Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Network

Connecting emerging arts managers with skill-building and leadership development resources.

Established Leaders: the Arts Education Collaborative

The topic has come up numerous times at our PEAL steering committee meetings, our Happy Hours, and our larger events that we, as emerging leaders, have so much to learn from established leaders in our field. This interview is the first in a series where we do just that. Watch the blog for more interviews to come throughout the year, and if you have a recommendation for an established leader we should interview, let us know by dropping us an email at PghEALNetwork@gmail.com.

Our first interview in the series is with two women I have had the honor and privilege of getting to know over the past year, Dr. Sarah Tambucci, Director, and Jamie Kasper, Associate Director, of the Arts Education Collaborative (AEC). AEC states this as their mission: “We strengthen education by making the arts central to learning through collaboration, research, and advocacy,” but I can tell you from personal experience that they do so much more in practice beyond this very succinct description! I have had the wonderful experience of participating in their Leadership Academy (along with our fearless PEAL leader, Jen Macasek), and I encourage any arts educator from an arts and cultural organization to take advantage of this year-long, low-cost (only $100!!!) professional development opportunity with AEC. Learn more about everything they do by visiting their website.

So Sarah and Jamie, tell us about a formative, learning experience when you were an “emerging leader.”

Sarah: When I was President-Elect of the National Art Education Association, the Executive Director, Tom Hatfield, asked me what my platform would be for my presidency in two years.  I really hadn’t thought about it.  But now the expectation for me to actually be prepared to lead was laid out in front of me.  I spent the next two years listening, watching and learning so that I understood the environment for art education and could do not what I wanted to do, but serve the organization in developing a shared vision for my term.

Jamie: When I started at the PA Department of Education, I was fresh out of the classroom with little formal leadership experience. I clearly remember sitting in my first staff meeting at the Department and not understanding about 75% of what was being said. Instead of asking questions (and looking even more clueless than I felt), I noted all the things I didn’t understand and either followed up with my colleagues later or researched until I found the answers I needed. That helped me build relationships with my fellow curriculum specialists.

Describe a challenge in leadership that you have encountered and how you overcame that.

Sarah: I believe that mastering situational leadership has been a challenge.  Each situation calls for a different approach to leading.  I think that being a better listener has been key to developing some skill in applying situational leadership.  Asking good questions then follows.  What is he really saying?  What is she really asking?  Where is the opportunity in this initiative?

Jamie: When I was tasked with getting together the team to write the curriculum frameworks for the Standards Aligned System, I purposely chose people who didn’t agree with me because they brought different ideas to the work. However, that meant that I had to make sure there were ample opportunities for team members’ voices to be heard while still keeping the goals in sight. In the end, I think it was important to carefully plan and anticipate places where there could be difficulty. As Sarah said, this was about applying situational leadership and knowing when to use different strategies; at any particular moment, did I need to deal with a difficult person, provide leadership in the content, or just provide logistical support so the team could work?

How did you know that you had become an established leader in your field?

Sarah: One definition of leadership is service.  When I have opportunities to serve, I am most satisfied.

Jamie: I’m not sure that I would call myself an established leader in our field, but it’s nice when you’re asked for an opinion or contacted because an established leader suggested you.

What personal qualities would you suggest to our emerging arts leaders that they should cultivate?

Sarah: Listening is an important skill.  We learn much by listening and ‘reading’ non-verbal cues.  Reflecting is an imperative.  Taking the time to think about what just happened in a meeting, lesson, or interaction can help one to dissect and analyze.

Jamie: Believe it or not, Sarah and I answered this question separately yet both identified listening as an important skill. In fact, listening is the most important skill to me: not listening while formulating what will come out of my mouth next, but listening carefully and trying to connect what I’m hearing to things I already know.

Another important quality is integrity. I think it’s so important, in a time when we have access to so much personal information, that everything I share publicly represents the way I want to be viewed, even if I’m sharing only with friends. In an article I was reading last week, an educational technologist talked about teaching children that they don’t leave digital footprints; they leave digital tattoos. Our digital tattoos should reflect our professionalism as well as our personality.

How have you continued to grow as a leader?

Sarah: When I admire and respect someone else’s approach or way of thinking or working, I try to take the best from the model.  Right now, I am working on being less judgmental and constantly trying to see things from multiple perspectives.  This is getting harder for me, not easier.  I think that the older or more experienced one becomes, we have a tendency to be more confident about our own judgments.  It is important to never be too confident.  In my world, any asset taken to extremes becomes a liability.  Too much confidence is a dangerous thing.

Jamie: I read, probably too much: blogs, articles, books, Facebook wall posts, tweets, ingredients on the shampoo bottle, pretty much anything. For me, it’s not so much about being a leader, but being informed and having an opinion on the important issues in our field…and apparently on issues not at all related to arts education.

Any last advice to emerging leaders?

Jamie: I think I have a wish for emerging leaders more than advice. I hope that you find an established leader who is willing to share what they know with you as readily as Sarah has shared with me. And maybe the advice is this: if you don’t have that person in your life right now, go out and find him or her, even if you have to look outside of our field.

Here’s a bit more about each of our interviewees:

Dr. Sarah Tambucci

Dr. Sarah Tambucci is Director of the Arts Education Collaborative. Her experience as a visual arts teacher, department chair, and principal provides her with extensive experience in education and the arts. In addition, Dr. Tambucci has been an adjunct faculty member at Carlow University, University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University. Among her most noteworthy leadership positions is Past President of the National Art Education Association (NAEA) and Past President of the Pennsylvania Art Education Association (PAEA). She is the author of numerous articles on issues related to leadership and policy influencing. Dr. Tambucci serves on advisory boards and committees that support arts and education throughout the region, state, and nation. Among many tributes, she is the 2006 recipient of the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Leadership in Arts Education. She is a passionate advocate for the role of the arts as part of a comprehensive education.

Jamie KasperJamie Kasper is Associate Director of the Arts Education Collaborative.  She began her career as a music educator in the Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland and the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.  She returned to her home state in 2002 to work as a music educator in the Bermudian Springs School District in Adams County, Pennsylvania.  Ms. Kasper took the position of Fine Arts and Humanities Advisor at the Pennsylvania Department of Education in 2007.  She came to the Arts Education Collaborative in 2010.

I want to thank Sarah and Jamie so much for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk with me. As with every encounter with them, I learn something new. Here are a few of my take aways:

  • Listen openly, then ask questions (and don’t be afraid to ask questions.)
  • More of a question for further exploration, but how we can best maintain our professional integrity amidst the world of “digital tattoos” (love that term!). P.S. I applaud Jamie for her picture. While it might forever be a digital tattoo of hers, we have to remember to still have fun. 🙂
  • Never be too confident–always be ready to learn from your experiences and from others
  • Leadership is service (such an important thing to remember!)
  • Find a mentor…or two…or maybe even three. Speaking of bullet #4, perhaps this is a way PEAL could be of service to other emerging arts leaders in Pittsburgh, by establishing a mentor program for emerging arts leaders??? Thoughts??
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