by AFA Intern Taylor Valentine, June 2017

For my final entry as a volunteer with Arts For All, I’d like to embark on a little investigation: Is Teaching considered an Art?

True, it is considered many things: it is a vocation, or dare I say, a job; a type of career; and a part of the education field at large. But is it an art? My answer: YES. Definitively. And I am not just limiting this classification to teaching artists. No, no – calculus, physics, and gym teachers can all be considered artists, too. Though the subjects and curricula may not have an artistic bent, if the instruction is delivered with creativity and intention, then the result can be nothing short of inspirational and transformative.

Edgar Degas, the famous French impressionist painter, once said: “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Couldn’t have said it better, Mr. Degas. Merci! Because, isn’t that true? If you look at a picture, watch a performance, or read a piece of writing that allows you to see, learn or feel something, you are in fact experiencing art. So shouldn’t the same be said for instruction? If art is defined as “the various branches of creative activity” and “something that is created with skill and imagination”, then couldn’t we propose that any form of instruction could be considered art, if it is approached with imagination and executed with creativity by a skilled purveyor of said instruction?

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

This was said by a guy who some may not think as a creative type. You know him as Albert Einstein. So put into our context: if we teach creatively, it follows then that we learn creatively. Right? Well, we hope so. A lot of that is up to the student: even if they make a creative dance move – leap, spin, and flip – they still have to land it. Execute, as any dedicated coach would say. But the more creative we teachers can be in delivering the information, knowledge, skills, steps, elements, equations, formulas, paradigms, timelines, charts, processes, rules, facts, vocabulary, and minutiae of any given subject, the more active, inspirational and imaginative the learning can be for our students, which in turn makes it easier to engage, remember and retain.

Now, saying that rudimentary mathematics is not inherently fun may be overstating it. After all both math and science have a lot of visual aspects to them, from lines, graphs and charts to anatomical drawings. However, by adding music to the learning of the periodic table or equating math to sports (there’s a reason there are competitors called ‘mathletes’), we can begin to engage students that wouldn’t have necessarily been interested in the first place. And if we can stick a landing using a creative bent on a non-creative topic, then not only are we as teachers executing, we are expanding our capacity to engage and thereby developing our ability to teach effectively.

Lastly, as Maya Angelou said so beautifully, “You can’t use up creativity – the more you use, the more you have.” Creativity comes from within, and the more you till the soil, the more plentiful it will be. I urge you to be creative in everything you do. Teaching artists – remember you are not just an artist who teaches, you are a teacher who arts. And to you in-school teachers, tenured professors, master scholars and teaching fellows: challenge yourselves to be creative in the delivery of your content and your students imaginative in the receiving of it. And keep yourself fresh by continually developing professionally while, at the same time, thinking a little differently. Do an activity while you come up with your next lesson plan. Take a class that seemingly has nothing to do with your subject or specialty. Make the time to go to the theatre, a gallery or a poetry reading. Anything to help your imagination come alive and stay alive.

Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” – W.B. Yeats

by AFA Intern Taylor Valentine, May 2017

“Class, today I’d like to teach you about empathy.”

“Huh? Can you do that? Isn’t empathy when you feel sorry for someone?”

“No, no, that’s sympathy…”

“Wait…Mr. V… you want to teach me how to not have feeling about anything?”

“Actually, I believe you’re thinking of the word apathy. And what I want to do is quite the opposite.”

“Oh, I know empathy. It’s like that chick from X-men. She takes on the powers and emotions of any character she touches.”

“Uh, now we’re getting closer…I think. Let me see if I can explain…”

And therein lies the problem. I can explain, give you a definition, and/or show you examples. But how do I teach empathy? And how do you learn empathy? I believe that as teaching artists, teaching empathy is an outright duty – layering compassion in to the learning of our doers and makers of tomorrow. Why is it so essential? Maybe, for example, because wars are waged and laws enacted because we often lose perspective of where people are coming from and refuse to understand why they do what they do. Unfortunately, people often don’t make time for other people, even in their daily approach: whether it is saying hello at work, giving up a seat for others on the train, simply smiling at others on the street, or countless examples of basic empathy. We forget to shift the focus from the self on to the other and relate it back to the self. And if we as adults are not practicing empathy every day, won’t our kids act accordingly? So it is imperative we start in the classroom.

First, let’s break it down. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. The two principal aspects of empathy are cognitive – taking another’s perspective – and affective – sharing the emotion of others. The first can be summed up beautifully in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus Finch says to Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.” This encapsulates empathy perfectly. I use this quote with my students a lot because it is an immediate link to understanding someone else. It also engages the imagination while implying transference of energy from the self to the other. In theatre, this is a very useful prompt to help actors get into character and really understand their intentions.

