September 2019

Integrating Arts in School Counseling

By Sheila Garth
The beautiful balance of supporting students and teachers as a school counselor can sometimes be challenging. We often find ourselves advocating and promoting the meaningful work that we do, trying to prove our value to our teacher colleagues. During my career as a school counselor, I have realized that true successful collaboration involves considering other academic content, standards and teaching philosophies. This purposeful lesson creation and collaboration has not only allowed me to create innovative, engaging and meaningful school counseling curriculum lessons, it has also allowed my relationships with my peers to become one of mutual respect for each other’s professions.

It all started for me with arts integration. Arts integration is considering art standards of music, dance, drama and visual arts and connecting these with other standards – in this case, ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors. One of my first arts-integrated lessons was a kindergarten lesson on Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings and the behavior standard B-SS 6, use effective collaboration and cooperation skills. Students analyzed what they saw in the paintings (colors, shapes, etc.). We also viewed and discussed a PowerPoint about cooperation. Next, I placed students into groups. Each group had three different flower coloring sheets, a box with three different colored crayons, and an artist folder.

The students in groups of four to six at each table had to cooperate and decide which one flower they wanted to color together and which one crayon color each student could select. The parameters were: no trading crayons, everyone had to help color the one page, and they had to cooperate. I watched as some students had utter meltdowns in the process…and it was beautiful. Why? Because I was able to support them in an authentic environment where they were emotionally invested in the process of the core curriculum lesson we were doing. They did not just talk about cooperation, they had to do it, work on it, struggle through it. Integrating art added a new dynamic of involvement to my lessons. Success!

Now it was time to up the ante.

After about a year of arts integrated lessons with my students, I decide to create what I call trifecta lessons – lessons that addressed arts standards (music, visual arts, dance or drama), content standards (math, science, social studies or language arts) and, of course, our ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors, all in one lesson. I created a second-grade lesson incorporating drama, the plant cycle and cooperation. First, I asked the second-grade teacher when she was covering plant cycles. I wanted to make sure the topic was introduced to the class by the teacher before I did my lesson.

For the lesson, I created a PowerPoint slide with an illustration to remind the students of the plant cycle (shown at top right). I also discussed drama vocabulary of a tableaux: motionless figures reenacting a story. For this lesson, basically they would freeze in position to show the part of the plant cycle.

I then put students in groups of four and told them they would each be a stage of the plant cycle by using their body. We discussed how each stage might look if you were making a tableaux – they might crouch down low to be a seed, squat and use their arms to show a little growth as a seedling, stand up all the way for a plant, and use their arms interestingly to show a flower. I gave each student in the group a card listing the four stages of the plant cycle.

I told them they had to work together to create the plant cycle using cooperation and communication (B-SS 1. Use effective oral and written communication skills and listening skills; B-SS 6. Use effective collaboration and cooperation skills) and decide who is doing what part of the plant cycle and how they are going to create their tableaux together. At the end of the lesson, each group performed their tableaux. I called out, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1…action!” to allow them to get into character and be ready at the same time. Once they were in their plant cycle formation, I invited other classmates to guess what part of the cycle each person was.

With this trifecta lesson, I helped students remember their science standards by cooperating and communicating together and learning in authentic ways. They used creative expression when creating the tableaux and I taught them to analyze and reflect on art (analyze how a flower can be shown with your body). As an added bonus, the teacher appreciated that I took the time to consider her standard and implement it into my lesson, thus not only making it more fun, but also helping her teach students – a win-win.

I hope you are inspired to get out of your comfort zone and create. Talk to the art, music, dance or drama teacher at your school. Look at content standards of the grade level your support – you never know what amazing relationships might evolve.

Sheila Garth is a school counselor at in Cobb County, Ga., and the author of a workbook on arts integration in school counseling. Contact her at sheila.garth@cobbk12.org