Wow, spring break has given me some great opportunities to reflect on what I’m teaching as well as why i’m doing it. As well as finding time to reconnect with what matters most to me. I began my journey as a teacher with a huge love for the arts and creativity. I’ve realized that over the past few months I have paid little attention to the creative side of learning for my students. My love for arts and the creativity started at home, my parents have always had a wide variety of music on in our house, and music has been used as a tool to provoke discussion throughout my life. My memories of long drives and family trips always have songs and music connected to them and songs were discussed, weather it was the deeper meaning of life in songs by Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earl, Randy Bachman, The Dixie Chicks, or a multitude of other artists or current pop music my family talked about the message that the artists were trying to send and what it said about life for people at that time. As I write this I’m listening to Garth Brooks a family and childhood favourite, rediscovering songs that I loved years ago and being inspired by their messages. I choose to listen to this artist tonight after watching one of his concert DVD’s with my extended family after dinner and every one singing along and sharing memories of the songs. Music serves many purposes in life, it communicates emotions, tells stories, spreads message, builds community and creates opportunity to be creative. Everyone is exposed to music in some way or another on a regular basis weather they create music themselves or listen to it for pleasure. Music has always brought me comfort and helped me to focus and feel calm, there is little I do without music and I never go anywhere without bringing my phone (with iTunes and Spotify) and ear buds, weather it is warming up and getting mentally ready for a dance competition, driving, or getting prep done at school I always have music on. I even listen to music in the dentist’s chair, I’m trying to figure out if I can use my music to keep myself calm at the eye doctor later this week. My aversion to the eye doctor is like what most people have to the dentist, it’s the drops that dilate your eyes, I get scared when I can’t see properly after. As a teacher I often have a wide range of music on in my classroom during working times and vary the music based on student moods and what needs to be accomplished. Music is often a great tool to help students self-regulate especially when using instrumental music, I use instrumental music from different artists, eras and parts of the world including movie soundtracks, ballets, and covers of pop songs.
My own love for the arts truly began when I took my first dance class at the age of 3. Dance has for years been my happy place and my chance to express myself. I now have a total of 20 years of dance training in a wide variety of styles including ballet, jazz, lyrical, musical theater, modern and more recently I’ve become passionate about Scottish highland dancing. Dance for me is about telling a story, and taking the story that the music is trying to tell and adding a visual element to it. I have had many teachers over the years and they have all taught me many things about dance but all came back to one thing, to do it with your heart and give it everything you can. I continue to train and grow as a dancer and am working with fabulous teachers weather they have been teaching for 5 years of 50 years they continue to inspire me as an artist. This artistic outlet lets me be a better teacher, I can use dance to de stress and relax but beyond that it’s a connection to others and being part of a creative community. I continue to compete and one of the things that draws me to competition is to be part of a community that values the arts and has a passion for the same thing I do. Within my current dance community, I have met many wonderful people who all have the same dedication to our art that I do, as well as something unique to the highland dance community in my area, they care for each other and show kindness to one another back stage no matter where you dance or who your teacher is, we are all part of the same community.
My most inspiring experience ever as a dancer was about 4 years ago when I was working with a group of 3 children on the autism spectrum in a dance program created just for them, I called them my “Special Stars”. I spent a year teaching this group basic movements to Cotton Eye Joe with the help of one of my very first students ever. In that June my Special Stars participated in the studio’s annual recital, our director gave a beautiful introduction to the group but the magic happened when the music started. I was with the group onstage and I could not believe the audiences response to this group, they were on their feet clapping to the music and gave my Special Stars a standing ovation at the end. That night changed my perspective on why we participate in the arts, my students connected to the emotions of others. Students who struggled to communicate in daily life spread a message of joy and acceptance through their dance. I still tear up thinking of that night. Seeing my students connect with each other and the other dancers through a shared passion was extremely gratifying. Most importantly it taught me that we dance from the heart and for the joy that it brings. Dancing from the heart and for the sake of the joy it brings can be expanded to other creative endeavors as well, creativity often comes from a place of emotions and we are usually very emotionally invested in our creative works. It takes courage to share creative works because they are part of us. Even when I am creating dances there are some that I prepare to dance on stage and preform and others that I do solely for myself, it is the ones that I do for myself that often have the greatest emotional value, which is why for now they remain confined to my basement, maybe one day they will be ready for a stage but not yet.
