Archive for the ‘VPA’ Category


MALI Teacher Leader Story: Kris Bisson

March 20, 2018

Music educator: Kris Bisson

This is one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series of blog posts includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders.  CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories.  Thank you Kris for sharing your story!

Kristine (Kris) Bisson, Music Teacher and Chorus Director for Marshwood Middle School, grades 6, 7, and 8, in Eliot, Maine. She has been teaching a total of 16 years, all of them at Marshwood Middle School. Kris teaches 350 students throughout the school year in six classes: guitar/ukulele, piano, Composing Music, and three grade level Chorus classes (Grade Eight Chorus, Grade Seven Chorus, Grade Six Chorus)In addition, Kris offers several music classes as extra-curricular groups after school. These are always offered as multi-age ensembles open to all students and we have had students participate from grades four through twelve join us for Select Chorus Ensemble, Rock Band, Guitar/Ukulele Ensemble, Piano Class, and Songwriters Workshop.

A unique fact is that I taught here ten years, then had my maternity leave and decided to stay at home to raise my children. After nine years I returned to my position at Marshwood Middle and have been here since. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to return to the teaching position I have always loved. She also is very fortunate to teach my own two children in my music classes.

What do you like best about being a music educator?

I absolutely love my profession. I love music and am reminded every day of why I love it. I have the amazing opportunity to share what I love with young people and help them embrace what they love about music, too. We do a lot of reflection in class: “Why did the composer choose this note? this rhythm? how would you sing this if you were really feeling these lyrics? how would you sing this differently?”

I love to personalize music making and music creating. Everyone can respond and it can be different to each and every person, and that is acceptable. This is personalization.

Every day we laugh, learn, make music, and work together to discover new things about ourselves. My favorite phrase in the classroom is, “Who else is having this much fun?”

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

  1. Personal expression is unique to the performing arts. Every day and every item of study should carry an aspect of how there is a human response. I try to establish an environment of trust and respect between teacher and students and foster this every day. We work together as a team and support each other. I remind my choruses that this is what an ensemble does: we work together.
  2. Passion is an important element in the classroom. Being able to explore music as an art means being able to share first-hand experiences and giving students that opportunity as well. When you create music you have a story to tell. Tell it!
  3. Taking time to process what we are learning has been a key part of reflection in learning. Taking time to listen and hear my students respond to what they are learning is important learning. Why are we learning this? How does this moment in our learning affect other areas of our lives? I strive to help students continue to think about music beyond our classroom walls.

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

Teaching performance-based classes (Choruses, creating compositions in Guitar, Piano, and Composing Music classes) can sometimes create some confusion around the subjective and objective qualities present. Authentic assessment has created a more objective and transparent method of demonstrating learning. Students can compare the rubrics we use with those similar in every class at our school. It validates the arts. It also provides measurement that can be effectively reached by various means. There are multiple pathways to learning, thus creating a broader spectrum of learning. This has been extremely rewarding to me as an educator and likewise, to my students.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

MALI has provided a generous amount of support and enrichment to my teaching career. Being able to collaborate and learn from highly motivated and skilled teaching artists and teacher leaders has awakened a new area of growth for me. It has reminded me of the risk I ask my students to make daily to try something new and take a leap of faith into the unknown. MALI has brought that desire to succeed closer to me and I carry this with me in my classroom.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Kate Smith and Kris at the summer institute, summer 2017

With the help of my extremely supportive husband and two amazingly awesome children I earned my Masters in Music Education at the University of Southern Maine last year. It was an incredibly busy four years, but everything I studied and researched and learned I have used directly in my teaching classroom. The best lesson from this has to be that while I was working on my Masters, my husband was working on his MBA and our children witnessed first-hand how dedicated we both were to our goals in our careers, in our studies, and with our family. From our example both of our children have expressed how valuable education is and I know they will always remember this.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?


  • I always make time for a student who wants to keep improving or delving deeper during lunch breaks or after school.
  • Researching new material or reading up about improving learning or my own teaching takes time.
  • Getting the word out to the newspapers or parents about the goings on of our trips, activities, and concerts takes time.
  • Sending out “I got caught being awesome!” emails to students and their families takes time.
  • Needing the sleep for the energy my job demands sometimes gets in the way, but is absolutely necessary time! 🙂

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

When I returned to classroom teaching after a nine year hiatus I hadn’t touched my resume, my certification had expired, and I hadn’t interviewed in nineteen years. I put my full effort into the entire process and committed myself fully. This took a great amount of work and I knew it was the absolute thing to do.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Love what you do. Love giving that thirst for knowledge to others. Love being with the age group you work with. There is no greater satisfaction than loving what you do and sharing and seeing that grow in others.

