After a great day of teaching, I feel like there is no doubt that we can change the world through the arts. My students for the day lit up when I was there. They made new connections and their teachers were so impressed at what they had been able to accomplish in such a short time. Then I think about how much we could accomplish with more time! And I think about how many more classrooms there are in that school, and how many more schools there are that have no arts integration presence at all. And suddenly, it all just feels like there is too much work to be done. That’s when I realize that those teachers are really the key. They are there every day with their students, all year round, year after year with a new class. And if they had even a few of the tools I have to help them reach all their students in more meaningful ways through the arts, then the impact of the work we do will go on and on. This is why doing professional development workshops through Story Tapestries is so important.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to travel to Florida to work with a group of educators through an amazing organization called The Learning Alliance (TLA). TLA focuses on improving literacy in their communities’ schools through implementing the latest in scientifically proven successful learning techniques. They believe that it takes the support of everyone in a child’s life…parents, teachers, community leaders, administrators, philathropists…to help them succeed. This is completely in line with the philosophy of Story Tapestries and I am thrilled that we have connected with TLA to help provide the arts integration piece of the literacy puzzle to this work. From their website: “In our effort to radically improve our children’s literacy rates, we are all stakeholders.”
For this collaboration with TLA, I worked with their Master Coaches Bridges to Learning program. This includes literacy coaches, elementary school teachers and reading specialists from across Indian River County Florida. The Master Coach sessions had been going on for some time by the time I was brought in to work with them and it was a treat to have such an eager and willing group. As they quickly pointed out to me, they weren’t necessarily theatrically inclined, but they were all willing to give everything I threw at them a try.
Prior to my arrival, I was asked to focus on fluency, a literacy skill that is particularly tricky to teach. Fluency is the ability to read quickly, accurately and with comprehension. I shared with them a variety of vocal and physical theatre techniques that can help with vocabulary, story sequencing and character development as well as fluency; all of these skills flow into each other when you are using storytelling as a way to connect to reading.
Throughout the workshop, they continually expressed newfound connections to work they were doing in their classrooms already. They asked great questions that anticipated the needs and challenges of their individual students, which not only demonstrated a deep commitment to their students’ success, but provided great real time feedback on the activity. By participating in the activities as if they were their students, they found potential pitfalls or challenges, and immediately suggested ways to handle those challenges. This was exceptionally helpful as now, there is a much better chance that they will actually implement some of these strategies, as they have hands on practice and it’s not just theoretical. In fact, it was absolutely thrilling to receive a text of a photograph the very next day of two of the teachers using the tableau technique we had practiced with their students!
I will never stop wanting to work directly with students. But there are so many of them, and there will always be more. So if we want this work to continue to grow roots and have a lasting impact in our schools and communities, we need to continue to empower the educators and administrators out there in the schools every day to be able to harness the power of the arts in their own way.
– Debbi Arseneaux, Story Tapestries Teaching Artist & Program Associate