I am always trying to find ways to bring dance into my classroom and sadly it often gets limited to a PE class because of space restrictions or DPA. While both of those are good times to use dance they often don’t give students time to explore dance as a form of communication. Dance has a history of being used for storytelling and communication. It is able to communicate across time and languages. The aesthetic nature connects to people on a deeper emotional level. I am getting ready to work with my school’s explorations program running a dance exploration. As I’m taking time to prepare I find that I’m looking for ways to help my students use dance as a way to express themselves and tell a story as well as creating a piece that tells a story using a group of dancers. I have researched the role dance in human well-being as well as culture over the years and wrote about it in my inquiry project while I was doing Teacher Education at UBC. As I get ready to teach dance and share my passion with a group that has chosen to dance I am starting to prepare the music. I need to find music that inspires the students to create an image, mood or tell a story as well as capturing their attention. My music runs from classical and instrumental music including covers of popular songs, pop music, folk songs and country music. In teaching dance at school my goal is not just to train the body and teach technique. I have a more important job than that, my goal is to teach the heart, and have my students approach dance and other arts with an open mind and an open heart. I want them to watch dancers and dance from the heart, telling their stories and learning from one another, exploring emotions. I find that dance class can often be a powerful time to explore emotions with students, they can use their movements to create a picture of the emotion and for many of my students this non-verbal communication allows them to share their emotions in ways that they may not have the verbal abilities to yet. Our language relies on non-verbal cues to help communicate intent and meaning and training as a dancer one learns to be intentional about how they move their body to communicate emotions and intent. As a dancer I draw on the music to guide my creativity and it is my responses to the music that generate the choreography or how I present the chorography of others.
While dance is my primary art form I have a strong appreciation for other forms and have dabbled in others as well. I particularly enjoy culinary arts, cooking and baking, for me these arts communicate a message as well, particularly care. As well food brings people together, drawing them into community. Arts do the same, they draw people into community. My biggest learning point for this was in the interdisciplinary expressive arts program (IDEA) at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, BC. In the IDEA program shared creative experiences we used to build community, as well as to help us discover more about ourselves and those around us. It is this type of community building experience that I strive to create for my students creatively. The focus in this case is not about the product but on the process and reflection on the process. We spend time in discussion of the process and what that taught those involved about themselves and those around them. In these experiences the teacher becomes a facilitator creating opportunities for creativity. Many of the creative activities in this program were not traditional arts activities, we spent time creating and playing games to discover mythology from around the world as well as events in history. We did egg drops and built rope bridges to support the whole groups weight between trees in the forest. These activities stretched the limits of our creativity and pushed us to look at the world in new ways and see materials in new ways. This is the type of activity I want to do with my students and have tried.
One of my more successful activities pushing student’s creativity has been having them build marble runs when they were given a few parameters and a limited amount of supplies to make the project work. Often giving a limited amount or variety of materials or specific parameters increases creativity as students must now think outside the box and experiment with what they have to create something with in the parameters.
In my province we have creative thinking as one of our core competencies and I am very appreciative of this. So much of what we do day to day requires creative thinking weather small c or big c creativity. Small c creativity is the stuff of daily life, writing a blog post, creating a scrap book, cooking without a recipe. Big C creativity is the type that changes the world, works by Di Vinci, the discoveries of Newton, or the development of the car. Creative thinking is working with ideas that are new and novel, they are something that you had not thought of before. It may be new to you or new for a class of students or it may be new to society as a whole. I am working on helping my students find more creative ways to think about math and understanding numbers and showing them through creative means. As a class we are also working towards more creative work when we are writing and often this inspired by the creativity of others in the form of books and poems. Inspiring creative thinking is key as well in science class as it sparks the questions that begin the scientific process.
As a teacher I know that giving time for students to be creative is of immense importance. Both time to create as an individual as well as working in creative groups of various sizes. Creativity builds communication skills verbally and non-verbally as ideas are shared in a variety of ways. As well creativity and being able to work through creative projects helps students to understand more about themselves and their world, giving them more confidence. I also find that creative means can help students to develop their sense of place and connect to topics through music from a particular place or time or looking at the works of artist from that place. Creativity ultimately allows us to form community and make human connections.
How do you promote creativity in your classroom? How to you get students to think creatively across all disciplines?