Celebrating Teachers of the Arts

I’m pretty excited as I go back to school tomorrow, because one of the projects I’m helping with is a day for Arts teachers in our Board (drama, dance, visual art, music).  For a long time I’ve watched my husband Steve, (drama teacher extraordinaire), work his magic in his classes, production courses and extra-curricular events, and I believe there is so much that teachers of all other subjects can learn from our teachers of the Arts.

I’ve decided to start the day introducing the teachers to Pecha Kucha by creating one that celebrates their wonderful skills (they’ll like the creativity boost that comes with the economy of Pecha Kucha).  I am inspired by this quote from David Booth’s book entitled Story Drama:

“This is the drama teacher’s struggle:    listening, watching, setting up situations that will foreshadow the direction of the journey, knowing when to intervene, when to use a particular strategy to open up discussion, to move the students into action, to cause them to pause, to reflect, to rethink, and all this without predetermining the learning, the content, the meat of the lesson.”

What hit me is that this quote really typifies the kind of work we all ought to be doing in our classrooms.  The delicate dance of teaching involves watching, inspiring, coaching, providing choices, respecting, motivating and providing rich content experiences…such a complex task indeed!

What is so amazing to watch is how through drama, Steve promotes what we want in the best learning environments:

  • an understanding that knowledge is a private reflection until we give it social value by transforming it in some way so that it can be represented publicly
  • an understanding of the critical role of building community in an environment where all voices are valued and taking risks is safe
  • differentiating how meaning is conveyed to include word, image, sound or gesture
  • a balance of focus on process and product
  • including the teacher (co-learner) as an integral part of the learning, both inside and outside of the drama
  • exploring different perspectives,  promoting higher level thinking such as analyzing, evaluating, creating
  • how understanding the big picture allows students to demonstrate their ability to synthesize
  • turning assessment into something immediate, descriptive and supportive of the whole group
  • stepping inside the past (or an issue) giving a personal connection to the curriculum
  • that drama work is never quite finished and reflection is a constant part of the process

The teachers I’m spending the day with are wondering how technology might help them with their teaching in the arts.  These teachers have, of course, always been really good users of technology – it’s just been paint, masks, props, instruments, music etc.  It’s going to be wonderful to have such a strong pedagogy base to work with.  Our focus can now move to how digital technology and Web 2.0 tools might continue to enrich their programs, for starters:

  • finding authentic audiences beyond the classroom, school or community walls
  • archiving students’ work in easy to access ways
  • provide spaces for reflection and conversation in new ways
  • using new digital tools that allow the blend of images, sound and text to express meaning

Think about the arts teachers you know.  How are they embracing technology?  Please share any comments or examples you might have so that I can share with this group of teachers next month.  Thanks!

David Booth (2005)  Story Drama
Jonothan Neelands (1998) Role Influenced Writing (in Writing in Role)
Elliot Eisner (2003) The Arts and the Creative Mind
Kathleen Gallagher (2004) Imagining Theatre and the Arts


  1. Brenda,
    I LOVE this post!

    You have made so many great points. Let me please focus on two. 🙂

    First, “an understanding that knowledge is a private reflection until we give it social value by transforming it in some way so that it can be represented publicly”.

    Whoa! This flies in the face of the current pathological fad for public knowledge construction where, although reflection is given lip-service, everything is to be made public and then reflected upon. (This appears to be a parallel structure to Shirky’s observation of “Filter then publish” vs “Publish then filter”.) You know that I crave the private reflection and advocate for it. I also believe in reflecting publicly – don’t get me wrong. I just really like this quote you have used. There is a valuing of both. And how often do we complain about the simplistic dichotomies that are often touted.

    Second, “focusing on process not product”. Speaking of dichotomies! 🙂 I know I shouldn’t be as picky and always take these on because I believe that often the ‘intent’ is the message – not the exact words. I believe the intent is that the ‘focus’ is on process, and sometimes where the product is not critical, all energies are also put into the process. However, the danger is that this statement “focusing on process not product” is then widely interpreted as the “product doesn’t matter”. It may sound picky – but this happens with MANY of these dichotomous statements.

    So ‘focusing’ on the process is critical as reflective, deliberate, well-rounded, & inclusive thoughts about the process will result in a better product. So it is not that the product isn’t important, it is. It is that developing powerful process skills will improve both process and product – AND their interrelationships and multiple continua.

    too early…too much coffee… 🙂

    Thx for this.
    I hope you focus lots of your efforts in these areas. I have much to learn.


  2. Thanks for your thoughts…it’s helps me develop my message for that day. I think you’re right…I need to reflect on the “focus on process not product” because of course the arts are indeed very product oriented! Art is very much about the product…be it a performance, a painting, a sculpture, a dance, or a piece of music. Maybe I should be saying a “balanced focus on process and product?”


  3. ‘Maybe I should be saying a “balanced focus on process and product?” ‘

    Maybe. Well, we need to struggle a bit with this, I think.

    I think that in some ways it’s semantics. We DO want them focusing on ‘process’ with the end game of having better processes and product. For if you focus on product without due attention to process, the product will suffer. And, if you focus on the process without regard for product – product may suffer.
    I think we need to unpack ‘process’ and ‘product’. Under some circumstances, my ‘product’ may be ‘process’.
    Hmmmm…part of this, once again relates to ‘mindfulness’ and being ‘in the moment’. Being ‘in the moment’ is process in action – but is not reflection on the process.

    gotta think more.


  4. Brenda,
    The quote you used from David Booth and the attributes of learning environments truly resonated with me and for some reason quickly brought to mind coaching. 🙂 Hope you don’t mind my remixing them just a bit to add richness to our PLP connected coaching work?


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