Thoughts About Arts Education

Don't Erase the Results of Your Break By Adding Stress To Your Return To Work

Go back to your school communities with a strategy plan that encourages a mindset of well-being and actions aligned with your priorities while saying good-bye to bad habits that increase stress.


Starting back after a break/vacation shouldn’t be stressful, but the reality is that many people are anxious with the return for a variety of reasons.

Below is my sixty-two minute reflection guide/strategy planner to help you identify priorities, develop a plan for aligning action, and identify any bad habits that will erase the benefits gained from the break. Let’s make it to the first day back without any additional stress.

Note: although there is a sixty-two minute individual reflection task, the key to this strategy working is realizing that we collaborate and work towards our goals together as an educational community.

This strategy plan isn’t about you spending the weekend working in isolation, rushing to fulfill tasks.

This strategy is about reflection and getting an action plan together so you can facilitate your curriculum tasks with your students/department/school community while keeping your well-being as a focus.

With clear priorities and self-reflection, the work week is less about “getting stuff done” and more about working together to fulfill goals.

May your return from break be focused on solid pedagogy and wellness and not filled with counterproductive stress.


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An Educator’s Sixty-Two Minute Reflection Guide To Prevent Erasing the Results of Your Break

Grab your notebook and let’s reflect.

First Twenty Minutes: Prioritize Your Priorities

Three questions:

  1. What are your priorities?

  2. What things are taking away from your priorities?

  3. What actions will you start/stop/continue to help you align your work with your priorities?

Remember: the educator is a whole person. It’s necessary to have your well-being, and a work/life balance, be a priority. If we are truly educating 21st Century learning competencies, we need to be full participants in our world.

Second Twenty Minutes: Sketch Out the Rough Plan

Now time to put some timelines to your priorities and actionable items.

This planning will be very you specific. My context: secondary teacher entering into exams. My students need consolidation time to demonstrate their learning. They also need instructional opportunities to help them navigate course selection, applying to post-secondary, and managing their wellness during a busy season.

I start with sitting down with my classroom planning calendar and the school calendar for the month and plan backwards, making sure to give some buffer days before the students go into exams just in case weather (yay Canada) causes bus cancellations. Always give yourself flexibility to be proactive about timelines changes beyond your control.

Apply this same practice to all of the initiatives that you participate in. Does your professional learning committee have a presentation at an upcoming staff meeting? Are there promises that you made to produce data or material towards a specific project? Sit down with your calendar and make a plan for accomplishing the tasks without feeling guilty. Remember: a break is a break for educators too.

Final Twenty Minutes: Have That Hard Self-Awareness Talk With Yourself

Look into the future and consider if you might engage in some of these behaviours.

  • After spending time on break, do you enter into Monday with a mindset of guilt?

  • Do you feel like you need to work throughout your lunch period and/or into the wee hours of the night to “make-up” for “lost time”?

  • Do you start every e-mail apologizing for being away?

  • Are you going straight into well-being debt by staying up too late or ignoring your nutrition and/or fitness because all of a sudden, you have become “too busy”?

  • Are your plans aligned with your priorities? If not, why and what might prevent you from changing so your plans do align with your priorities?

If you have ever exhibited any of these behaviours, acknowledge and then stop the cycle. Go back to your priorities. Go back to how your actions align with your priorities.

And, be kind to yourself. Find the root of why you might be exhibiting these behaviours and deal with them. No judgment. No emotion. Have the courageous conversation and then move onto setting actions in place so you don’t fall back into negative work behaviours.

Final Two Minutes: Declare a Transition Period

Now that you have your priorities, and your plan, declare a transition period that fits your educational context and share those prioritizes and planning work with your community.

NOTE: Make sure to dedicate some time for your transition day so everyone can participate in, and align their actions with, the next steps for your educational community. This strategy does not have the same impact without the transition day and co-constructing plans with your community members.

In a classroom context, that might look like co-constructing deadlines with your students, going through the look-fors of the final assessment and identifying, together as a classroom community, where the gaps are and how the gaps will be addressed.

My transition period will be the first day back. 75 minutes decided to co-construction, alignment and being proactive towards our end of semester tasks.

