Reflections on the Teacher Art Retreat from a Repeater Retreater

Today I am excited to bring you a wonderful reflection from a dear friend, Mary Krikorian.  She has attended every Teacher Art Retreat and in this piece, she captures the essence of what this type of professional development is all about.  Thanks, Mary!  Enjoy, everyone! ~EMP


August 4-6, 2014

Day 1

The first day of the retreat, Elizabeth M. Peterson greeted me at the door! She showed me where to sign in, provided me with the essential paperwork needed, and directed me to the lovely breakfast she had provided for us all. The room was filled with the buzz of creativity, (even though no one was doing a thing but talking and eating!) The participants in attendance were enjoying fresh fruit salad, assorted morning muffins and pastries along with coffee, iced or hot!! How nice!

DSC01876The sounds swirling in the air were the sounds of happy, enthusiastic, interesting people catching up with old friends and making new ones. Recognizing (and being remembered by) several from past workshops made the experience all the more inviting. It was easy to settle in. I was thrilled to be there.

DSC01733Getting everyone’s attention is a snap for Elizabeth. She claps a rhythm that we eventually imitate and give her our focus. Then she oversees several First Day of School greeting activities. Within the next fifteen minutes or so, we had met several ladies who might’ve shared the same feelings about broccoli or hairstyles, for instance. All of these were terrific ideas for us to use on the first day of school with our students.

We then were introduced to Judith O’Hare, Puppeteer-Extraordinaire! The puppets she introduced to us, the staging, the lighting, the stories she had to share lead me to believe we were in for a real treat. Her expertise in this field poured through as she pulled us into the exciting world of puppets. Knowing that we were going to be making our own shadow puppets and putting on plays at the workshop’s end, grabbed my attention immediately!DSC01745

This Focus Project chosen brilliantly by Elizabeth, captivated all of us!! Judith was extremely knowledgeable and dynamic in presenting to us.

DSC01783After a marvelous luncheon provided by Elizabeth, the group was called back together by a Drum circle. Each person was to choose an instrument provided, and join in with the ostinato that was established. What a wonderfully powerful experience. It’s meditative and stimulating at the same time. It makes me come alive!

The afternoon was filled with movement and fun with Deirdre Moore. Her Moving Matters program was enthusiastically demonstrated (perhaps a mite too soon after having lunch). Maybe I could have skipped the potato chips.

DSC01833Deirdre proceeded to share with us Integrating Dance and Science in such a delightfully inventive way. The reinforcement of States or Phrases of Matter involved the Body, Energy, Space, and Time… and we were informed, in depth, of dance elements. Locomotion and axial movements are crystal clear to me now!

At the end of the day, as we were asked to reflect on all of the activities, it made me think how very fortunate I am to have been a part of this workshop. It also made me very happy that it was just the beginning. The best was clearly yet to come!

Day 2

Again, the breakfast provided was healthy and delicious. A constant supply of coffee was also a welcomed feature.

Melissa Edwards, of Figuring Out How the Pieces Fit came all the way from North Carolina to share with us her masterful creativity in learning and instructional technology. Melissa led us into an activity based on Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. We walked around a table writing on the paper provided for us, hundreds of words relating to Collaboration. What we discovered in the end was that they were all intertwined. It was a wonderful exercise in vocabulary, and similarities and differences with our thoughts on the various subjects mentioned. Looking at our collective thoughts and ideas reminded me of the synapses in our brains when creative juices begin to get activated. Again, the presenter chosen for this activity was so well informed and charismatic.DSC01915

We were then reunited with our Puppeteer, Judith O’Hare. At this point, we were given further instructions on how to make our shadow puppets. This was bringing us closer to the actual play we were to put on the following day in front of the entire group! (AaaaaaHH!) This process was probably the most challenging part of the workshop, thus far. It was a foreign medium to me. Therefore, I felt “less than”   (only in my mind), as I quietly criticized my own shoddy work. As it turned out, the rest of the participants had no experience in this capacity either. The retreat women were having such a grand time choosing their characters and getting straight to the job at hand.DSC01891

Each of the small groups were to choose a tale from individual handouts given of Aesop’s Fables. When we finally made a unanimous decision to go with The Old Lion….our wheels went in motion. We were given ample time to create our puppets, work on our story and consider background, music, voices, and dialogue. The excitement was evident as our performances were one day away.

Our attention soon was directed to Elizabeth M. Peterson and her tremendous Active Listening presentation. We were encouraged to practice listening (actively) with our students, whether we are Music teachers, Science teachers, etc…

A rule that was burned into my brain that I learned from Elizabeth was the BME Rule. By the way, I plan to make a poster and place it in my classroom with its explanation of ; “EVERY GOOD PIECE OF WRITING (and MUSIC) HAS A BEGINNING, MIDDLE AND END.” Visualization, questioning, musical vocabulary was all part of the thought process behind proper listening in this particular presentation.

One of the selections of music Elizabeth chose to play for us was Vivaldi’s magnificent “Siciliano” for Strings. In listening after several times, we were asked to focus on the violin’s part and imagine what that haunting melody was saying. It was so moving that I began to write using a stream of consciousness….

