Creating Values-Based Learning 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. To foster these values, I trust students to decide the contents of our community agreements. This results in examples such as: affirm one another, make space for others, and constructive feedback comes from love and care. In these practices, I aim to give students agency and offer opportunities for us to discuss/discover our expectations, hopes, values, and fears, and what it means to build a learning community together. Using the agreement as a check-in tool throughout the semester allows for an expansive and supportive space so we can also engage in cultural conversations around diversity, equity, inclusivity, and representation in the arts.
Empowering the Student-Artist
Using consent-based, trauma-informed practices, my goal is for students to feel seen and heard. Students’ names, identities, and lived experiences are valued in the development of their voices and artistic identities and I allow space for these identities to change. I champion trust in oneself and believe that sometimes the most powerful learning happens when the students do the talking.
I teach tangible, specific, and sustainable skills through collaborative play, exploration, and discussion. I aim to make the learning process explicit through clear exercise progressions that encourage the merging of visceral and intellectual processes. I remind students that understanding and manifesting a skill are two vastly different things and use project-based learning to allow students the freedom to play and productively fail as they work to reduce the gap between understanding and demonstrating.
Learning how to talk about performance constructively and respectfully is critical for young artists. I encourage students to be self-analytical, not self-critical and to strive for clear, intentional choices, not “correct” choices. I focus on how to create dynamic moments and I offer options that allows the student maintain ownership of their work.
In each class we begin and end together in a circle, we acknowledge our community agreement, we meditate, we tune up the artist’s 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 co-create rubrics 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.
The most important thing that I teach my students is to learn how to learn. As such, I guide and mentor students to be independent thinkers. If a student can learn to pause, reflect, make meaning, and expand their knowledge, then they will have a process to sustain them as they navigate the challenges of life and professional environments.
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 provides a powerful metric to ensure that all aspects of an assignment, including its assessment, facilitate learning. My singular goal is to make meaning for students. Moreover, true teaching and learning, is when I can make meaning with my students.