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Last Friday we had our Spotlight Sharing at the IU. It was the final day of a 4 year journey for some. I have been a part of Arts Educator for 3 years. Each year had its unique characteristics and challenges. What I loved especially about this year was the Affinity Grouping that brought each group together that first day back in the Fall. I still remember sharing my statement, not having a notion of where I would fit, and the whole group basically pointing out who else I belonged with. As we sat together and began to formulate our inquiry question for the year, I was struck by our similarities. I felt like I was coming home.

Now our final meeting, as each group presented it was so obvious to me how we ended up in the groups we did. Each group’s approach was so different from ours. Yet, it was it was clear that the individuals within the groups were connected to their inquiry question and bonded in their efforts.

For me in my group, it all came together on our final work day. When we started thinking of our spotlight. It was one of those times that I have found myself in a group when there was no disagreement. Everyone was on the same page. As I reflect on that I realize that each of our CIG meetings and other days together had that same kind of simpatico.

I have a way of looking at the world that seems to aggravate and frustrate some people at times. I am not capable of taking a negative view and sustaining it. If I looked at my students, administrators, parents, and fellow teachers the way many of my colleagues do, I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning. At the risk of sharing too much, I’m sure I was born with this temperament, but childhood tragedy and a lifelong approach to healing from it have also shaped my character. The world can be dangerous and downright deadly. If I allow myself to dwell in a place of negativity I know I will succumb to it and disappear. Finding hope and self-knowledge through the arts has been a sustaining factor for me and drives my teaching practice.

For many years I have felt alone among my colleagues. When I began Arts Educator 3 years ago, I immediately felt more connected. As we were placed in our groups I met some other teachers with whom I felt an affinity. Sometimes our group did  not agree (which is not necessarily a bad thing), but again I was reminded that not everyone shares my life view. Being a part of the Inquiring heARTS has shown me unequivocally that I am not alone. Our teaching style, lessons, age groups and subject matter my be different, but there are at least 4 other people on the planet that see the glass half full through rose colored glasses. There are others who treasure their own heart and those of every other human we come in contact with. There are those who look at each child who enters the classroom as something unique and beautiful, to be appreciated, treasured, and reminded of their exquisiteness.

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I decided to reflect on the meeting in which we chose our group names…

I recall our group was rather indecisive…I think everyone felt that our name had to contain a real essence of meaning and not just the first thing that popped in our heads. Im a big believer in the power of naming something…people, books, even my blog posts for crying out loud! I think the way we chose our name kind of tells us something about who we are as a group and even as individuals. We picked kind of a ‘dumb’ name at first (no, I am not meaning to say we are dumb haha)…Apple, I believe, just so we could have something for the wiki and we figured it gave us a little extra time to think and we could change it later. I wish I could recall who came up with Inquiring heARTS but it doesn’t exactly matter now. The reason we chose this name for our group is because all of us have a very strong desire to reach not just the intellect of our students, but, at the risk of sounding cheesy, their hearts as well. We see art as a way to touch the souls of humanity and as a source of healing as well as expression. And of course, it is through inquiry that we can find better ways of doing this. And what would our group’s name be without a little bit of a nod to the arts within the name? You can thank the two group members who just happen to be art teachers and their last name is Gartley…or as they enjoy writing it: gARTley. Haha….oh yes, we are that corny.

But really, I enjoy the somewhat innocent and idealistic notions of our group as opposed to the griping, negative complaints I so often hear from people in my profession. Sorry, but I, we, actually do believe that we can make our world a better, brighter place…and one of those ways is through artistic expression and discovery, both of oneself and the world around them. Our scope is inner and outer…it must be both. We have a running joke in our group that we all poop rainbows. Slightly crude, but funny and totally true. But I think that there is something great about being that optimistic, hopeful….isn’t that part of the very fuel that landed men’s faces on our currency and glues people to their seats during shows about real life journeys to success be it in sports, music, politics, whatever?

