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Community-Word Convenes Teaching Artists for New School Year

Craig Hayes

Craig Hayes, STAFF

Community-Word Project recently convened forty Teaching Artists to prepare for the new school year. We challenged Teaching Artists to re-ignite their creative spark during our annual retreat. The format took it’s cues from the workbook and workshops ofTeaching Artist Caits Meissner.

Community-Word Project nurtures artistic community in schools and strives to create that environment for our Teaching Artists, bolstering their creative passions and giving them support as they tackle all the challenges that come with the academic year.

You pushed us to use different ways of learning, the way we should do with our students. You allowed us to share and incorporate our own influences and experiences. You created a space that inspired us to be open and ask questions.

There are myriad factors that can cause Teaching Artists to lose that initial spark that led them to teach. Overwhelmed classroom teaching partners, crowded classes, a complex Department of Education calendar, national and state standards, testing schedules, fiscally-strapped school communities, lack of time all lead to burn out and attrition rates among teachers.

Over the course of two days in September at The Secret Theatre in Queens, our Teaching Artists explored best practices for building strong classroom culture and developing relationships with classroom teachers and school administrators.

One thing I am taking away from the retreat is the Classroom Teacher-Teaching Artist relationship-building explorations.

Teaching Artists also dove deep into their creative elements as artists. Exploring ways to re-ignite the creative spark that drives them to create and educate.

I was challenged to get out of my comfort zone – while getting into other art forms. I was exposed to arts-integration work that included my art form, a “core” subject, and another art form. Making art during the retreat and training was really helpful. The Staff Retreat was fantastic!

Pamella Allen and Lisa Gutting, two veteran Community-Word Project Teaching Artists, led a visual art and poetry workshop on the creation of poetic mandalas. The group exercise led to a deeper discussion about how to design a curriculum that aligns with the Common Core State Standards while cultivating the creative values artists bring to the classroom. 

Bianca Garcia, Poet and Community-Word Project Teaching Artist, led a poetry workshop on the subject of clichés. Tired of seeing students use the same old tired language, Bianca wrote every cliché she could conjure on scraps of paper. She then scattered them across the floor. The group was asked to take two of the slips and create a unique, found poem by blending the over-used clichés they picked.

Mixed Media Artist and new member of the teaching staff, Andrea Goldman, shared an exercise called, "I Can't Funeral." She asks her students to call out all the things they can't do and then have a "funeral" for those seemingly insurmountable things. It is important for artists and educators to face obstacles head on and keep learning and growing as the Teaching Artist profession evolves.

The facilitators guided, supported, and challenged us with opportunities to learn experientially from veteran Teaching Artists: special needs students with Scott Lilly; the mandala exercise with Pamella Allen and Lisa Gutting; all of Bianca Garcia's exercises - it all helped me tremendously.

Most poignant were the opportunities for deep reflection on what it is to be an artist and how we bring our art to the classroom in a meaningful way. As educators and artists we strive to bring awareness to our students, to think about the "why”.

Our job as Teaching Artists is to encourage students to develop imaginative, critical, and creative responses to the world around them. We are faced with obstacles each year. There are many factors that can cause burn out. The support of our Teaching Artist Community, however, gives us the renewed strength to enter each classroom armed with our passion, remembering, like we tell our students, that mystery is part of the fun.

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