EPISODE 19: THE STORY ABOUT

the Benefits of
Teaching Artists

with Heleya de Barros

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You know, teaching artists are coming in and bringing that expertise. But the classroom teachers, you are really the experts on what your students need, you’re experts on how your students can experience things, and you give us so much more information to make it all the more successful.

Jamie
Summer can be the perfect time to start planning a teaching artist residency for your school. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in arts integration and STEAM. On today’s episode, we visit with Heleya de Barros, an actor, teaching artist and arts education advocate whose work focuses on how to use theater skills across disciplines. She is the director of arts education for Arts Corps in Seattle, Washington, and Executive Director of the Association of Teaching Artists, the oldest organization serving teaching artists in the United States. Welcome, Heleya. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Heleya
Absolutely. Thanks for having me.  

Jamie
Yes. So what is a teaching artist and what do they do?  

Heleya
So that’s a great question. Um, I define the teaching artist as an artist who teaches. I like to say that teaching artists are dually qualified. Right? Both as educators, also as working artists, um, are sort of what the field has deemed the grandfather of teaching artistry, Eric Booth, who I’m sure you are aware of. He has an official working definition that most people use, which is “a practicing professional artist with the complementary skills, curiosities and sensibilities of an educator who can effectively engage a wide range of people in learning experiences in, through and about the arts.”

Jamie
Whoa. What a definition! Okay…

Heleya
That’s a good one. So, like why I try to use another one, right, like he’s already done it for us?  

Jamie
Positively. So now that teachers are finally looking ahead to the 2020-2021 school year, how long does it typically take to plan a teaching artist visit? And is this something that we can potentially start this summer?  

Heleya
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, um, it really depends on what people are looking for in planning. I mean, you know, ah, teaching artists, just like educators, you know, use the similar sort of one-to-one prep-to-, prep-and-planning to teaching time, I would say. But, um uh, you know, it depends on where you are in the country. It depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a year-long collaboration with a teaching artist like yes, please get that sorted now. Um, and please reach out to teaching artists who are very much out of work right now because of COVID-19. Um, but, you know, it’s also really possible to set things up pretty quickly. If you’re looking for something, um, you know you’re going to be doing a unit on folk tales. And you think it would be really fun to bring an actor, a storyteller in for a couple of sessions to think about like how we’re gonna bring that off the page, maybe for the youth. Things like that can happen quickly also. I mean, I would say from the from the nonprofit perspective, you know, most people are starting to make their budgets around this time, so it’s helpful to know what their partnerships are going to be for the next year. But there’s so many ways to directly work with artists without having to go through large organizations, particularly with arts councils or just contracting with them directly. And there’s a lot more flexibility in that way. So, um, it just it sort of depends. 

Jamie
And I love that you brought up the idea of a year-long teaching artist residency and compared it to some shorter lengths of time. How long does the typical residency last, or does it really depend on maybe grade level or expectations of what the teaching artists will be teaching?  

Heleya
Yeah, again, it really depends on the art form. It depends on what you’re looking for. And again, it depends on who you’re partnering with. So, you know, for example, many museums will have teaching artists come in, you know, before or after students come to visit a museum on a field trip or before or after going to see a play or hear a piece of music at a symphony or an orchestra or something like that. And so those education departments within those larger cultural institutions they sometimes have, you know, set ways that it works. For instance, when I was like working at Lincoln Center Theater when I was in New York, if students were coming to see a play, there was always 4 sessions with the teaching artist, and that was that was the set model for that. There wasn’t sort of a lot of wiggle room with that. But if you’re looking to just bring an artist in to engage youth in a different and creative way or expose them into an art form that perhaps you don’t have experience doing, you really can ask for what you want. And that could be everything from a one-off, you know, come and do one workshop to it to a yearlong collaboration. It really depends.  

Jamie
I love that. So you alluded to being a teaching artist yourself. Of course, you are a theater person, and we want to hear about maybe residencies that you have done, but also residencies that your colleagues have done that just stand out as amazing examples of bringing a teaching artist into a pre K through 12th-grade environment and how there may be connecting to the core curriculum in a truly arts-integrated way.  