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

I would love to start a music school that extends our learning for Marshwood students – and our surrounding community – giving scholarships to children and adults who want to learn beyond their classroom music experience and grow more music in their lives. Choruses, rock bands, jazz bands, and private lessons on instruments they love or haven’t even explored yet would be definite possibilities to so many people. Having intergenerational ensembles where the people you sit beside are sharing the same love of learning is an amazing experience for any human being. I attended small schools that did not have any band experiences and now I conduct four choruses and a Rock Band. The experience one learns in an ensemble is unique. Every person should experience being a member of a music ensemble.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

Kaitlin Young and Kris at the MALI summer institute, August 2017

I really hope I do not have any regrets. One of my favorite rewards of teaching is the surprise meeting with former students and their family members. I sincerely love finding out who they have become, where they are, and what they are doing. It means so much to know that they look back fondly on their learning in my classroom and have taken some of our learning with them in their pursuits. I can honestly say that I have made music, laughed, and learned every day and hope my students do, too. For this, I have no regrets.


Dance Education Funding

March 19, 2018

Grant deadline: Wednesday, May 2

AUGUSTA-April 12, 2017—Dance education changes lives, yet only 5 percent of all schools in Maine offer it. The Maine Arts Commission is offering a grant program for schools and teaching artists that seek to bridge this gap and bring the power of dance to more schools. Applicants may apply for awards up to $2,250. The deadline for this new program is Wednesday, May 2, 2018.

John Morris leading a session at the MALI Mega conference, spring 2017

This program was launched in 2016 and has successfully funded 4 dance education residency’s. Each will have a story included on this blog during this school year.

The first teaching artist to provide the residency with the assistance of these funds was veteran dance educator John Morris. “Creative movement is meant to allow students the ownership of their own uniqueness,” Morris said. “I give students the foundational movement to invent and explore their own movement, and I guide them through the process of making their own dances.”

John is also a member of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Design Team and works with the teaching artist leaders.

Funding for the dance education grant was made possible this year by several dance studios and two high schools who came together for a benefit performance in November, 2017.

Karen Montanaro leading a session at Hampden Academy, December 2017

The Maine Arts Commission is pairing eligible PK-12 school districts with teaching artists from the Arts Commission roster. The roster includes 16 dancers.

“We are extremely appreciative of these contributions and the impact they will have on dance education in Maine,” said Julie Richard the Executive Director of the Maine Arts Commission. “There are so few dance education programs in our state and this is one important way we can make a difference to the students that we serve.”

If you’re a PK-12 educator or teaching artist looking to introduce students to the power of dance education, the Arts Commission encourages reviewing the grant guidelines and application criteria before applying for the May 2 deadline. The top qualifying schools selected will be eligible for the next funding cycle from September 1, 2018 through March 30, 2019.

For information visit the the grants and the teaching artist roster webpages at

For questions regarding the grants or current teaching roster, contact Argy Nestor, Director of Arts Education,



New England Institute Courses

March 18, 2018

Encountering the Arts, Music assessment, G/T 

  • Encountering the Arts: Choice, Voice and Creativity, (hybrid) taught by Lindsay Pinchbeck – April 7 to June 9, 4.5 CEUs
  • Assessment in the Music Classroom, (online) taught by music educator, Jake Sturtevant – April 2 to June 11, 4.5 CEUs
  • Educating Gifted & Talented Learners, (online) taught by Grace Jacobs – April 2 to June 18, 4.5 CEUs

Encountering the Arts: Choice, Voice and Creativity – April 7 to June 9

You can join Lindsay Pinchbeck, MALI Design Team member, in her very own school, Sweetland School in Hope, and learn some wonderful strategies to incorporate into your classroom right away. Sweetland School is s a project based elementary program inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach. Drama, Movement, Music, Poetry, Storytelling, and Visual Arts will be integrated across content areas: Math, Science, Social Studies, Reading and Writing.

Work with colleagues, build relationships, and ask questions of the professor, in person, for two Saturdays and have the convenience of doing the rest of the coursework online. Encountering the Arts: Choice, Voice and Creativity is one such hybrid course.

Assessment in the Music Classroom – April 2 to June 11

This online course taught by music educator and MALI Design Team member Jake Sturtevant provides looking closely at assessment practices through a collaborative and fine-tuned lens. It can provide unique opportunities for growth. Connecting new assessment practices to instruction can bring exciting changes to how we approach our students and their learning.

Participants will discuss how best to apply recent music assessment work to their own unique situations in their own school music programs. This will lead them to create a personalized plan for implementing new strategies. Assessment in the Music Classroom will provide a great opportunity to look closely at assessment practices.

Educating Gifted & Talented Learners

This introductory course provides foundational information relating to the field of gifted and talented education (i.e. history, laws, etc.), details characteristics of gifted students from various populations, describes how such students are identified and assessed, and presents up-to-date, research-based pedagogy relating to curriculum design and instruction.

