each teacher as a “guest of honor,” understanding the dedication and commitment they pour into their careers.
“The teachers gain subject matter and pedagogical knowledge, while gaining confidence,” she said. “They become inspired to continue their own artistic growth, they rediscover the value of the arts. They become vocal advocates for arts education and fall in love with teaching again.”
Pointing towards the national issue of teacher retention, Bridges said TAA’s results are clear. “Participants tell us that attending TAA is a major factor in helping arts teachers stay in the classroom. Almost half of this year’s educators have taught for five years or less and we are deeply committed to doing everything possible to retain these young, gifted teachers.”
In addition to the benefits that come with expressing creativity, Bridges said she and her team understand the holistic value of arts education throughout schools. And it’s this information that has kept TAA in existence for more than 30 years. “Arts education provides a unique way of knowing and experiencing the world,” she said. “Additionally, it improves graduation rates, builds community, promotes self-discipline and fosters creativity.”
While on campus, educators spend time in track-specific and interdisciplinary courses, all taught by world-renowned faculty members from the US and Canada, where they receive cutting-edge techniques in small classes. Beyond their time in the classroom, participants attend numerous performances and exhibitions during the week. A highlight of each day is an early afternoon ‘Musing’ plenary session presented by a nationally known arts figure. Speakers “muse” about the role of art in their lives, education and beyond. Headliners this year included Broadway star Laura Osnes and award winning scenic and costume designer Tony Walton.
Among the participants this year included ‘pre-service’ teachers — Belmont education students who are looking towards careers as educators, themselves. Aspiring elementary educator and Belmont student Sarah Padgett participated this year and said the experience was incredibly meaningful. “My experience at the Tennessee Arts Academy was enlightening, awe-inspiring and invaluable,” she said. “The Academy provided me a plethora of knowledge and resources, ignited my passion for arts integration and surrounded me with a network of mentor teachers.”
At the end of the week, all educators leave with a complete set of the recommended materials discussed throughout their sessions including curriculum, books, materials and more.