I am young and vibrant & full of Life

I can’t wait, my darling one, to be your wife

Life is filled with joy and beauty

I cherish this moment, to learn my duty

And walk together hand in hand

Heart to heart, to cherish life’s demands

Children will come to us if we are blessed

Father and Mother, we will do our best

The dreams we dream

The joy we feel now

Will all be better somehow

For we found each other in time

Always together, our Love sublime

Tears flowed and hearts opened as we shared intense moments with our new friends.

Day 3

After having our deadly donuts and coffee (and delicious watermelon), Elizabeth asked me if I would lead the group in a brief yoga session. I was thrilled to oblige, naturally. I shared with the group many of the exercises I practice with my yoga students in Atkinson, and in my classroom. After 15 minutes of that or so, a few of the ladies approached me to thank me because they felt better in many different ways. That sort of feedback never gets tiring. Of course, I love Elizabeth’s famous quote, “You’re nothing if you’re not FLEXIBLE!” That goes without saying for me!


DSC01905Our puppet leader, Judith O’Hare, then directed us back to our assigned task at hand. This was to finish up creating our puppets and practice for our performance. The creativity that poured out over that room was remarkable. We filled up our lunch plates with yummy pizza and sat around the puppet stage to witness some truly great artists at work. The detail of so many of the puppets, the backgrounds that were constructed, the characters taken on by the puppets and the stories that were told were positively wonderful, captivating! I anxiously wait to see these works of art on line when Judith is able to put them up for us! I was so proud of everyone today. It was really something!

The many ways in which puppetry can be incorporated into the curriculum is so exciting. I am jazzed to get back to school and start to use what I have learned over the past three days.

At the end of the day, Dara Merz directed us in a decoupage activity that, once again, surprised and delighted even me. I think it is fair to say that I was in unfamiliar territory, once again. However, the detailed directions we were given, the materials that were shared, and the guidance that was given made this a most delightful project. As a matter of fact, the box that I worked on turned out to be quite beautiful! (I was a little concerned for a while there!)DSC01956

So, once again, this year’s Teacher’s Art Retreat stimulated and inspired me to a point where I sincerely cannot wait to get back to school. Thank you, Elizabeth, for all of your hard work in putting this together. Again, I say, it was the BEST one yet!!!!

My name is Mary Krikorian and I am an Elementary Music teacher in the city of Haverhill. I teach general music K-4 which enables me to work with roughly 700 students in one week’s time.  Dance, song, drama, and instruments have been the focus of study in my classrooms (I am responsible for two schools). My experience with Yoga, Massage, and Brain Gym are also incorporated into my lessons. 

It was my great fortune to have worked with Elizabeth M. Peterson a few years ago. She was not only an invaluable mentor but became one of my most precious friends. Many thanks to you, for the support and love you’ve shared (& continue to share) with me over the years!! Here’s to ARTS INTEGRATION!

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  1. Holly Gray says:


    Thank you so much for this vivid, detailed and emotive recollection. I love how you have given insight into the daily events that flowed in and out of us. It also helps me to tweak ideas for making connections for our final project for the grad coursework that is accompanying this retreat for several of us. I have been a bit at a loss in remembering how much we did and thanks to you, I have a retrospective that I have now been able to formulate several connections with my first week of school “Activators” as I like to call them. I have had movement training through Orff and so much of what Deidre gave us has stimulated my memory of activities and lessons that I have left behind or abandoned. Having this time together with Elizabeth’s guidance and all of wonderful educators we shared those three great sessions with actually motivated me to contact a former professor to thank her for her inspirational impact on my own learning. As a result, she has offered me some materials to use for connecting former training with the new ideas we have been taught through the “Inspired Classroom”.

    I have used Elizabeth’s “Active Listening” exercises this past year with grades 5, 6 and 8. This year, with my 7th grade students, I am planning to give them more movement activity to enhance the theatre games that I use with them every semester. I will now use music more readily with them to activate and drawout creativity in their writing to lead to some scripting and to create tableau. In the past, where I have done non-verbal activities, I have utilized silence as a backdrop. I can see now how I can offer them silence alternating with music that they will now be asked to demonstrate improvisations from, modeling after the ones we did with Deirdre. I am also going to dig out my movement/dance vocab cards and use them as a word splash on one of the bulletin boards in my classroom. This way they will have a visual and I will offer activities at all four grades (5-8), around the Axial and Locomotor lesson that Deidre demonstrated.

    My head is swimming with all that we were given. I am so excited that my friend and colleague Marcia Mucci joined me this year for the retreat. We worked on an integration collaboration last year in the spring semester which worked very well with 7th graders. I know she and I will have some fun co-creating with puppets. Every year she does an awesome ELA lesson with the kids’ original puppets. I am thinking now how we can utilize them with rhythm and composition.

    • Holly, I’m looking back at all things retreat on the site right now as I start to plan for this summer! I hope you can make it this year along with many retreaters from the past and new ones as well. 🙂 I’m excited to get things started and will be sure to keep everyone in the loop.

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