Heleya
Yeah. Oh my gosh, that’s like asking what your favorite kid is. Um, that’s a really hard question to answer. There’s so many, um, okay. So currently I live in Seattle Washington. I’m the director of arts education at Arts Corps, and we’re a multidisciplinary arts organization. We have a fantastic, amazing teaching artist named Sumayya. Um, she does African diasporac drumming, dancing, singing. Um, she has partnered for a number of years with one of the elementary schools in the Seattle Public School District with the PE Teache, the physical education teacher. So she comes in and does think she sees the students probably between four and five times in their PE class, doing drumming and dancing as a PE unit, right? Not something that this teacher, Mr Green, would ever probably do on his own. But a fantastic collaboration that’s been going on for a number of years now. Um, let’s see, middle school is, like, so often the age group that is overlooked, and doesn’t get a lot of programming – my favorite age group to work with though… I’m actually gonna talk about a residency I experienced as a middle schooler. Um, this is one of the, you know, I one of the first times I was like, Oh, you could also meld these two things being an artist and educator together. Um, I was in seventh grade and a teaching artist from Seattle Repertory Theater came in to do workshops with us both before and after going to see August Wilson’s Seven Guitars and it’s funny, like, uh, my family had would go to see plays there quite often too, and my dad had gotten our family tickets to this play before he knew I was going on a field trip to it. So I remember going to see the play with my family, actually, and giving them all this other information from the workshops that I had had with the teaching artists. And they were like, Oh, my gosh, like your really knowledgeable about like what we’re watching. And I knew all the historical background and I had read interviews with the actors, and it was a really deep and meaningful experience. And I remember that play maybe more than any that I’ve seen. Um, and I was a theater lover and saw a lot of theater. But but having an artist come in and make it a really special experience, and that’s not a play that you would immediately think a middle schooler in Seattle would relate to – right? And totally spurred me on to read so much more of August Wilson’s work later on in high school and in college. And I, um I don’t know that I would have done that without that experience. Um, and then my favorite high school program that I taught with is actually an applied theatre, um, curriculum, which is sort of I like to explain. Applied Theatre is using theater for things other than putting a play on. Um, So I worked with Lincoln Center Theater in a program called The Learning English and Drama Program, the LEAD program. So I would co-teach those classes with an, um, English as a new language teacher an ENL teacher. Um and these were mostly immigrant youth and we would take a book they were reading in their class, and we would turn it into a play for them to perform, working on their speaking skills, working on their expression skills, working on their pronunciation skills. Um, and we worked. I worked with a teacher on the Lower East Side. We did the House on Mango Street, I think, about eight times. Oh, and I just every time we did it with a new group of youth, we would discover new things about that story, And it was, um, also just really lovely to see how this classroom teacher, who was pretty shy when I first started working with her, really started to blossom over the five years that we collaborated together and started doing so many more fun and creative things in her class. I would like to think because of only me, but I think also because of the amazing professional development, Lincoln Center Theater was also giving her. 

 

Jamie
Sure, what an amazing experience, and definitely not one soon forgotten by students or teachers or teaching artists. So you talked about this collaboration with the ENL teacher, the English as a new language teacher? Do teaching artists typically collaborate with classroom teachers to plan residencies before they arrive? Or is it more so a process of you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit?  

Heleya
Yes, and an also… um, it’s the best scenario when there can be collaboration and co-planning. I’ll just say now for the teachers who are listening here, please pick organizations to partner with who pay their teaching artists for that planning time. Most of the time when there isn’t co-planning time, it’s because there isn’t funding to pay for it, right? And it’s a big ask. I understand. Also, to ask of the classroom teachers to take time aside to plan and co-plan. Um, and also to co-teach for things like that. You know, um, the program I was speaking about, LEAD, I mean, we were so luxurious in that we got equal amounts of co-planning time for every amount of, like hour that I had to co-teach – that is highly unusual. But the success of that program is is really deeply tied to the investment in the co-planning. Um, but yes, whenever possible, if you could be touching base with the teaching artist beforehand because it could be a really hard thing to be a guest coming into a classroom. You know, teaching artists are coming in and bringing that expertise, but the classroom teachers, you are really the experts on what your students need, you’re the  experts on how your students can experience things and you give us so much more information to make it all the more successful. Right? So we know a lot, we can come in and we can try our best tricks. But if we have that, at least, hour to sit down together for us to say like, Here’s how I get my class’ attention. They’re really good at XYZ. They’ve been studying this. Here’s a person who could be a really good helper for you. It just makes it so much more successful.  

Jamie
Sure, and let’s talk about after that planning process. When the teaching artist is in the room working with students, what is the expectation of the classroom teacher? Should they be assisting in some way? Would you prefer and would teaching artists collectively preferred the teacher to sit in the back of the room? Or maybe leave the room altogether and go make copies and go run to the restroom?  

