A Look Inside mindALIGNED

By: kelly Fliller July 16, 2021

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How MindALIGNED Began

mindALIGNED began as a collective impact initiative to create arts-engaged schools in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Educators, philanthropists, parents and civic leaders at the Central Jersey Shore convened to form mindALIGNED, which is modeled after the Creative Learning Initiative, a program in Austin, Texas. The Grunin Foundation was at the table for its inception, and we share the belief that when creativity and the arts are used in the classroom, students are more engaged and learning improves.

The goals of mindALIGNED are to re-invigorate learning, inspire greater engagement, and provide a brighter classroom experience for teachers, students and parents alike. By 2030, the hope is for every school district and community in Monmouth and Ocean Counties to become mindALIGNED and arts-engaged.

mindALIGNED is spearheaded by Count Basie Center for the Arts (The Basie), in partnership with leadership from the Grunin Foundation, Monmouth University, Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, government and arts councils, teachers, school administrators, and the Monmouth County Department of Education. It was piloted in 2017-2018 school year with six participating schools in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. By the fall of the 2019-2020 school year, that number increased to 17, and the program was going strong. Today, there are 10 district partners, 19 schools participating, 690 trained teachers and nearly 12,000 students impacted!

Creative Teaching

There are many ways the arts can be used to teach lessons across all subjects. Creative Teaching refers to a set of instructional techniques drawn from the arts to teach any content area; engaging students, driving inquiry, promoting rigor, and creating personal connections to learning. One example of a creative teaching method is statue. The statue technique invites students to take what is most important about a single idea or multifaceted topic and express it as a physical representation (a statue), that the class can interpret and discuss.

Creative teaching methods are so diverse that they can be implemented to teach any subject. Statues can be used to teach vocabulary words, depict character descriptions, show energy roles in science and even express graphs, shapes or lines in math. And that’s just naming a few areas in which statues can be used within curriculum and lessons. This is also just one of many examples of creative teaching techniques.

How COVID Changed Education

Without knowing that COVID was about to transform education as we knew it, Professional Development had already been ramping up. During the second week of March in 2020, schools were holding mindALIGNED family nights, where parents learned how to use creative learning techniques with their children at home. While this was very important to both the parents and children, no one realized just how valuable this would become, as the shutdown of the schools was impending.

When COVID finally caused schools to close, the mindALIGNED program had to be incorporated in different ways. The Basie team supported the schools but also gave them space to carry out the program in a way that worked for them. There have been many virtual trainings, Professional Development sessions, coaching time and even virtual field trips over the past fifteen months.

Mental health was also a key factor in rethinking how mindALIGNED programs would be implemented virtually. The mental health of the students was important prior to COVID and now it was extremely crucial. Teachers included mindfulness moments in their lessons, relationship building exercises and focused on social-emotional learning.

The new, fully virtual world was creating many opportunities, some that would continue to be beneficial even when schools fully open. It allowed the teachers to go more in depth with virtual Professional Development, which is something they wanted to do for a while. Different school communities were finally able to come together to learn virtually. And there were more workshop requests than usual – teachers could simply turn on their computer and the teaching artist was right there.

mindALIGNED Impact

Measuring impact can be challenging (especially during a global pandemic), but it is critical to ensure programs are achieving goals, to use for future funding and to assess if any changes need to be made. Dr. Deborah E. Ward has been working with the mindALIGNED initiative to provide external research and evaluation. Dr. Ward’s research has found that 100% of teachers responded that the program and creative teaching strategies improve student engagement, the visibility of the arts in schools, and students’ creative expression, while 89% of teachers said the professional development training provided them effective teaching tools. Samantha Giustiniani, Senior Director of Education & Outreach at Count Basie Center for the Arts and Director of the mindALIGNED program along with her team, were able to use some of the downtime during COVID to utilize UpMetrics, an impact visualization tool. Utilizing data collected by Dr. Ward, this has been very helpful with fundraising activities, storytelling to the community and shaping the teacher and student experience in the classroom.

The Future

Next year will be a recovery year for administrators, teachers, students and parents. The mindALIGNED team will continue to help teachers finish the necessary Professional Development and get incorporated safely back into the schools. While the virtual world has certainly presented some great opportunities, everyone is looking forward to forging ahead and being in the classroom again!

Visit https://thebasie.org/mindaligned/ for more in-depth information and to stay up-to-date on the mind ALIGNED program.

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