What about affective empathy? How do you teach students to feel how others are feeling? Though we must stay vigilant and layer our teaching with different approaches to empathy, I contend that we, in fact, cannot teach people how to feel. I believe we can give them tools and be a model ourselves in helping to access their capacity for shared emotion, but really it is up to them. And the more exposure one has to it, the more chances they will have.

As a theatre artist, empathy comes with the territory. Our approach to the art form is imbued with exercises that explore perspective and emotion, as the art itself is inextricably linked with empathy.

But some of us are not teaching the performing arts. Some of us teach writing or visual arts or music arts or math or science and the practices within do not necessarily promote empathy. So what are some entry points for teaching artists (TAs) and teachers out there?

First, I would urge all of us to practice it in our own lives, especially if we have young children. Secondly, as we teach our students, no matter the grade, we must remember to use language that promotes empathy, both with lessons and classroom management. Notice the difference here:

“Class, remember, your self-written monologues are due next week. We will be moving on to journalistic writing, so there won’t be any time to finish the assignment after that.”

VERSUS

“Remember, my friends, your self-written monologues are due next class. If you have any questions, I’m available during lunch to help out. I encourage you to get these done as soon as possible, since we are changing units next week!”

Framing our language properly can go a long way toward avoiding offense, being inclusive and opening access to how students understand any given situation. Some empathetic phrases to put into practice: “I saw”, “I felt”, “I need”, “I request”, “I encourage”, and “I urge”.

To close, here are some approaches and exercises we use in rehearsal that can be modified to fit your classroom.

Role-Playing: If you are teaching humanities, one great technique is to prompt your students to research and embody one of the figures from your curriculum. To this day, one of my most memorable moments from middle school was to characterize a member of the Constitutional Convention then debate an item from the Constitution and why it was important to be included. Any similar role-playing approach that can be applied in a non-dramatic subject will be a very effective way of not only teaching the subject, but also allowing for empathy.

Ask Questions: This may seem straightforward, but it’s easy to forget. How can we encourage empathy in our students if we do not empathize with them? Ask them questions – what have you been up to…how was your weekend…what are you interested in right now…how did you feel about the election? Not only will this breed trust between you and your students, but it will also provide working knowledge for you on how to engage them and promote students’ willingness to ask questions themselves.

Reflection: This is an important tool in any classroom, certainly. But we can shape it to be meaningful, both personally and universally. At the end of a lesson or a week or a unit, take some time to hear from some students about one of their successes and one of their challenges. Then in response, or as the student is sharing, establish a hand signal/gesture that others’ can use if they agree or shared the same experience as the student reflecting. Shout-outs are encouraged as well – pointing out publicly when a student behaved in an empathetic way goes a long way in teaching empathy. Additionally, during reflection, ask for shout-outs where another student calls out something positive and empathetic that another student did.

Active listening: Particularly in behavior management and in conflict resolution, one tried and true technique is to repeat back what the other said before you go forward with your own side of things. Evidence shows that by repeating what you heard and affirming that “I understand”, we are slowing down our jerk reactions and allowing for cognition. By actively listening to the other, we are focused less on what we are preparing to say and are more on understanding where they are coming from in the dispute.

Exercises: Really, there are so many activities in the theatre chest that could be used to encourage empathy and compassion. Here are just a few. These are traditionally used as openers or closers, but could be incorporated as seen fit:

* Rhythm and Repeat – Each student does their own four-beat rhythm, class repeats

* Circle Share – go around the circle and each person shares, starting with the same phrase, i.e. “One time when I was 10, I…” or “I felt hurt by…”

* Talk Show: One student interviews the other with a set of questions, some background and some personal and then during share-out must try to tell the rest of class from memory

* Sculpting – In pairs, using a given theme/topic from teacher, student must “sculpt” the other into what the sculptor believes best embodies that topic

* Tableaux – Using emotion words or states of being, smaller groups have a few seconds to embody an image of said emotion. Observers can then re-shape the tableaux to better describe the given emotion. Variation: one student enters and takes pose representing said emotion, then another enters and poses based on what the previous student did.

* The Tree – I cannot do the description of this exercise justice. Go here for a great description as well as a handful of other Improv exercises useful for teaching empathy.

