Arts Integration and Collaborating with Classroom Teachers

All too often art teachers feel as though they are on an island: they are the only teachers of their content in the building and it can be isolating. But who is creating that island? Sometimes we isolate ourselves, and this can result in missing out on some powerful opportunities to work with colleagues and impact student achievement outside of our own classrooms.

Arts integration can be a scary concept for art teachers. We all know that art for art’s sake is important and that what we teach doesn’t always need to be a support for learning math or reading. However, a truly integrated arts lesson is defined by the Kennedy Center as “… an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both.”

In other words, the art concepts and objectives have equal weight as the other content area objectives.


Recently I collaborated with my building’s second grade team to create 3-D landscapes using Model Magic. Their social studies objectives were studied and met in their classroom, then I came in and supported their sculpting, requiring students to meet visual arts objectives in their final project. Does it take time? Yes. Does it cement learning in both content areas into the students’ brains in a way that other strategies can’t? Absolutely! Is it an highly engaging way to teach that will wow administrators, teachers, and students? I think one of our second-graders said it best, “We’re doing art!? In social studies!? AWESOME!!”

If you are looking for more ideas to collaborate with your colleagues in other diciplines, consider the class ‘Connecting Art to the Common Core,’ running for the first time this summer.

What is one successful collaboration you’ve done? Tell us about it. 

What is your opinion on ‘Art for Arts Sake’? 

Sarah Dougherty

My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


  • cfrobeyinc

    I am a strong advocate for collaboration within my school building. It has really helped in building strong relationships with other teachers in our school. I have been asked many times for input and help with reading and social studies (incorporating some type of art/design into those areas). Collaboration and the relationship building with other teachers has also helped when dealing with more difficult students.

    I have also noticed that students have been bringing art concepts they have learned in my classroom into other academic areas on their own. I see this especially when students are doing displays or presentations in science and social studies, creating boards, etc. They use art fundamentals (design, composition, line, color, etc.) when designing their visuals. It is so great to see that!! My goal as an art teacher is to have students not only create art but also apply creative and artistic art concepts to every aspect of their lives (self- reflection, critical thinking, creativity)…..stuff they can carry on with into adulthood and any career path they may choose.

    I also am an advocate of collaboration with other art teachers in different districts. I love seeing what is happening in other art classrooms! This AOE website is also just GREAT for collaboration!

  • cfrobeyinc

    And yes….I have already signed up for that summer class!!! Can’t wait!! :)

  • You are doing amazing work at Findley! We are blessed to have you!

    • Thanks, Laura! It is a special place filled with dedicated people. I love working with you guys!

  • Toby

    My worry is in my district they may view this as a replacement of the arts teachers if the classroom teachers are “trained” by the art teachers in the integration process!

    • Toby, your fear is shared by a lot of teachers. An arts integration plan should not be one that replaces an arts program, and classroom teachers should not be teaching new arts concepts in the lessons. They should be mutually reinforcing of prior content. The typing of training I advocate for is more on the logistics side, helping teachers understand materials and material management. The overworked classroom teacher does not have time to understand content standards in the arts well enough to teach them. That is where the arts specialists come in. Giving your district a clear picture of roles and expectations in the integration may help those unfamiliar with the strategy understand. Thanks for your comment, I am guessing a lot of readers were wondering that very thing!

  • Erica Carlson

    I am curious what other people are going to write here, as I am an elem art teacher for a K-5 STEM school. It is expected for me to be bring their engineering units into the art room. This is harder than it sounds. Let’s say 2nd grade is doing their plant unit. They all wanted to collaborate but when it came time, they forgot about me and then I found out that they all do the lesson at various times. Sigh…seriously? I am sorry. I love theme’ing out my units by the month. I love being able to focus their learning especially when I see them once a week. I like the continuity and building on knowledge. Trying to do this well, requires me to step up and outside of my comfort zone to figure out when and how they are teaching. When they come to me…it’s not working. It’s decorate this thing. It took a year of carefully saying yes and no to the right things and somehow this year I am no longer being asked to add decoration to stuff. It was a painful first year. Trying to educate the masses that an art class is not a craft class and if we are going to work together we need to drop our ego’s and get transparent with our teaching. It’s always going to be easier to work in a silo. Ugh. This is not an easy topic. I struggle with saying it’s art and let us focus on the 4 C’s by creating an open art studio and develop art vocab, concepts, etc. It would be easier especially when I am told to do one thing, but never given time to do it.

    • Erica, thanks for your comments. You are certainly not alone in your struggles. Are you familiar with the book STEAM Point: A Guide to Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math? You can find it here…
      You are so right about not being the crafter-in-residence. Do you have collaboration time with classroom teachers embedded into your schedule right now? Without that embedded time to develop best-practice intentionality, your program will struggle. Unless it is a requirement (which you indicated it is in your school) I wouldn’t work on classroom collaboration lessons in your studio time, save it for specially arranged time that you come into classrooms to support. Thank you for being an educator willing to walk this tricky line and grapple with these important questions. Keep advocating for yourself and present solutions to the problems to those who make decisions. Keep us updated, I’d love to know how your program continues to develop.

  • Julie Hibshman

    I am a middle school art teacher (grades 7-8) When I taught art at the elementary level (K-6) I found Integration and collaboration to be much easier. I agree with Erica that true collaborative efforts requires the education of the masses….Does anyone have experience with collaborative and integrative arts efforts at the Middle School level? My building runs with a modified block schedule format and subjects remain rather departmentalized…somewhat similar to a high school feel. I find it very challenging as my schedule and their schedules do not coincide. I see all of my students for only a 1/4 of the year while they will have their students for the entire year (an average total of approx. 22 days)…their units (core teachers) will not always coincide with the time they are in my art room. Do you all find that it is best just to look at larger concepts rather then specific collaborative objectives?

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