My values and practice of creating inclusive communities
After 15 years of teaching in higher education, I have finally arrived at what I value most in the classroom (and in my life): Belonging, Agency, and Compassion. As I integrate equity and inclusivity in my teaching, scholarship, and service I am guided by these three values. To foster this in class, we discuss our expectations, hopes, and fears and what it means to build a learning community together. We then create a list of values from which we write our community agreement. I offer suggestions but let the students decide how the draft ultimately reads and how we will commit to one another, ourselves, and the space. Examples from agreements include: affirm one another, make space for others, and constructive feedback comes from love and care.
Making Learning Explicit
My mission is to demystify acting by teaching tangible, specific, and repeatable skills through collaborative play, exploration, and discussion. To make the process of learning explicit, I use clear exercise progressions that foster both visceral and intellectual discoveries. I acknowledge that understanding a skill and being able to manifest it are two vastly different things and set a container where students can work on reducing the gap between understanding and demonstrating. I stress that closing that gap is a lifelong endeavor and that leaving the studio knowing what we need to work on is a victory. Project-based learning gives students freedom to play and productively fail, and I champion curiosity and focus on process throughout.
It's About Respect
Learning how to talk about artistic work constructively and respectfully is critical for young artists. I provide frameworks that inspire collaborative feedback and encourage students to strive for clear, intentional choices not “correct” choices. I encourage students to be self-analytical, not self-critical. I offer concrete feedback that focuses on how a dynamic moment can be achieved. I don’t impose choices but offer options for clarity through language that emphasizes respect for the artist and allows the student to maintain ownership of their work.
Using consent-based, trauma-informed practices, my goal is for students to feel seen and heard. I believe students' boundaries are perfect where they are, and “no” is a completely acceptable answer. Students’ names, identities, languages, and lived experiences are valuable in the development of their artistic identities and I allow space for these identities to change. Above all, I champion trust in oneself/instrument and believe that sometimes the most powerful learning happens when the students do the talking.
Learning to Learn
I guide and mentor students to be independent thinkers. The most important thing that I teach is to learn how to learn. In addition to course content, if a student can develop the capacity to pause, reflect, make meaning, and expand their knowledge, then I have done my job. I seek to help students create thought processes to sustain them as they navigate the challenges of life and the theatre, film, and television Industries.
Always Finding New Beginnings
Student artists grow through repetition and reflection. In each class we begin and end together in a circle, we acknowledge our community agreement, we meditate, we tune up the actor instrument, and we close by “gathering the fruit” and sharing a takeaway from class. Self-grading opportunities allow students to reflect on their learning and challenge them to consider their own effort and participation. For performance projects, the students reflect on what is valuable about an exercise, then together, we develop a rubric based on mutually agreed upon criteria. In lieu of journals, I meet frequently with students to encourage reflection through dialogue. This offers me my own personal set of reflections for growth and change in my teaching.
Learning Comes First. Period.
To foreground learning, I first acknowledge the unique conditions and expectations of the theatre classroom: students and teachers both agree to be supremely vulnerable and to be evaluated on their vulnerability. Meanwhile, the demands of the academic and production calendars leave us sleep-deprived, overworked, and often under-nourished. Naming these expectations and challenges frees us from being dominated by them; it empowers the students and it empowers me. It creates a community where we can acknowledge our humanity and prioritize learning. Then, we can get to work doing what we love.
Learning comes before all else, including my own ego. When I share this standard with my students, I also ask them to hold me accountable. This reminds me to consider how all activities and assignments facilitate learning. I am not interested in making work for students but making meaning for them. True teaching and learning, then, is when I can make meaning for and with my students.