I hope this has been a helpful entry point into the world of teaching empathy. Again, it’s not the subject of a lesson as much as it is the approach to the lesson. I hope you can find some useful tidbits, and if nothing else, remember Atticus…

“You never really understand a person…until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.”

by AFA Intern Taylor Valentine, April 2017

Hello all,

Having been asked to use this forum to investigate aspects of the arts-in-education field, I’d like to focus on the area that envelops me at the moment – the world of the Teaching Artist, affectionately known as a TA. Being one myself, over the next few posts I’d like to explore the aspects of what it takes to be an effective teaching artist, and how the TA bridges the gap between art and education. After all, the title is not Artist; nor is it Teacher. Teaching Artist: the cultural ambassador of the world at large to the schools at large.

While I could start at many launch points, I would like to begin with COMMAND. What a word, eh? It is a word that sounds like what it means. Actually, I found 16 variations on the definition. So it is an important word that represents an important action. Here are the three meanings I would like to focus on, as it relates to the Teaching Artist:

  1. v. To deserve and receive (respect, sympathy, attention, etc.);
  2. v. To be in charge; have authority
  3. n. Expertise; mastery

Command of your art

Having command of your art and vocation – expertise or mastery – is a beautiful thing. It brings in audiences and onlookers, which means your story is being heard or you’re obtaining results. It breeds reliability –booking the regular gig; wrapping the shoot in a timely fashion; finishing all your pieces in time for the gallery show, etc. Perhaps most importantly, it also allows for freedom. If you have command of what you do as an artist, you then have the freedom to improvise. And if you find yourself flailing within that exploration, you can always re-calibrate by getting back to who you are and what you do best.

As a teaching artist, I cannot stress how important this is. Yes, you were hired because you are highly skilled at what you do. But more to the point, your command of your art is a foundation for the instruction you are giving to your students. Your training, your professional work, your anecdotes all feed into the conversations and lessons that you regularly deliver. The arts organization, the school and the classroom teacher have put their trust in you because you are the expert. And so have the students – they are relying on you for knowledge and growth. No pressure, right? As such, we teaching artists must stay vigilant in pursuit of this mastery – it is our responsibility. For even as we reach one marker, the rules change or the field evolves or the competition gets stiffer, or, hopefully, our students get smarter.

Commanding the room and their respect

Here’s a not so hypothetical for you: You slept well, had a good breakfast, and are well plied with coffee. It’s a sunny day and you are even early to class, and you are thrilled about your fun, extensive lesson plan. Couldn’t be better, right?

Well, my friends, you know what they say about best-laid plans, especially if children are involved. You walk into class and begin, and the students are all over the place. They won’t follow directions. They won’t focus. They simply will not listen. Maybe it’s the first warm day of the year; or they had birthday cake the previous period; or it’s the last day before break; or they just had lunch; or they’re about to go to lunch; or there was a fight in the cafeteria; or they’re just plain tired. Hard to say why – but what’s important is that you get their attention back. Because if you don’t command the room, chaos reigns and it’s safe to say that class will be the longest 40 minutes of your life.

I would posit that many (if not all) TAs go through this with each of their classrooms at least once. Hopefully, the classroom teacher whose class you are in can help out with management. But, really, it is up to us TAs to have authority from Day 1, because the reality is that the teacher is using your presence to take care of a slew of other things. So – how do we command the classroom? Their attention? Their respect? By no means do I have all the answers, but here are a few strategies that we can employ as TAs in order to obtain and maintain authority. Remember, command of the room and their respect must be earned not expected.

Being an expert – Ah yes, back to that. When in doubt, rely on your art. The more knowledgeable you are with your content, the more confident you will be in managing your students. And the more interested your students will be in the content. This will also allow you to adjust your plan on the fly, because you have the extensive toolkit to pull from, in case your current plan isn’t working.

Reading the Room – Keep your eye on the troublemakers, the attention-getters, the hyperactives, the lone wolf, etc. Understanding how the dynamics of your students’ behavior are affecting the room can give you a leg up in getting their attention.

Diversifying your approach – Because students have different styles of learning, we TAs must be conscious of how we teach, too. Though visual art may be what you’re teaching, it’s important to remember not all students are visual learners. Same with theatre – some kids don’t want to move or speak, they just want to draw. So how can we achieve our lesson objective and do our best to reach all our students? The best teachers I have seen integrate a multitude of techniques throughout their lessons, from a physical warm-up to chart paper/smart board instruction to sign language cues to musical transitions to collaborative group work. Don’t be afraid to mix it up – this will go a long way in keeping your students on their toes, and wondering ‘what’s next?’.

Building a structure – We humans do love routine. Integrate call and response; incorporate opening and closing rituals; give your students an activity to rely on every class, and then allow individuals to lead it. This structure also gives you something to fall back on when all hell is about to break loose.

