How often do you encourage your students to do things you don’t actually do yourself like read for pleasure every day or treat mistakes as valuable learning opportunities? I believe a teacher can facilitate Arts Integration without being a practicing artist, but I also believe that the more you, the teacher, connect with your inner artist, the richer your teaching will be and the more committed to Arts Integration you will become.
I earned a Master of Education degree in the field of Arts Integration and thought I really believed in Arts Integration until the true test arrived, my final thesis. In my program I was required not only to write a paper but also to create an arts component to my thesis. My thesis focused on the power of arts to change people and discussed how teachers who made art changed who they were as people through the art/meaning-making process and therefore changed themselves as educators as well. However, when it came time to create a work of art that somehow expressed this idea, I was stumped. Every fiber in my being resisted the process. I cried, I ranted, I stomped around feeling paralyzed by the very idea and feeling completely incapable of the task at hand.
When I had finally exhausted myself to the point of surrender, the idea came to me. My mind conceived a dance that ultimately expressed my thesis far more eloquently than my written words ever could have. It was the best thing that could possibly have happened to me at the end of such a rich and rewarding course of study. At the conclusion of the evening of my thesis presentation, a woman in the audience whom I had never met walked up to me and simply stated, “Thank you for saying that.” I was astounded and exhilarated; I had used the language of dance to communicate a complex idea that resonated with a complete stranger. I had created art.
Naturally I was a believer in Arts Integration before I enrolled in my masters program and I had lots of mini-epiphanies and exciting art-making experiences during the course of the program but my passion and dedication to the field increased tenfold that night. That was by far the hardest thing I had ever had to do, and it was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. When I pause to remember and reflect on the complexity of the process I had to go through, the level of risk I had to engage in, the response of my fellow classmates and other audience members, and the greater sense of self and personal empowerment I gained all from expressing my thesis as a dance, I am re-energized to bring this kind of learning to our schools and our children.
I share all this with you for one simple reason, to encourage and motivate you to connect with your inner artist. Take a concept you are teaching your students, take an important idea you learned from a professional development workshop, take a personal or professional issue with which you are currently grappling and express that idea through art. Find a fitting analogy or metaphor and act it out, dance it out, draw or sculpt or paint or collage it out, sing it out. Find a piece of music that seems to sum it all up for you and write out why. Create a poem or a children’s story to express the essence of the idea. Grab your camera and start shooting photos that capture that essence. Notice to what art form you gravitate or challenge yourself by embracing an art form that intimidates you.
You are a classroom teacher. You are practical and you are busy. You do not have time to nurture your inner artist. Those are exactly the reasons why you must! If you allow yourself to do this just once per semester or commit to doing it once a month, you will be a more invested learner and a more committed Arts Integration educator. Just try it and see if you don’t transform yourself in some little or even big way.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.