I’m not any of those types, and I probably will never have a book written about me, or a documentary, or even as much as a magazine article. But none of that really tells us whether or not we have influence, value, or have left a mark. Sorry if this is turning into a philosophical blog. I can’t help it really, because to me, art is so deeply rooted in who we are as a race. That’s why I love the name our group chose because it speaks of something more than itself. I think everyone is and has an inquiring heart…and I think it’s important to see problems, ask questions, seek out answers. Imagine, if we use inquiry in our classrooms more….our students will learn how to see problems themselves, not just be told about them…be given a voice to ask questions, not made to be silent and always listen because they could not possibly have anything to bring to the table…and search for the answers, realizing that part of the process is making mistakes and the power we get is learning from them and trying again or making a better way. How valuable are these qualities to the generation that will one day govern our planet? Innovation, imagination, discovery, creativity…what does your heart inquire?

After my students completed their scenes and chose their instruments, I collaborated with our school’s art teacher, and one of my CIG members, on how they would color their scenes. She chose four different art techniques and had them use each one for their scenes. The techniques were pointillism, monochromatic, all primary or all secondary, and abstract. The next step was for the students to attach card onto each scene of the instruments they used in that scene and what they represented.
They were also to create a title for their story.

It was great to see how most of my students worked very diligently on their projects and were independent in making decisions and solving problems on their own. It was also exciting to watch their creativity flow from themselves and not from me. I gave them all a choice on how they wanted to present their work. They could either present it verbally to their classmates or they could write out a story on paper. All of my students wanted to present to their classmates. I think part of this was due to them wanting to avoid writing, but I think more of it was the fact they were proud of their hard work and wanted to show it off.

Their presentations were quite informal, which is what I wanted…I didn’t want them to feel any pressure but to just simply talk and share about what they did. They used the iPads to play each sound in their scenes and explained why they chose those sounds. I then had a my students vote on which group’s project best represented their class for the Arts Ed Day presentation. I explained to them that they shouldn’t pick their own project simply because it’s theirs, but they should choose based on the quality of workmanship placed in the project. I was really impressed to find that the votes seemed to reflect the projects that I would have chosen as well, knowing how much work and effort each group put into their projects. It seemed that their classmates also had that same sense and I think it made people feel a sense of justice and reward for their hard work.

The best things about this project were that the students were able to make their own choices and decisions about how they wanted to portray their work. I enjoyed letting them create an artistic work by using their understanding and interpretations. I think it allowed them the ability to expand their understanding of instruments, their specific timbres, and the way a composer might think when they are forming a piece of music. The greatest set back I came into contact with during this project was timing. Since this was something I never did with a class before, I didn’t have all the details figured out right away. I started with an idea and took it from their….and in some instances that is good, but in this one, it just made the projects last over too long of a period of time. Since I only see the students once a week…and if that depending on holidays, in-services, etc. it made it difficult to complete in a more appropriate time period. However, I think that since I know exactly how the details of the project work, if I do it again, I have a lot more things figured out and I can tweak the details as needed. But I think that’s how our lessons plans should work…they should be mold able and able to evolve and change according to what our students need.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my five years of teaching it’s that you can’t make cookie cutter lessons when there are no cookie cutter people. Few things will work all the time, some most of the time, most will work some of the time, and some will completely fail. I think we often learn most from the ones that dont work lie we thought they would. The goal is not perfection, because you may think you habe “the perfect lesson” and then some snotty kid says “this is boring”…then what? The point is to try and use what works, modify if needed, and scrap what doesn’t. Change is as necessary as consistency….and you can have adaption and evolution amid consistency. I’m a firm believer in needing both. You need creativity and structure, you need imagination and logic, you need the arts AND

I’ve been asked to join the science teachers and write a grant for an outdoor learning space. Does anyone have any ideas for something that that I could benefit from? The outdoor space alone will be great, but I’m not sure if there are any art specific elements I could focus on. Help if you can, please!!

I am struck by the differences from class to class, 9 weeks to 9 weeks, period to period, semester to semester. I wonder how much it is related to the time of year. It could be the mix of the group. It could be me.

The 2 sections of art 1 that I had first semester were so creative and self-motivated. Posing the big inquiry question to them “How can you influence the story of our school through your art?” felt risky, I guess because I had never done anything like it before, but the response was unequivocally powerful and prolific. Although there were some days of confusion as they sorted out whether to work in groups or alone and then began their planning, soon the classroom was a buzz of art making, problem solving, and collaboration.

