It’s been a busy school year, learning a new position at my district, creating a program for special needs students, and working on a graduate program. Along the way, many other obstacles have come my way, but things are finally coming to a slowdown, even though I’m still working throughout June with a summer fine arts summer program and special needs theatre camp. I’m also finally at the end of my graduate program journey, starting my last two classes. It has been quite a learning experience, one that will definitely help me in my current position. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and I’m excited that I’ll be able to give even more to creating unforgettable experiences for our students.
Impacting Lives Through Theatre
I’m always trying to be a better person, inspire others, give my students hope. Working in a very low income community, it’s so important to get students to understand the world is theirs. This year, as I began my new role as elementary fine arts coordinator, I also began a theatre team for students with special needs and peer mentors. The Penguin Project is a unique theatrical experience for these students. In the few months that I’ve been working with these kids, I’ve seen such incredible impacts that it’s making on the lives of everyone involved. I’ve seen students that were so quiet and reserved around the mentors, now speaking up and performing their lines like a pro. Just something about going through an experience together as a group that bonds everyone in a way nothing else can. I love to see how excited everyone is to see each other when they first arrive at our rehearsals. It’s definitely life changing. Our performances will take place at the end of January, and now that we are so close to the winter break, the stress is real, but they are working through it, encouraging each other, and pushing on. In my 18 years of directing elementary theatre shows, my favorite part of the whole experience was the very end, the moments right before the actors take their bows, the moment they realize what they accomplished. I just know I am not going to be able to hold my emotions back with this production. I hope that this will teach these students that they can achieve big things, they can be stars, they are important.
Learning Networks are so very important not only for students, but just to continue to always learn and grow as a person and in your career. Learning from others, discovering their stories, experiences, and lessons can be very impactful. I’ve been a part of many learning networks over the years. I think a huge resource I’ve been participating in for many years is Facebook and the many learning networks available at your fingertips on your phone. I am a part of several Facebook groups that allow me the opportunity to connect with people from around the world, share ideas, concerns, media and files, and so much more.
-These learning networks allow me to connect with fine arts teachers. In these groups, lessons are shared, resources, photos of activities that worked and those that didn’t, games, and more. The groups are setup in a way that gives everyone freedom to post without the fear of being wrong. They are uplifting, inspiring, help teach and provide important input and feedback. The learning I gain from these groups, I’m able to share with the fine arts teachers that I lead.
Facebook: Elementary Art Teachers
Facebook: Art Teacher Resources
Facebook: Costuming For Everyone
Facebook: Broadway Jr, G2K, YPE, Teachers and Director’s Group
Facebook: Drama Teachers Hub
Facebook: Theatre K-8
Facebook: Texas Art Teachers
Facebook: Google Classroom For Music Teachers
In our district, we also have created an elementary fine arts teachers learning network. We meet monthly, discuss issues happening in the classroom, share new lessons, and even present a few lessons a month to take back to their own classrooms. The learning isn’t limited to our monthly meetings. We also have a text thread where we share and discuss daily with the group. This has had a huge impact on creating better experiences in the arts for our students.
Becoming A Self Differentiated Leader
In my journey through the graduate program I’m currently in and my desire to make positive change in my district, I’m working towards being a more self differentiated leader. Edwin Friedman wrote the book “A Failure of Nerve” where he presents that a self differentiated leader is essential to being an effective and successful leader. This type of leader leads by knowing the emotions and ideas of their team, but not letting them dominate how they make decisions. Instead of trying to make everyone on their team happy and lead in that way, they must know their boundaries and be able to make those hard decisions and stick to what is best for the team. Nobody is a born self differentiated leader. Like me, I’m growing and evolving to hopefully become successful in being a self differentiated leader by knowing and identifying the qualities that one possesses and how they affect the overall team. I’m hoping to lead my team in a supportive and inspiring manner, but also able to make those hard decisions and keep our the goal the focus. I’m also developing my ability to contain my reactions and emotions to situations so as not to identify too closely and become ineffective when faced with a challenging decision, one that I may need to take a hard stance on. It’s something that I’ve already begun to practice in my new role leading all the elementary fine arts teachers in my district. There have been times already where I’ve had to have the crucial conversations, and I’m lucky to have been studying self differentiated leadership at the right time, because it’s proven to be the best way to lead our team. Learning these skills has allowed me to lead with a clear vision and path to follow and make decisions based on that vision and path, no matter what challenges faced. I’m eager to see where this will allow us to go as a group and in my innovation plan as it develops and flourishes.