Staying ahead of them – I cannot stress this enough. The more you give students time and space to think about what they’re doing, the more likely they will get distracted, especially as they get older. This is not to say we should not allow for reflection with the students. On the contrary – the most effective TAs weave in reflection throughout their lesson. But if you feel the energy dip in the room, it’s quite possible you’ve already lost their interest. So stay ahead of them – build a lesson plan that doesn’t allow for too much down time between exercises. As my theatre teacher always said, “Keep the ball in the air!”

Keeping it fun – Because, really, art is fun. And students have to sit through a whole day’s worth of lessons they may not deem very exciting. So let your class be that for them. Always bring joy into the classroom and keep it fun!

To close, I should remind us TAs and anyone whose task it is to command a room for any given time, you don’t have to earn your spot at the front of the room, you’re already there. Trust yourself. Trust your art form and/or knowledge. Breathe. Let that confidence live in you and emanate, and you will be heard and be seen. Believe it.

We are pleased to welcome Natalia Durango and Taylor Valentine, interns from the Community Word Project’s Teaching Artists Training & Internship Program, Spring 2017! Get to know Natalia and Taylor.

NATALIA DURANGO

Intern-Natalia-PictureI was born and raised in Colombia. I moved to the U.S.A in 1996. It was a huge transition for my family and I. Despite the change, I was very enthusiastic in learning about other cultures. It was the first time ever I was exposed to such a multicultural experience that impacted the way I perceive the world. I am fascinated about learning different traditions and cultures. I got my B.A from Hunter College in Political Science. However, I am very passionate about the power of the Arts as a vehicle for social change. Right after I graduated from College I got involved with the IRC (International Rescue Committee) and worked as a refugee mentor teaching ESL classes and as a career advisor. In that moment I realized that I had a strong commitment towards social justice and activism. In addition to that I had always been passionate about Dance and the impact that dance education has have in my life. So I started to pursue a career where I could merge my passion for arts, activism and education. Inspired by a strong connection with different cultures and traditions I started training in: West African, Congolese, Haitian, Bhangra and Capoeira among others. Right after that I traveled to Brazil, to train in Afro-Brazilian Dance and Capoeira. During my trip to Brazil we had the opportunity to run a dance and arts project with a local orphanage and it was my first experience, and life changing experience to clearly see the importance of arts education for children. Inspired by this experience I made my personal mission to bring the transformative power of arts to communities that do not have access to creative outlets. Since then I have worked with different projects creating more artistic and safe spaces for community building and access to the arts. As an Arts-Educator I seek to empower underserved communities to develop their creative competencies, build self-esteem, trust and acceptance. I am really interested and passionate about using Dance and Movement as a healing tool and as an important avenue for self-expression. I have facilitated several movement and creative art workshops in Latin America with at risk communities including: displaced people, victims of armed conflict and in conflict resolution, and the arts have partaken a crucial role in fostering emotional well-being by enhancing their quality of life.

I am a huge advocate for arts access for all, that’s why I am thrilled to be interning with Arts for All and help them advance their mission and vision by bringing equal access to artistic opportunities for children within the New York City Public Schools so they can build self-confidence, self-expression, teamwork, resilience, and creativity in children.

TAYLOR VALENTINE: “Be seen. Be heard. Believe.”

Intern-Taylor-PictureHello world! My name is Taylor Valentine, and I’m honored to be one of the newest members of the Arts For All team. I was born into this world an extremely energetic actor, and from as early as I can remember I was drawn to the stage and all its glory…and its vulnerability. Over the years, I have evolved to become a (still energetic) teaching artist, director, acting coach (sometimes-actor), husband to the best woman I know, and father of the one-and-only Frances Wren. I take undying pleasure in working with kids and empowering them to discover – and uncover – their bodies, voices and imaginations.

Speaking of which – you may be wondering about the title of my post. Those direct prompts are the three principles of acting and theatre. No question. We use our bodies to be seen; our voices to be heard; and our imaginations to believe and immerse ourselves in the stories we are telling. Interestingly enough, the more I use these principles in my teaching, the more I find them to be an essential philosophy in building the foundation of many things: stories, relationships, community, confidence, creativity. Think about it- without lifting a pencil, opening a door, or dishing out a dime, we humans are already armed with all the tools we need to make a difference. Like I tell my students “if you believe, we’ll believe”…

Which is why I’m here, in a way. Through a partnership between Arts For All and another arts organization called Community Word Project, in whose TA training program I am currently enrolled, I am now a connecting dot in the larger arts education community. By making my voice heard and believing in what I want, it is now my responsibility to not only broaden my own artistic and educational horizons, but also those of the arts education world at large. And what better place to do it than NYC – a hub of all things arts?!