In my theatre courses, the students are working towards their end of semester final performance and reflective exams. On Monday, we will co-construct a calendar that identifies our checkpoints. We will use the criteria from the Ontario Arts Curriculum and co-construct look-fors/next steps using evidence from our class’ portfolio of previous work.

Apply the same concepts to initiative work. How are you using the data, and aligning your data sources, to fulfilling the departments/team/school’s goals? The transition period for facilitating the administrative tasks that I have to do will be extended to a week, where I have identified tasks that need to be finished by certain dates to keep on schedule with facilitating the specialized arts program.

And remember: the students and your colleagues are coming off of break too. Some of them travelled the world. Some of them had a break wasn’t “exciting” or “filled with positive memories.” This transition period will allow everyone to get back into the mindset of your educational community.

Two minutes left in your reflection session. Decide on length, how you’re going share your priorities and co-construct a plan together to align action with practical impact.


Congratulations! That was a good sixty-two minutes of reflection that will have huge impact on your own and your school community’s well-being.

Now that you have this new sense of clarity and alignment, get out there and enjoy the rest of your break.

Less is More | Minimal Scripts As An Entry Point Into Character

Today I just spent some time planning the ADA 10 Grade 9 Dramatic Arts course with a colleague.  It was an excellent exercise in reflecting on what works best for our student learners, focusing on how the dramatic activities will bring about our key learnings in the course: communication, collaboration, confidence and critical thinking.  

As we were going through the course and outlining the units, we landed upon minimal scripts as an entry point into character and script work.  Starting small but using clues in the text to develop: 

  • character relationships 
  • character building based on the facts found in the script 
  • confidence in lines and memorization 

As an arts educator, I'm gearing my lessons everyday for my students to build confidence.  I honestly believe that we need to help students learn their parts.  By encouraging students to be "off book" from the beginning of the year, especially with short burst activities such as minimal scripts, it will help the students to gain confidence in longer sections of material.  For memorization has two main components: confidence and accuracy.  Both concept are rooted in the idea of knowing one's character, relationship, objectives and motivations inside and out.  

I have linked a handout and activity to minimal scripts to the Dramatic Arts resource page.   In terms of planning where minimal scripts could go in your curriculum, consider the following: 

  • at the beginning of a script writing unit to study character voice and what needs to be said in order to get the message across 
  • during the elements of drama units to bring out concepts of physicalization, staging, communicating character's reactions between the dialogue lines 
  • as a warm-up activity to extend characterization 
  • anywhere else where it fits.  

Remember: minimal script doesn't have to be a beginning activity.  It could be used to dive into characterization at any point in the process. 

Also remember that this is a great technique to develop student voice and confidence.  Give the students prompts and encourage them to place these lines into a context that is relevant to their lives.  When you are reflecting on the activity, how did the text allow the students to enter into situations that matter to their lives?  What is the difference between what is said on stage and what can be inferred by body language?  What context does the audience need to understand the storyline?  Be direct with your reflection questions and prompt the students to develop their literacy skills in their response to the activity (both as performers and audience members). 

A warning to all of my fellow drama teachers and directors out there in the world: be careful of timing with minimal scripts.  You need to schedule enough time so the students feel confident in their decision making and choices, but not too much time so rehearsal becomes unproductive.  In an Ontario curriculum 75 minute lesson, you could totally use this sample lesson as your action portion of the lesson plan with a characterization minds on and a performance reflection at the end.  

Less is more.  How can you use minimal dialogue and have maximum impact on stage?  Encourage your students to round out their characters using physicalization.  


 

Active Reflection Linked to Authentic Need, Not Dictated Activities

"It's time to reflect." 

Sometimes those words, especially when they arrive during a formal meeting, can be a curse.  Forced reflection, or "top down reflection" is reflection for the sake of doing the activity because it has been prompted by someone else or a necessary checkmark on the completion checklist. 

How many of us actually act on the reflection work?  A conversation a gets captured on an exit card and then forgotten.  

But, what if reflection was ingrained in our daily practice as educators.  Not as a staff meeting activity but as a part of daily planning.  

And you might read this and say, but Cathy, I do reflect daily. 

My follow-up question is: how do you take those reflections and then turn them into action?  How do you drive the learning forward in away that will not only uphold strong pedagogy, but be best for the learners in front of you?  And not overwhelming? 

