I have typed and deleted an opening sentence about ten times now. This blog is in some ways a public journal- it is a way for me to motivate myself to put into words the concepts and ideas I am wrestling with. I am striving to define my personal philosophy on dance, teaching, and life in general. Who am I and how do I want to present myself to the world? I haven't always been able to come up with an eloquent way to share these thoughts that are churning in my mind, but I think it is important to try, and that the more I write, the more clarity I will find.
Last night during a conversation with my dear friend Diane Cahill Bedford, I started to articulate this idea of granting permission and what that means and looks like in a dance class.
In a tradition dance class there are two roles. There is the role of the teacher / facilitator and the role of the student / participant. Customarily, the teacher / facilitator is the position of power, and establishes the framework of the class / session. I have chosen to use these two sets of nouns as I am finding that there is a trend towards using more democratic words to describe the learning experience. While that may be a step in the right direction, I don't always notice a shift in actual practice.
What does it look like to grant permission in a dance class?
I would define permission as a recognition of the needs of the participants and an environment that encourages students to explore those needs and take responsibility for their learning experience.
What is it that a student need permission for in a dance class?
What are the potential transactions and results of granting permission?
So where does permission fit into the framework of a dance technique class and why do I think it is a crucial part of teaching?
As a student I choose how I behave in a class, and in return the teacher and my classmates choose how they are going to respond to my choices. My decision to attend to my self by modifying movement may be met with a smile or a demand to push through and adhere to what has been given. I can accept either outcome. However, many students have not reached a point in their education where they feel comfortable going against normative behavior without being given an explicit invitation.
As a teaching artist, it is a tricky balance to attend to the needs of a diverse group of students. I am still developing methods for ensuring that every student feels valued, safe, and free to follow the path and process of their own learning. I am finding that in my class this means you will not find the tight knit unison found in many traditionally technique classes. While I do teach set movement exercises and phrases, I am finding that it is important to allow flexibility in the structure. We can work collectively on an element, but often students have their own agenda and I feel that is important to make space for that.
In the end I feel that this comes down to my desire to allow every student the opportunity to fully embody movement. I am not interested in a student's ability to copy my actions, but rather in their ability to fully investigate and explore what the pathway is in their body. In order to do so I must give them permission to make choices, play, take risks, and ask questions.
A while back I took an online class through Coursera entitled "Effective Classroom Interactions: Supporting Young Children's Development." The class was taught by several professors at The University of Virginia, and was free and open to the public. This class was hands down the most valuable training I have received as an educator. Furthermore, the information shared in this class has also outweighed everything I have read about teaching. I can not give this course enough credit for my development as a teacher or my growing theories on education.
Lately I have been considering the need to interact with students outside of instructional time. I feel that a personal relationship with my students would deepen the learning experience. For example, as I get to know my students better I may learn that English is not their first language at home. Or I may learn that a student has a passion that connects or relates to the work we are doing in the classroom and that in return may deepen their engagement with the material. I believe that relationships have a huge impact on learning. I find that I am more comfortable asking questions once I know how a teacher will respond to my questions. I feel more at ease expressing myself when positive communication has been established.
This strategy of spending time with a teacher outside of instructional time was first brought to my attention during the previously mentioned online course. The idea was called Banking Time, and you can learn more about it by reading clicking here.
Banking Time however, only addresses relationships with students who are disruptive in the classroom. I believe that all students deserve one on one time with the teacher. As a well behaved student, I would have been upset that the trouble makers were receiving special time with the teacher. This would have created a frustration, and perhaps hostility in me. I love the idea of giving students free time with a teacher, I just have trouble with the inequality of who gets the time.
I have been considering what this free time would look like and how it might be implemented. As a dance studio teacher, I saw that my first classes of the day often went more smoothly than the rest. I feel that this is partly because I was able to spend time with the students in a more relaxed environment before class began. I would strive to arrive 15-20 minutes before class began, and would play, read together, and have conversations with my students. The students who consistently came early for class and had this bonding time did better in class. It allowed the students time to be heard and engaged without an agenda. The students felt closer to me from this shared experience, and in return were more open in the classroom. I was able to teach the students better because I had spent time with them. In the classroom we are leading, teaching, and asking questions of our students, but I feel strongly that there needs to be a time built in that is more neutral. When we engage our students in a different environment we are able to see other facets of who they are.
So how can we as teachers make this happen in our already limited teaching time? While I am not an elementary school teacher, I love the idea of teachers setting aside one hour before school starts for each student. Students would be encouraged to schedule a "play date" with their teacher. This free time would be spent in the classroom, between the student and teacher, and would involve whatever safe activities the student wanted. For example, a student could bring a favorite book from home to read together or an art project could be done or you could just eat lunch together. Just like banking time, the teacher would not lead, teach, or question the student. Not only would this give the students time to adjust to the new classroom and lay of the land, it was allow them to establish a positive relationship with their teacher before school started. I strongly feel that investing one hour in each student at the very beginning would make a HUGE difference in the success of the classroom. I recognize that this time would be difficult to carve out, and would require the support of administration.
I am still sorting out all of my thoughts on free time- and I suspect that I will be writing about this more and researching strategies already in place. For the time being, it's dinner time :)
I haven't written anything in a while. This summer I was busy teaching summer camps at Claire School of Dance followed by a move to Iowa City, Iowa. Now that things are finally settling down, I am finding myself with some free time to recharge and incubate before school starts. Did I mention that I am starting my MFA at The University of Iowa this fall?
A daily habit I am cultivating is regular nature walks. As a child I can remember playing outside every day. At the center of this memory are tire swings and honeysuckle bushes. I remember the changes of the seasons and the different activities each would bring. I was fortunate to grow up in a spacious neighborhood with large yards, trees, and gardens. I feel a deep sense of peace outside. Our new apartment building is right off of Clear Creek Trail, a two mile walking and biking path through woods and prairies alongside a creek. The past few days I have walked the path there and back, roughly just under four miles round trip, that takes me a bit over an hour. I pass the occasional biker or jogger; thus far I have been the only walker. This quiet, secluded time has given my mind the freedom to wander.
Lately I have been feeling so full, it has been difficult to write, because my thoughts feel jumbled. These walks have helped me find a clarity and have cleared my head space so that I can be creative. I am learning that I need quiet, secluded spaces to decompress. The physical act of walking also gives my body enough movement to let my mind release. For me, the act of sitting is too loud- I notice too much about my body when I sit or stand still. I sense every micro shift, and my mind is not free to let my body go. I am finding that walking is like the lull of the ocean or the rocking of a boat; it is soothing, and gives me the respite I need.
I know that this habit will be much more difficult to continue as my schedule becomes fuller. However, I know that when my life gets hectic I will need this quiet time more than ever. I am excited to continue walking as the seasons begin to change, and I hope that by sharing this experience here on my blog, it will serve as a reminder and motivator to continue the habit!