Look at that last phrase – sound familiar? All things arts. Arts for All. I have no doubt I am right where I am supposed to be and I am so pleased to join the AFA journey.

More soon!

By Raziyah Eure

May 27, 2016

Recently I attended my first Face to Face Conference. Like anyone who is attending something for the first time, I was filled with a little anxiety not knowing what to expect. For those who may not know Face to Face is a conference centered on Arts Education. After attending my first break out session, I went to the first keynote address. The keynote speaker was Mark Bamuthi Joseph. He was someone I’d never heard of but, trust me, after reading this you’ll want to seek out his work.

Joseph is an artist, performer, poet, curator, and educator, whose primary focus is on social action and community revitalization. He is the Chief of Program and Pedagogy at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. He is also the founding program director of the nonprofit Youth Speaks, as well as the Co-Founder of Life is Living. They have a series of one-day festivals that, through the use of Hip-Hop, focuses on environmental action. He is also a recipient of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship, the winner of the 2011 Alpert Award in theater, the recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, and the list goes on and on and on.

But his accolades aren’t what caught my eye, but what he does for a living. From my understanding he asks questions to deconstruct social issues, and centers his programs on answering these questions. This enticed me because I am person who likes to ask these very broad and thoughtful questions. I never would have thought that one could create a successful program based on answering questions. This past year, his group studied and answered the questions:

“Can we design freedom?”

“What does equality look like?”

“Why citizenship?”

These are questions that really make you stop and think about our community: What are we creating, and what are we allowing to continue the cycle in the world? This is directly connected to many of the social issues going on in Black communities. As a person of color, it is amazing to hear that there is a constant conversation going on.

At the conference he asked the audience questions like:

“What if, besides genes, we could pass down freedom?”

“How is my labor creating the culture I want to see?”

“What are the two things I love to do that would be essential to my freedom design?”

It was funny because he spoke of a center he had which was called The Center for Art and Doing Something About It, and it amazes me because a lot of times we complain about issues, but we don’t actually do something about it. Regardless, he really got the conversation going at this event and I was more than happy that I got to be a part of it.

His work is really inspiring and this is only a snippet of what he does. The world needs more people like him who use the arts to create dialogue and teach others. Without people like him, people will continue to be ignorant of the reality of a lot of social issues that happen in their own community.

These are videos of his spoken word pieces, only one of his many talents.

By Intern, Raziyah Eure

May 20, 2016

About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend my very first Face to Face Conference, which is sponsored by Arts in Education Roundtable. This conference was created to gather people who believe in the importance of Arts Education, it’s power, and to have conversations about everything it entails. This being my first time being exposed to a large mass who’s lives revolve around advocating and teaching arts, I have to say it was a bit intimidating since I haven’t had as much experience in this field of work. Like any conference, there were two days of breakout sessions, as well as keynote speakers, and you can’t forget food. There were also a few short film screenings made by students. One showed the difficulty of being an immigrant student. Another showed the harsh reality of bullying and how a young boy with a stutter is affected by it. They had sessions ranging from “How to Create Advocacy Programs”, “How to DIY”, “How to make your presence known on Social Media”, reviewing the new arts core standards, the conversation surrounding how we create a diverse society, and so many more interesting topics.

My time spent at the Face to Face conference was one that was filled with learning and being surrounded by some pretty amazing people that are doing awesome things to build a better community within the arts. They had a host of different opportunities in the city listed. During the conference they had a “Making Art Together” station where there was a special art installation piece that all participants at the conference could add to. It was guided by the Staten Island Children’s Museum, and inspired by the work an artist, El Anatsui. The piece consisted of little foil pieces that you could manipulate, color, or draw on.

Face to Face 2016 Collage“Making Art Together” piece at Face to Face

From the conference, I’ve learned the importance of advocating for something you believe in. Here some important tools I took away from the conference when it comes to advocating that I think are useful for everyone

  • You have to make sure that you are well connected with others
  • You have to have strategic planning to create concrete change
  • It is important that you build the community first because that’s where the real change begins
  • You have to get people to believe in what your advocating for you and you can do this by showing how it affects their life
  • You need to be all inclusive of the community you serving and make sure you are inviting everyone into what you are doing to ensure you have others to speak positively on the programs you are creating
  • You need to build personal relationships with others, its not always about what others can give you
  • Most importantly you need to continue the conversation on what you are fighting for so that it gets continued exposure

 

This advice can help any one that wants to have not only a successful non-profit but a successful business. Even if you aren’t someone who is an advocate of Arts Education its important that you always take the time out to experience different cultures like the arts community because you’ll be surprised what you can learn.