"There isn't enough time" is a common phrase that I hear in the staff work spaces.  The "enough time" phrase has been echoed consistency for years, from teacher's college private school placement to current day leadership role in the public system.   

We know that there will never be enough time.  What if we switched it around and made time and scheduled in time for reflection.  Put it directly into your planning time with a monitoring system that works for you.  And make it a priority and not something that gets filled with other tasks.  

I don’t have any answers when it comes to monitoring.  I’m a journal writer - I have books and books of reflection.  What am I going to do with that information?  It is providing a guide for the revamp of my courses.  However, this is afterfact.  My current practice in my Principal’s Qualification Program is to set aside twenty minutes at the end of the day to put down point form notes of reflection with action items and timelines.  It’s early days, so I have no results, but it’s a start.

What would the impact be on our professional practice if you had daily reflection time linked to active implementation during the year?  How would it impact your learning, your approach to teaching and learning, and your school’s community’s experience? 

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Globally Minded Education | Theory, Practice, and a Response to the 6Cs

This post is in response to Junior AQ (Administration Focus) analyzing the Fullen article with a SWOT lens.


"Students are the agents of change."  But we, as an educational community, need to work together to sow the seeds of globally minded education.  

In Michael Fullen's article, "Why Helping Humanity Should Be Core to Learning," he states that students are, "catalysts for changing teaching and learning; they are also partners in changing the school and forces for change in society itself."  

Students wanting to do "good", studying humanity to make positive changes in their environment, is nothing new.  The motivation to do good is wired in our DNA, inherent in our nature.  A perfect example is my two-year-old niece and her desire to help with any task.  

My two-year-old niece also knows how to make Facetime calls. An example of how technology and connections dictate our behaviour in 2018.  Hence the need to look at the 6Cs as a foundation for education, focusing on the following as a foundation for navigating the world:  character education, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. 

According to Fullen, teachers play an essential role, "helping students focus, giving them scope to engage with each other, examining learning designs, assessing results and deriving lessons for improving learning."   By focusing on learning, and looking at the process of how students learn and make meaning of their learning, the lessons can speak to these skills, and not only the memorization of concepts.  

The strength of looking at education through the lens of helping humanity as a core learning concept is that we are developing students with self, group, and global reflection skills.  In our connected world, students need to be able to analyze what is being presented.  High-quality resources, such as the World's Largest Lesson, will provide educators with adaptable lesson plans around globe key issues, such as hunger, poverty, and access to clean water.  An example of a lesson, Hunger is Not a Game, is available by clicking here.  

A potential weakness and/or threat to the notion of educating the whole child is "theory vs. practice."  In theory, all educators believe that they are teaching transferable skills that will allow students to develop the 6Cs competencies and their notion of what it is like to be a human in our ever-connected world.  Yet, putting the theory into practice can be difficult or inconsistent.   To teach the 6Cs means that educators need to adapt lessons to explicitly meet the 6Cs.   The barrier to this is a fixed mindset around "transferable skills" and "curriculum."   All too often, we hear educators say "must get through the curriculum and get through the material so we can have an assessment."  I have had first-hand experience with a resiliency project geared towards student health and well-being where educators were asked to adapt the resources to their subject matter.  In theory, we created a series of tools that would make learning resiliency skills explicit within any subject - just needed adaptation from the classroom teacher.  Yet, not all of my colleagues saw the importance of teaching resiliency skills as the lessons took away from their curriculum and the planning took away from marking time.   In theory, we are aware that in order to have real progress, educators need to spend time carefully examining if their lessons are speaking to the core of who students are as people, allowing them to develop these important human skills through the lens of the individual subject.  Educational districts can support this work by granting release time, resources and access to successful 6C lessons and/or unit plans across all disciplines.  

The opportunity for enriched learning is huge.  The world is moving quickly, and the demand for digital literacy, understanding, and comprehension is high.  Using collaboration, visual thinking techniques, global resources and reflection, the community can work together to help students build their knowledge of the 6Cs, which will, in turn, help them reach out and help the world in whatever way they see fit. 

So, let's nourish the seed of humanity and use explicit strategies to grow the community's approach to 6C competencies, so everyone can benefit from the garden of the world.  

 

Travel Thoughts

Art + travel = life (with a few cute cats thrown into the mix).

Click here to access the travel blog, which includes some thoughts from my global adventures. The blog opens in a new window.