It may be applied toward the 690 (Gifted & Talented) endorsement for the State of Maine teachers. Join Grace Jacobs for this Educating Gifted & Talented Learners online course.

If you have questions contact Catherine Ring, Executive Director, New England Institute for Teacher Education.


MALI Winter Retreat

March 14, 2018

Amazing opportunity to learn and exchange

Winter Retreat participants. photo credit: Chris Pinchbeck

Thirty Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders met last Saturday for the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) winter retreat. It was a great opportunity to gather with friends and colleagues from across Maine.


    • To provide an opportunity for the MALI community to come together to listen to and learn from each other
    • To review the work that has taken place during the phase underway
    • To address ideas and the latest topics in education/research and respond to timely issues relevant to Maine teachers
    • To provide information and/or context for participants 
    • To consider topics for the next phase of MALI

We accomplished the above and a whole lot more. There is nothing that compares to coming together with visual and performing arts teachers who have so much in common. So many topics to discuss and listen to what each person has to offer. “Getting off our islands” and coming together with “our community” on a winter day in March is refreshing!

The agenda was filled with art making from the Growth Mindset opening session to the finishing session that concluded with a meditative heart exercise.


  • Growth Mindset review and revisit with Lindsay Pinchbeck
  • MALI This We Believe statements review
  • MALI collaboration with art teacher Hope Lord and music teacher Dorie Tripp
  • Ukulele’s with music teacher Kate Smith
  • Update on Proficiency Based from Department of Education Diana Doiron
  • Looking ahead and considering ideas for Phase 8

If you are considering applying to be a Teacher Leader or a Teaching Artist Leader for MALI in Phase 8, please send an email to me – stating your interest. Applications will be available in May 2018.


Theatre Professional Development

February 18, 2018

UMaine Orono

You’re invited to the second annual Theatre Professional Development Day hosted by the Department of Theatre, University of Maine, Orono, on April 25, 2018.  Visit the WEBSITE for more information about our feature performance, “Ripple of Hope”, a one-woman show performance by Karen Sklaire, a NYC performer and teacher, and our six workshops by professional teaching artists:
  • Nick Turner, Executive Director, The Grand, Ellsworth
  • Hannah Cordes, Education Manager, Portland Stage
  • Amy Roeder, Director of Education, Penobscot Theatre Company
  • Rebecca Wright, Ellsworth High School
  • Hilary Martin, Vassalboro Schools
  • Rick Osann, Bonny Eagle High School
The $25 registration fee includes lunch.  Six Contact hours will be provided. To REGISTER or for more information, visit our WEBSITE, or as always, drop a note with any questions.  We hope to see you there!
If you have any questions please contact Rick Osann at Bonny Eagle High School at

MAC Teaching Artist Roster

February 15, 2018

7 new artists

Seven Maine Artists Added to Arts Commission’s Teaching Roster

Maine Arts Commission’s roster provides additional resources for teachers and schools

AUGUSTA, ME, February 8, 2018—The Maine Arts Commission is pleased to announce the addition of seven new artists to its online Teaching Artist Roster.  Selected by the Arts Commission through an application process, teaching artists provide greater access for teachers, schools, and community groups to area artists who are trained and knowledgeable in classroom requirements throughout Maine. The following teaching artists have been recently listed on the roster:

  • Nicole Cardano

    Nicole Cardano, an actress who teaches elementary and middle school improvisational skills as well as theatre productions and show choir. She lives in Seal Cove.

  • Emilia Dahlin, a musician who teaches students to explore literary devices in songwriting to create powerful imagery and foster a strong sense of authorship. Emilia resides in Gorham.
  • Rob Duquette, a musician and songwriter whose lessons teach themes of resilience, compassion, kindness, gratitude, and a sense of purpose. Rob is from York.
  • Emilia Dahlin

    Kal Elmore, a printmaker who collaborates with teachers to develop lessons that help students experience a new media, a new technique, and/or a different way of thinking about visual art. She is from Old Town.

  • Russell Kaback, a musician and a storyteller who writes songs that tell the story of his grandfather’s life as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor.  Through lyrics and song, students make a lasting connection with the experience of a concentration camp survivor from the Nazi era to the present. Russell resides in South Portland.
  • Dana Legawiec, an actress whose recent teachings involve grade 3-5 students in mask, improvisational, physical theatre, and yoga. She is from Bowdoinham.
  • Rob Duquette

    Tom Luther, a musician who teaches piano and multimedia art. Tom applies traditional composition, improvisation, generative, and interactive techniques in his teaching, drawing freely from his experiences in numerous musical forms.  Tom is from Union.