Heleya
Don’t don’t leave, don’t leave. Ah, you’re smiling and laughing, I know, because we know it happens. It does. It totally happens. I get it. It is not ideal for you to leave the room. It’s not ideal for it to be think – thought of as like a grading time. Um, and here’s why. Because I so get it right. Teachers do not have time to literally go to the bathroom. They having a break to do that precious grading or make those precious copies is so important. And yet I always want to encourage classroom teachers to really think about teaching artist residency as having a dual purpose, right. It’s there to give your youth a creative experience and exposure to a new art form and exposure to a new artist. But also embedded into that experience is a professional development opportunity for you to be thinking of new and creative ways to be engaging your youth when you can’t have the teaching artist there, right. And that’s a wheel missed opportunity if you can’t partake in the class at the very simple level of just being a participant there. It also just helps, you know, again, it’s it’s hard to be a teacher artist and come in, we’re a guest. We sometimes get that, you know, sub mentality, that the kids, you know, want to test out all the tricks. And let’s see if they can walk all over you and having the teacher be there to participate. And to take those risks first and with their students is just really so important because, especially as a theater person or as a dance person when you come in and you move those desks to the side of the room, like already, particularly those middle school youth, right, they’re like mmmmm, what’s going on? And I’m crossing my arms and I’m starting to stand in the corner, and I’m not really sure what this lady is all about. Right. Um and if my classroom teacher is there, like being the first to jump into the game, it’s gonna help so much. So, yes, as much as you can co-participate, um, the better. And I just always want to encourage class and teachers to ask. I mean, I think that’s the thing that I hear the most… So often, like a director of education, right? I get emails from teachers all the time. They didn’t want to say this to the teaching artist, or, you know, I had this thought Like, why didn’t you just tell them? You know, like I’m happy to pass the message but like what? Now we have a third person in the mix here and like they are humans very capable of talking and want to talk to you and want to collaborate with you. Ask the question and see what’s best for that residency.

Jamie
One hundred percent, those open lines of communication. And you spoke to so many crucial issues that we really should think about before and during a teaching artist visit. So how can schools find and connect with teaching artists? And can you talk a little bit about how typical schools find funding to bring teaching artists to their school?  

Heleya
Well, that’s a very complicated question. Um, yes. Finding teaching artists. There’s a few places to start, depending on where you’re listening. Listeners are tuning in from around the country, right? The first place I always recommend people start is with your local arts councils. Most often, all of the local arts councils will have a roster of teaching artists who they’ve sort of already vetted to say, we’ve seen them teach. We’ve seen their curriculums. They’re awesome. You should hire them just like directly contract with them. A lot of other arts councils will also provide small grants, particularly if a teacher is applying for the grant, saying I want to bring a dancer into my classroom like, Will you give me the money? It is much harder for teaching artists to get those grants themselves and then to go find a school to partner with than the other way around. So I really encourage teachers to look for that funding. You have a better chance of getting it than teaching artists do individually and a great way to connect with the individual artists also. Our sister organization, the Teaching Artists Guild, which is based in California, they have a really great feature called the Teaching Artist Asset Map. Um, and I would really encourage any of your listeners to go and check it out. You can find both organizations that, like have rosters of teaching artists that you could partner with as well as just the individual artists themselves. So, you know, I can search in Seattle and see, like I’m looking for a drummer, um, and find someone who does that and people have their profiles up. They list if they specialized in arts integration, which age groups they want. Some people might even have sample lesson videos up on that site. Um, and then the other place to look is your local cultural organizations. Like I said, you know, most museums, theatres, dance companies, they have an education arm, at least if not a full department. And they know the working artists out there who were doing the work. Even if you’re not looking for taking a field trip very often, they could put you in contact with other people. In particular areas, you know, I could give more specific things for Seattle in New York and California, and they’re depending on the size of the city that you’re in. Um, there might be other local organizations that also feature teaching artists in that way, but the local arts councils are the best and sort of universal place to look.  

Jamie
Thank you for those excellent resources. And finally, how can we learn more about you? Your work? The Association of Teaching Artists and Arts Corps?  

Heleya
Ah, yeah. Find us on social media. That’s the best way to keep up with everybody. Association of Teaching Artists. Our website is teachingartists.com. Real easy to remember. All of our social media handles are assoc of TAs… that’s kind of hard to remember, but association of teaching artists but this is, like, way too long. Um, so, uh, if you go to our website, you can find the links to that, um, Arts Corps. You can find us also online artscorps.org. We’re producing a ton of online free content right now during the COVID-19 closures. All of our teaching artists are very busy making home videos, really easy activities for you to do. And many of our classroom teachers have been posting them into their Google classrooms or whatever. They’re free. Click the YouTube links. They have free downloadable pdf lessons that go along with them. We’re rolling out a whole arts integration stuff this week too so check us out. Um and all of our socials for artscorps at Arts Corps, and then you can find me on all the socials at @heleyadebarros which I won’t spell. But even if you get my first name remotely correct, I’m sure I will come up.

Jamie
Teaching Trailblazers is a production of the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, and I’ve been your host, Jamie Hipp. This podcast is produced, edited and mixed by Jaime Patterson