Imagine this: it is June 21st, the first Tuesday of summer vacation, only the fifth Tuesday in the last nine months in which 30 eight-year-olds weren’t looking to you for direction for the next six hours, and suddenly your alarm sounds. You feel around for your phone, barely avoiding your half-full water glass and lightly petting Fluffy along the way.
7:00am? Huh? I could have sworn it was summer.
You roll back over and close your eyes. A moment later, it hits you. You signed up for the Imagine This! Creativity Symposium with Right Brain this week.
That sure seemed like a good idea back in February, but this bed is so awfully nice…
Nevertheless, you’re a teacher, after all. A passionate teacher who always shows up and will do anything to better yourself for your students, so twenty minutes later your teeth are brushed and shoes are tied. You are sporting your school pride t-shirt that reads “Safe, Responsible, Respectful.” You could not be more ready.
You jump on the #4 bus down to the Portland Art Museum (PAM), feeling ever so thankful that Right Brain promised to provide coffee. On the commute, you contemplate the theme for Imagine This! 2016, Giving Voice Through the Arts—wondering what that will look like in each of the workshops.
You arrive at PAM, just four days after the last day of the 2015-16 school year. With coffee in one hand and a #2 pencil in the other, you sit down with thirty other dedicated colleagues. You are eager to be challenged and ready to create, because with Right Brain the learning doesn’t stop.
The next three days are an exciting blur of art-making, exploration, and collaboration.
It is now June 25th and as you savor your first leisurely breakfast of the summer, you finally have the chance reflect on your experience. You met fellow educators with similar passions. You problem solved and asked questions. You made new connections. You left feeling inspired.
If your imagination allowed, you have just walked in the shoes of many educators who attended our 2016 Imagine This! Creativity Symposium on June 21-23, 2016. Now it is time to get real with few reflections from four of these educators:
In describing the format of the symposium local teaching artist, Christine Martell wrote:
I was impressed by the attention to detail at the 2016 Imagine This! conference presented by the Right Brain Initiative. The program was designed to provide a range of experiences across media and format and was supported by lovely touches like useful cooler bags with snacks and Brain Food idea decks. Looking back on the three days, I got something useful from each session and was able to apply some of them right away in my work.
Her sentiments were echoed by arts non-profit director, Tempest NeuCollins as she recalled:
The workshops were largely led by teaching artists, and were primarily hands-on, encouraging participants to not just passively listen to information, but to interpret, process, and thus internalize it in a way that was meaningful to them. Almost all the workshops built in time for questions and reflection, which added the benefit of peer-learning.
The workshop entitled, “STEAM Education in the K-8 Classroom” with Nicole Penoncello tackled adding the “A (arts)” into “STEM (science, technology, engineering, math)” learning. Participants explored ways to make science concepts more accessible to students through visual art.
I’ve always been a bit hesitant to embrace the STEAM movement, mostly because I assumed that the integrity of the art lesson would be compromised by fitting it into another subject’s confines. But, the presenter, Nicole Penoncello, did an impressive job of linking her visual art lessons to the other subjects while still claiming an art-specific space for her students to explore and creatively problem solve. She allowed room in her lessons for individual interpretations, and supported the other subjects without illustrating them. It completely changed my understanding of STEAM and its possibilities.
It made me consider what tools my organization could develop to support specific learning objectives and thus make it easier for teachers to incorporate lessons supporting (but not illustrating) their other lesson objectives.
Featured presenter, Glenis Redmond, led a plenary session called, “Poems of Origin: Where I am From” in which she guided participants to tell their own story through autobiographical poems and discover the innate rhythm of their own authentic voices.
Teaching artist and educator, Mami Takahashi reflected:
In the “Poems of Origin: Where I Am From” workshop with the featured presenter Glenis Redmond, I discovered at least two things I can bring into my class: 1. Non-native English speakers can enjoy making poems in English if the guidance is clear, 2. The power of poetry making can be apply to the other art forms.
Student and first-year teacher, Peggy Wong recapped:
Working with Glenis Redmond was amazing. She made me introspect into things I had long forgotten, and be proud of the qualities from my identity that make me who I am now—so seamlessly, that I believed I was a poet, writing, dreaming, feeling so intensely.
On the second day of the conference, nationally renowned creative director, Jelly Helm, served as the lunch keynote speaker. In his talk, From Catholic School to Corporate America: Survival Stories of a Creative Kid, Jelly discussed how to remain inspired and creative in a structured world. He shared honest and personal stories of navigating life’s institutions like school, fatherhood, and business.
In describing her takeaways from the talk, Wong stated:
Jelly Helm presented a very valid point of view regarding creativity. He said creativity is a “feeling function,” it’s connected to our being. What I loved about his talk is he told us we must stop trying to limit creativity to the creation of art, whether that is music, dance, visual arts, etc. Creativity is problem solving: to face a situation and make according decisions that will impact the course of something. Therefore, creativity is not just for artists. We are all creative in our day by day lives and we must trust this creative process.
While providing participants with ideas and strategies for arts integration, Imagine This! also impacted participants’ philosophies and broader approach to their practice. Christine, Mami, and Peggy reflected (respectively):
It was inspiring to be in a place where everyone was thinking about arts integration. It can be difficult to find peers as a community-based artist, but here each person had a range of experiences so I knew I could learn something from everyone. I also found it helpful to participate in exercises in poetry and music that are out of my comfort zone. It helped me remember the fear of the unknown and what worked to ease and guide me through the related creative anxiety.
I believe that art education can reveal, heal and re-structure something about our lives. I left the symposium with homework: How can I provide better art and culture programs to the students of recent immigrants from non-English speaking countries, low-income families, and non-white students?
I have always believed we promote change when we belong and make ourselves part of a community. Events like Imagine This! allow you to interact with others that might have a different perspective than yours, and even challenge your own perceptions and preconceived ideas. What I really enjoyed was that all the workshops presented hands-on activities that allowed us to look within our own ideas, and emotions, and present them through movement, songs, poems, or visual art.
Together, these four accounts provide a glimpse into the community that was built and the culture of learning that was fostered at Imagine This! 2016. In choosing the theme Giving Voice Through the Arts we hoped that attendees would find their story, build connections, and discover creative processes that empower them to use their voice—to express, to questions, and to share themselves with the world. Because after all, with Right Brain, the learning never stops, not even for summer vacation.