“We are really proud of the learning opportunities that each artist on the roster provides to our schools and communities in Maine,” said Argy Nestor, Director of Arts Education at the Arts Commission.

In addition to overseeing the teaching artist roster along with many other arts education programs and services offered by the Arts

Kal Elmore

Commission, Argy organizes the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Mega-Regional Conferences. Maine educators from PK-higher education are invited to participate in this year’s professional development opportunity at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in South Paris, Friday, March 23 at 8:30 – 3:15 p.m.  The workshop facilitators are Maine arts educators who will have dynamic ideas to share.

Since 2011, MALI has provided opportunities for hundreds of educators with inspirational workshops, presentations, and webinars at the school, district, regional, state, and national level. More information and event registration for the 2018 MALI Mega Regional is available here.

Russell Kaback

The Maine Arts Commission currently administers the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative as part of one of its five priorities, fostering PK-12 lifelong arts education programs, in its five-year cultural plan, Fortifying Maine’s Creativity & Culture. To learn more about any of the Maine Arts Commission’s arts education funding opportunities or programs, please contact Argy Nestor, Director of Arts Education at or 207/287-2713.

Dana Legaweic

Tom Luther

The Maine Arts Commission supports artists, art organizations, educators, policy makers, and community developers in advancing the arts in Maine. For more than 50 years the Commission has encouraged and stimulated public interest and participation in the cultural heritage and cultural programs of our state; has worked to expand the state’s cultural resources; and encouraged and assisted freedom of artistic expression for the well-being of the arts, to meet the needs and aspirations of persons in all parts of the state. Additional information is available at



Arts Ed Grant Writing Tips

February 7, 2018

South Carolina Arts Commission

Recently my colleague, Ashley Kerns Brown, Arts Education Program Director at the South Carolina Arts Commission reached out to our network of arts ed directors at the state arts agencies across the country and asked a really great question: In all of your years granting money into arts organizations and classrooms, what would be your number 1 tip for a classroom teacher writing a grant? From her knowledge and the responses she received she put together an informative blog post that is filled with great advice. She provided permission to re-post it so I’ve provided part of it below. I’m sure those of you who are writing grants will find it useful and will want to read the entire blog post on the Palmetto State Arts Education which is a network of professionals dedicated to
​advancing learning in and through the arts for all students. Ashley serves on their board.

I was in graduate school when I wrote my first “big grant application” and was so confident I decided to share it with an advisor about 24 hours before it was due. You know, to get a little pat on the back before submitting. So imagine my shock when she called and asked, “Have you submitted this to the University’s Department of Sponsored Research?” Cue record scratch. No. No I had not submitted it to the Department of Sponsored Research. I had no idea what the Department of Sponsored Research was or how it was about to make the next 24 hours one of the biggest learning experiences of my life.

What I soon discovered was that our University’s internal process involved approval by the Department Chair (who was out of town) and the Dean (who was out on medical leave), more paperwork than the actual grant application itself (including a waiver for biomedical test subjects), and an average processing time of 2-3 weeks. The University recommended submitting grant applications to the Department of Sponsored Research a full month before they were due, and I had 24 hours. Over those 24 hours I made a lot of people angry, broke a lot of trust, and learned a lot of lessons.

Now that I am on the other end of grant making I try to share those and other lessons with teachers and arts organizations. I get how frustrating, confusing, and overwhelming grant writing can be and understand the urge to give up. But I also understand that grants can mean a child experiences the magic of theatre for the first time. They can mean an art teacher acquires the supplies to teach print making to a future designer. Grants can help narrow gaps, improve equity, and be the reason a child holds an instrument in their hands and thinks “I can do this.”

Below are my top tips for navigating the world of grants. Grant writing is a skill that improves with practice. So don’t give up – because you never know the impact your next grant can make in your program or classroom. Oh, and that first big grant I wrote? We did end up receiving funding. And I got to see firsthand how this frustrating, overwhelming, and confusing process can lead to life-changing experiences for students.

Before You Begin Writing

  • Give yourself time. Make a calendar of grant-related dates that includes technical assistance sessions, internal due dates, and any follow-up dates (such as when final reports are due).
  • Find the grant to fit the program, not the other way around. You don’t need to do programmatic gymnastics to fit a square peg into a round hole. If a grant isn’t the right fit for your need, it just isn’t the right fit – and that is ok.
  • Have a short- and long-term vision. One of my favorite quotes is “Strategy without vision has no direction. Vision without strategy is a wish.” Know where you want to go but also know how you’re going to get there.
  • Look at previous grant awardees. Many granting organizations post previous award winners on their website. This can show you the kinds of programs or projects that have received funding in the past. 

READ the entire blog post if you found the above helpful!

If you’re interested in applying for funding for the Maine Arts Learning grants please go to

Thank you Ashley for collaborating and your willingness to share the blog post!

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