Arts-Based Learning for Teachers

I see it all the time: Teachers are interested, they see the benefits, but are unsure of whether they should be attending arts-based professional development.  They come from a variety of backgrounds and have a variety of needs.

And my answer is almost always the same: We need arts-based learning just as much as our students!

In two weeks, the third annual Teacher Art Retreat will begin.  I am so excited to be organizing and participating in this hands-on, teacher-centered, arts-based PD that can also be used to earn grad credit.  And it’s not too late for YOU to register to attend!

But, you may still have some reservations.  I get it.  It’s ok.  However, I’m going to go to bat for arts-based learning for teachers!  Here I go.

Teachers prepare to play on percussion instruments together.

I don’t teach the arts.  Why would I attend?

Arts-based learning for students is a wonderful way to get them engaged in what they are learning.  When arts integration is implemented in classrooms small and large, wonderful things occur to both students and teachers.  Students are more excited about learning and teachers grow more enthusiastic about what they do.  The arts bring classrooms alive!

I’ve seen a speech teacher get excited to explore the possibilities that music and singing can have with her small group of students who have difficulties conversing with peers.  I’ve talked with a HS special education reading teacher who was thrilled to learn more about how visual art could help her students with making inferences in their reading.  An art teacher learned ways to integrate movement into her lessons and a Pre-School teacher honed her skills with drama.  And let’s face it, when a teacher gets inspired by the arts, then he or she can be inspiring to students.

I already teach an art form.  Why should I attend something I already know about?

Any arts teacher will tell you how the arts can meet you where you are.  You can take an art form as far as you want to go.  Limits are only set in your mind.  Even when we work within parameters, there is room to grow and explore.  What does this mean?  Say you have already taken a class in book making (which happens to be this year’s focus project at the retreat.)  That should not deter you from getting the experience to do it again and take things further.  You may try something different, use different materials, have a different purpose in mind.  The point is, arts-based PD, especially the Teacher Art Retreat, gives you an opportunity to DO art and take it as far as you want to go.

Last year our focus project was to compose and record our own original song with Debbie Ambrose.  It was amazing to go through that entire process with a large group of people and come away with a wonderful original song, Create and Celebrate.  This year, we have Judy Pancoast coming in to do a workshop in songwriting and we will be creating another original song.  Instead of being worried we will do some of the same things as last year, I am excited to get another perspective on songwriting!  Not to mention the group dynamics will be different as we will have some repeater retreaters and new comers as well creating and recording a song!  The entire experience will be different.  That’s one of the reasons why art is so much fun!

I am NOT an artist.

Arts-focused PD in general and the Teacher Art Retreat specifically is created so that teachers of all areas can create art in a non-threatening environment.  The people that attend these types of professional development opportunities are supportive and encouraging to one another.  It’s just a nice place to be!  Not to mention our presenters are amazing!  You will learn so much and not just be taught what to do, you will be DOING it!

It’s only when you practice things that you will be more apt to try them yourself with your students.

I KNOW I will not use these ideas with my students.

Sometimes it can be difficult to see yourself using all the new skills you will attain at all these arts-based workshops.  However, remember to consider that this type of PD is teacher-based.  WE need to be inspired too.  And regardless of whether you actually write a song with your students or not, you will have had that experience.  Who knows where that will lead?  Maybe a child will come to you with an idea to present their project in song.  Your experience may have softened your heart to let that child try something on their own (or with your guidance.)  Your new knowledge of songwriting may spur a conversation with students about the music they are listening to, therefore bringing a personal side out to share.

Something similar happened to me.  During the first Teacher Art Retreat, I learned a few things about drama during a fun workshop led by Judith Clark.  Although I hadn’t used the new skills in my classroom, some students came to me in early January, interested in putting on a play for Martin Luther King, Jr. day.  Firstly, I was willing to let them work through recess time (my lunch time) in our classroom, and secondly, I showed them a few of the games I had learned to help them get into their characters better.  I remember when they opted to perform their play in front of our fourth grade, there were a few moments of polished performance and a feeling of significance in the message these young students were trying to portray.  My new comfort level with drama, helped me to support their enthusiasm to perform what ended up being a wonderful show.

Having had hands-on experiences with a variety of art forms gives you a new frame of mind.  You may be more willing to try something new or encourage that in your students.  Even if you don’t use the ideas exactly in your teaching, you will grow in your craft.

Arts-based PD is for you as much as it is for the application to your teaching.

Get inspired.

Be Inspiring.

Look for and sign up for Arts-Based PD.  It’s good for you.

The Teacher Art Retreat is August 4-6, 2014.  Don’t miss signing up!

~EMP

 

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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of www.theinspiredclassroom.com. She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and is currently enrolled in a C.A.G.S. program through Plymouth State University with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and leads an arts integration PLC (PLaiC). Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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