One Rung Up

Please enjoy a pre-reflection from one of this year’s Retreaters.  Dara is a HS English teacher who strives to bring arts integration into her work with students.  As this summer’s retreat begins, reflect with her on the importance of arts in the classroom as well as quality arts-infused PD for teachers.  ~EMP

teachers working

Dara and a colleague share ideas about arts integration.

I was introduced to arts integration through Elizabeth years ago, and I have been using it in my classroom ever since. I had always been drawn to integrating visual art in my lessons, but I never really understood the importance of expanding my teaching to include more artistic elements – breadth and depth to be exact. I currently have two main units that include comprehensive arts integration, and they are my (and, in my opinion, my students’) favorite units. They are the ones that most make me feel like an accomplished teacher: engaging and effective. I look forward to restructuring more of my curriculum units to further incorporate arts integration into them.

One of the aspects of the retreat that I most appreciate is the collaborative nature of building upon concepts and activities. Every time teachers are in an unrestrictive environment of creation and growth, great things happen. The TAR (Teacher Art Retreat) is a key environment for this kind of learning and development. When we gather together to learn or relearn approaches to instruction, something wonderful happens. Ideas are generated, refined, adapted, modified, and applied collaboratively.

I recall one retreat where we were learning about kinetic motion in science. We did an enlightening activity where we were all molecules in motion reacting to heat and cold. It was incredible to see how we could collectively use a technique low on our comfort-level scale in such a creative and effective way. It really helped me to see a concept applied to actual curriculum and teaching situations, and how I then might be able to transfer that to my own classroom.

I am excited to again have the opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues and begin the latest ‘think tank’ using the new arts techniques we will learn at the upcoming TAR. Sometimes it is hard to see how different forms of art can be adapted to different subject areas, but I know that when we get together as a group, we can brainstorm many wonderful and effective strategies to incorporate into our own individual classrooms. It is something that is so lacking in our daily academic environments, yet it is so essential for growth and success. I am grateful that I once again will have the opportunity to be in a collaborative learning environment. Not only do I welcome others’ input to improve my teaching skills, I also love to brainstorm and problem solve to assist others in seeing things from a new perspective. The excitement of having one concept grow exponentially as we build on ideas is a great benefit of participating in the retreat.

On a completely selfish level, I am most looking forward to the opportunity to learn and create new forms of art. I am so starved for the mental and emotional connections I get from creating art that I feel like a dry well waiting for the rain to come. The thought of immersing myself in art for three days is refreshing and exciting. I am looking forward to learning the new methods of art and expanding my own repertoire of artistic techniques. Furthermore, I use a lot of recycled art in my own classroom assignments, so I am hoping to get ideas about doing a few instructional lessons for my students in order to demonstrate the various ways recycled items can be used in art. I love that I get to not only have the engagement of learning something new for my own growth, but also I get the anticipation of bringing those learnings and new ideas back to my classroom in the fall.

So as the course approaches, I am already thinking of what methods I will be learning, what experiences I will be sharing, and what lessons I will return to school with. I look forward to the new curriculum applications and connections that I will create, and I look forward to the renewal of my investment to using arts integration in the classroom. Like all good intentions, the will is there, but the time to execute them has been limited. I appreciate having the time and focus to revisit how the arts can be further incorporated into my existing lessons in order to continue to enrich both my and my students’ experiences with learning.

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Article by Dara Merz

Dara Merz is an ELA teacher at Amesbury High School. She has been in this field for over 15 years. Her classroom has a high level of arts integration which she is desperately trying to maintain as she witnesses more and more of the arts disintegrate with the budget cuts. Her personal involvement with the arts includes painting, crafting, and jewelry making. She has eclectic tastes in her creative processes! She is proud that her two children are following in her footsteps. “It is wonderful to see them love to create as much as I do!”
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