Fast forward to second semester and a new group. A big one-30 students, same as first semester period 1, but now it is period 4, the last one of the day. The group was not cohesive, very cliquish, some students who just downright do not care to be there, and filled with early dismissals and other disruptions. All factors that played into the general ennui. Was I less enthusiastic? Possibly, but certainly not consciously. The end result? I did not pose a “big” inquiry question to them, like I did to the others. We did make lots of cool art, all my lessons, units, projects, are posed in the form of inquiry now, and even the “too cool for school kids” were somewhat won over in the end (they love the altered book project). I can’t help feeling like I failed somehow with this bunch by not giving them the same experience the others had.

On March 2 our CIG met at the Uniontown High School to help out with a program taking place.  The Invisible Children program came to present their video Kony 2012. IC has been presenting an assembly at the Uniontown District for the last 5 years. Their non-profit organization raises awareness for the plight of children in Uganda affected by the 20 year war. These children are constantly threatened with kidnap, torture, sexual slavery and being forced into fighting. Each year as the students see the new informational video and hear from the young Ugandans who share their stories in person, they respond with compassion and generosity. This compassion seems to manifest itself through art. This year the young people have planned a 5K run followed by an art and music festival.  Many times students respond n a very emotional way through their art making. These pieces are then part of the festival and may be experienced and purchased by the attendees. I have seen first hand how art making answers the deep seated question “Ok, I see this terrible need on the other side of the world, but what can I do about it.

So I am here trying to get my last blog post together and I feel that I have made a lot of progress since my last post, but I have not been able to completely accomplish the project that I set out to do this year.

After my first attempt at getting students to create and edit their own music was not successful, I re-worked my approach and I have had some successes since!  Students researched song that were either written for protest or historical perspective.  The kids picked quite a variety of songs, from Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, Country Artists, Hip Hop Artists and  Whitney Houston.  The themes the kids focused on were racism, teen violence, child abuse, self image and patriotism.

I then charged the students with the task of making a decision about what they believe in or stand for, or to describe an event in their own perspective.  Students worked in groups and all of them were able to poems, phrases, and lyrics to make their statements.  Today, students were working on recording their statements and manipulating the sound files using Audacity.  Most of the groups were able to really contribute and create something, but one group who really had something to say and share “lost” their work and now I am worried that they will not get it recorded before Friday’s meeting…

This had really been a great year and I feel that this has really touched on our question: “How can we help students discover who they are and their connection to the world?”

Our last meeting at the IU was very useful.  Our Cig talked about the different lessons that we were going to focus on for our final presentation.  We also planned how we are going to set up our spotlight.  The group helped me figure out what I could highlight and say as my main points in the presentation.  We discussed what the most interesting and beneficial parts of each of our lessons were so that we had a better idea of what to focus on.  We were each given a homework assignment to do to help prepare for the 18th and will be working on those independently.  I’m really hoping Amy doesn’t get too excited and go into labor.  If she does, she better skype in the delivery room.

Right now thinking and planning for the future seems almost impossible.

During the last 9 weeks I almost always am experimenting and trying new lessons to add to my repertoire for the upcoming school year, but because of the economic environment in education it is very difficult to imagine what next year will look like for me and the other arts educators in Pennsylvania.

I want to teach Music to kids.  Our students deserve a comprehensive education.  But in the face of waning budgets and financial constraints, I am aware that I may need to provide other options.

I am usually full of ideas, conversation and other options, but I have allowed politics and the anxiety of what is ahead consume my fervor.

So, here I am deciding on and accepting ideas.  Aware and concerned, but making a decision to be revitalized in this moment.  I guess I am wondering – what are my other options?  Do those options involved taking a test?  Taking some classes?  Stepping outside of my comfort zone?  Maybe all of these?  But I am going to look for them because this morning I felt empowered when I logged in and YAHOO reminded me that I do have them 🙂

Inquiring Hearts left a work day early to view a presentation held by Invisible Children roadies at the Uniontown High School.  Becky has an after school program where a group of students work to help raise money for the cause and gain more knowledge about the war in Africa.  I’m getting deeply involved this year and helping to plan a Music and Arts Festival this June with Becky and our friend and Invisible Children advocate, Kate Webster.  I’m also getting my school involved.  Kate presented a documentary about Invisible Children and we are making artwork to sell at the event.

The high school presentation was so moving.  A team of five roadies, three Americans, a New Zealander, and a woman from Uganda who escaped the LRA, came to speak to the high school.  They introduced the school to the Invisible Children cause and the video that went viral the next week.  The students seemed very receptive and we received a lot more interest for the after school program.

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