I don’t think teachers know just how many learning communities are out there that they can be a part of to help them be more successful. One resource I use all the time is Facebook Groups. I am a part of several fine arts groups that allow me to gain a wealth of knowledge from teachers all over the world. In these groups, teachers share innovative lessons, have the chance to ask others questions and get diverse answers, and connect with teachers that can inspire and provide new learning opportunities. What I really love about Facebook Groups is that you can find just the right group for you, zeroed in on specific subjects, grade levels, etc. then have the teachers in the same boat, learning and sharing in that targeted area. When I was in the classroom, I used these groups often to try new lessons from teachers and was able to ask questions and get feedback about setbacks or issues. Now, I’m able to continue participating in these groups, but gathering resources, ideas and knowledge to share with the teachers I lead. They are very beneficial in helping create the best experiences for our students in our district. If you are not a part of a Facebook group, join one today and see the possibilities.
Becoming an Educational Influencer
It’s pretty exciting seeing things I’ve thought of, go from paper, to implementation. Since I started in my new position, I’ve only just begun to bring new ideas and experiences to the schools I serve. Things that I used to use in my own classroom, or that I thought would be perfect to expand, I now seeing taking shape. My first influential move is bringing theatre education to our elementary schools. The first phase began with 3 schools, and now expanded to 5 schools integrating theatre into their students’ fine arts experiences. With the knowledge, strategies and skills I learned with creating my own elementary theatre program, I’ve been able to help others build their own programs, which have in turn spawned excitement with other campuses. Using things I’ve learned within my classes in the graduate program I’m in, I’ve been able to bring some positive change to almost half of the schools I serve. As I continue, my ultimate goal will be extending the programs to every elementary school in our district. I am also actively working with a digital learning department in my district to bring my innovation project, implementation of ePortfolios, into fruition at our School of the Arts.
Why the whole educational world hasn’t moved into developing growth mindsets, I will never know. Even though I knew about the concept, even taught the basics of “yet”, I never dove deep into what it could really do to change the way my students learn, the way I learn. It’s seriously a GAME CHANGER. I’m excited to learn as much as I can about the Growth Mindset in my current graduate class. If anyone could benefit, it’s our students.
Fine Arts For ALL
I’m always looking for new experiences to expose our students to. Today, we gave 3 schools the opportunity to participate in a performance by a local string quartet. I didn’t know how our students would react. Would they like it? Hate it? They LOVED it! For almost an hour, students were enthralled, mouths open wide with awe and excitement. My arts driven heart was bursting with pride. Most of our students get little to no arts experiences at home. It’s up to us to give them these unique and memorable experiences that will live with them forever. Last month, we exposed almost 2000 students to a performance by the San Antonio Philharmonic. I’m also working with several schools on a theatrical production for elementary students and have been rehearsing for another one with students with special needs. I am thankful for the move into this new position because I’m able to expand what I was doing at my school and am able to give all our students in our district the same types of opportunities. It’s something I never stop thinking about. What more can we do? What can we expose our students to? Whatever it takes to give them once in a lifetime experiences. It’s not something we should do, it’s something we MUST do. They deserve it.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Being in the Education field, you need to learn to go with the flow and change path in a minute’s notice if needed. To often, there are people that just cannot handle this type of environment and buckle under pressure. As teachers, if you can’t, you might as well start looking elsewhere. I’ve worked with a few colleagues that, no matter how hard they try, can’t seem to do this. But, what I think helps is planning. You have to plan accordingly, with backup plans and things that can be done if something goes wrong. You must plan, plan well thought out, engaging lessons, if not, students will see right through it.
It’s so hard, being in the Education field to remember that you MUST take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. For educators, there’s ALWAYS something we have to do. Whether working on creating for our classrooms, planning, grades, it’s always something. When we get home, that educator mind doesn’t shut off. After a while, things start to pile up in our brains, we start to lose focus, get stressed, and fall apart on Friday afternoons. Even though I say this, most of the time, I don’t do it either. So, I’ve decided, every day after I get home at the end of the day, I’ll set aside an hour to just relax. Then, if I have work to do, I’ll work on it for an hour, then I’ll take another break, finish up my work, and done for the day. I may not always stick to this, but I’m slowly implementing it into my life. On Fridays, after I’ve had a very long week, I also allow myself to buy something frivolous, a “want” not a “need”. It really helps with my mental health.