Journal Reflection 2 (Winter 2014-15)
In my time at Woodlawn, there are many strategies that I have been borrowing from the Museum’s charter school. One of these strategies is the idea of “unpacking” a word. If there is a word we do not know or is used in an unfamiliar way, we can take that word and unpack it. We think about what connections we already have in our brains, we think about stories that it makes us think of and we can think of pieces of the definition that we already know. We are “unpacking” the context and connections that go with the word to find the deeper intricacies inside. Coming in to this month’s reflection I am inspired to unpack the word partnership and to think a bit more about its intricacies and context.
A partnership, in bare definition, is two (or more?) parties coming together to accomplish something. Partnership means that both parties are involved and that both parties are working toward the same goal or at least facing the same direction. Ideally it means that both parties are involved in the decision making, the meaning making and the revision of the processes. Ideally it means open communication and empathy towards each other’s needs and ideas. I think the most important piece of the definition is the word “both.” Both parties are giving, both parties are receiving. Both parties are involved and both parties are present.
This is a very difficult thing, and something that I am really interested in learning more about in the whole context of Studio to School. Each of our programs is attempting to gather professionals with extremely different schedules, different backgrounds and sometimes different mindsets to the table. It is exciting to hear about so many true partnerships around the state.
For our program in particular, I feel that we are constantly having to check ourselves that we are still in “partnership.” That we are still bringing both parties needs and ideas to the table. That we are challenging each other to think bigger and differently. Most importantly, we need to make sure we are staying true to the original reason we entered into this partnership in the first place.
Which is: To explore what it would mean in include materials as languages in the curriculum of Woodlawn School.
Knowing that storytelling is another very valuable piece of the work we are doing, I will share a couple quick stories of partnership’s ups and downs in this collaboration thus far.
Partnership in professional development:
In addition to weekly classroom visits, one of the pillars to our collaboration together is our year long professional development schedule. Teachers in the cohort are invited to attend a series of workshops offered by the Museum’s Center for Learning. The Opal School (the Museum’s charter school) acts as a learning laboratory. Each year the teacher researchers that work in the school organize learning events for educators around the world to attend. This year, Woodlawn teachers were invited to share in these events as a means of offering inspiration and potential new ideas and strategies.
Given the different nature of our organizations, and given the insanely over scheduled days of teachers, it is very difficult to find time to meet as a full group. It is, however, the only real time that change and full group collaboration can happen.
At the beginning of February we had a meeting with many of the involved teachers. One of the explicit purposes of this meeting was to check in with all parties on how this partnership was going and to give a platform for suggestions to improve our relationship and to improve what we were offering to each other. Though not all of the teachers voices were in unison, it was clear that many were hoping for some pragmatic adjustments to our professional development program.
We found that if we were hoping the teachers would share hands on material experiences with their students, they too needed hands on material time. We also found that offering fewer, shorter and more tailored workshops offered right on campus at Woodlawn allowed the teachers to avoid having so many subs and to focus their time on their students.
Our third PD workshop in January was modified to fit some of the requests and goals of the teachers. We had a specific Woodlawn breakout sessions to have more focused conversations and skill sharing time and we spent a very productive morning preparing materials that could be used in the classroom.
Though teachers will still be invited to attend professional development workshops put on by the museum, our final studio to school workshop will be in the evening at Woodlawn focused directly on how to be successful with materials in the classroom.
It is difficult in these type of collaborations to keep everyone on the same page. We are slowly establishing our best practices for balancing two cultures as we move forward.
Partnership with individual teachers:
I have seen in many artist in residence programs that a teaching artist will prepare a lesson, bring in their craft, lead a lesson and leave. All of this while the classroom teacher observes, or sometimes leaves the classroom altogether.
It is a goal of this program to get away from that. We want for the teaching artist to partner directly with the classroom teacher in the planning process and to find ways to connect the material work with the rest of the classroom work. Because of this, we scheduled a face to face meeting time each week in addition to the classroom material exploration time. This, in addition to emails throughout the week, allow for the teachers to share what questions they are already exploring with their students. Often times this has meant that we will pull from their reading or writing prompts of the week to explore ideas further with clay.
When a class was exploring a story about moving and feeling uncomfortable in a new place, we took the question “What makes a place feel like home?” to clay to explore and have a conversation. When classes were in longer term studies of personal narrative and small moment stories, we asked “what details do you notice when you look closely?”
In some cases, we have decided together that it makes more sense to focus on the students emotional intellect before jumping into their writing prompts. The third grade class in particular has quite a few students who have a tough time self managing. That manifests in always loud, conflict heavy, and sometimes violent classroom time. The teacher in this class is also new to the school and to this group of students. She was hoping to introduce her students to a common vocabulary around mindfulness. We decided to focus a few weeks on slowing down and noticing. Both the teacher and I adopted some of the same language to help infuse “mindful,” “notice,” and “wonder” into the classroom culture.
Meeting and planning each week allows for the art experiences to emerge from what is happening currently in the classroom. It does, however, make for more complicated scheduling and planning.
Moving forward, I would be interested to see us plan out some lessons a could weeks in advance so that we can know what we are working towards. I would also be very interested to see how the students would react to having some of their readings be genre studies of artist statements or other writing pieces that fit directly with the work they will be doing with materials.
There is another partnership in this program that may not be as visible to the outside world. The Museum, however, is made up of three pieces (Museum, Opal Charter School and Center for Learning). We are a school and an educational non-profit sharing a roof, and a mission statement. Even with so many things shared, our shared long term projects are few.
One of the goals of this grant was to create a bridge for collaboration between these internal pieces. Matt (Center for Learning Administrator and Teacher Researcher) and I (Kristi, Teacher Artist and Programs Manager for the Museum) have been meeting on a weekly basis. We discuss my work in the classrooms and plans for professional development. Matt shares stories from the charter school and I share stories from Woodlawn looking for connections and new strategies to try. We have also been using this time to offer support to the teachers in printing of photographs and provocation questions.
Really, we have found that our collaboration is often a refocusing of the question “are we still navigating towards our original goal?” It has been very helpful to have that outlet.
Partnership with the students:
It seems remiss of me to claim that my goal is to honor students words and ideas but not to mention them as a partner in this process. One of the reasons that I do not have a full year curriculum set before coming in to the classrooms is that what we are doing is based on the students themselves. Best practices with one group of students may not be best practices with another. At this point, I have been lucky enough to work with these classes for enough time that I am getting to know the students. This is very different than the short term interactions that often have in artist in residence programs and I am grateful for these partners who teach me more and more with each visit.
All of these partnerships have been necessary for this work to happen. We as an arts organization are in somewhat foreign territory entering into school. We need the input and ideas of the teachers, the students and administrative staff to know how to best move forward in this school’s culture.