Teaching Philosophy and Inclusive Practices

 

The fundamental principles of my teaching are inclusion, equity, ensemble-building, empowerment, self-teaching, and honoring and promoting diversity. These aims are inspired by my time training and performing all over the world and my experiences teaching diverse student populations. My mission is to honor the lived experiences of my students, to teach students to be life-long learners and global citizens, and to foster intellectual curiosity, cultural awareness, mutual respect, collaboration, and empowerment. 

 

My inclusive teaching begins by honoring each student’s identity, especially their name. When meeting students and asking their names, students will often say “Call me what you like. It doesn’t matter.” I find this especially true with female and international students and students from underrepresented communities. My response to them is “But it’s your name. It is not about what I like, it is solely about what you like. You have the right to advocate for yourself; you deserve to be who you want to be in this world and to be addressed as such.”

 

In every class and rehearsal, I decenter my authority and foster a culture of inclusion and equity and build an inclusive language with my students. I begin and end each session with my students and, as a unified group, we say out loud a phrase of the students’ choosing. I stress that it is the act of choosing and working together that is most important. With this exercise, I ask students to work selflessly and to commit to working as an ensemble. I ask students to honor the courage and generosity of their peers. I encourage students to refer to each other as “colleagues” and “collaborators,” and I remind them that it is an act of bravery every time someone shares a thought or opinion.

 

My teaching also emphasizes the process of learning. I acknowledge that the learning process can be intimidating, overwhelming, and sometimes messy. However, I champion student effort by encouraging students to make choices, to take risks, and to be, at times, self-indulgent. I continually emphasize my belief that learning happens when students do the talking, not necessarily when I do the talking.  I also make a point to acknowledge that “failing” is not failure.  I encourage students to see their endeavors as learning opportunities in order to empower them and to encourage them to be adventurous with their artistic and academic endeavors and inquiries. 

 

In addition, I promote self-teaching through reflection and critical thinking. I want my students to be life-long learners and autodidacts. I want them to make connections regarding the ways in which information, concepts, and methodologies are interconnected on a global level. I stress that a concept is not created in a vacuum and that by examining the historical and cultural milieu which yields a concept, we can learn more about our diverse world, our craft, humanity, and ourselves. I challenge students to examine colonialist thinking, cultural appropriation, and ideological hegemony. To this end, I challenge students to be informed artists and global citizens who can think critically and creatively about their work.

 

Inspired by my work on the Advocacy, Allyship, Access Committee, I seek to de-center Western theatre practices and the body/mind binary by focusing on a multicentric (body/mind/voice/energy/emotion) and intercultural approach to actor training. Through the theories and practices of Noh and The Suzuki Method, I foreground the actor’s specificity and discipline, their physical organization in performance, and the manifestation of energy in performance. In addition, I broaden the canon of performance texts and approaches by including the work of women and global majority artists Anna Deavere Smith, Sharrell D. Luckett, Tia M. Shaffer, Marina Caldarone, Susan Lori Parks, and Jeungsook Yoo.

 

Additionally, I believe that theatre training is life training. I emphasize the many applications, lessons, and worldviews theatre studies offer. I also highlight that the skills learned in the study and practice of theatre are invaluable because they are transferable skills that will forever serve students, regardless of their academic discipline and/or career goals.   

 

My ideal way of teaching and my dedication to and advocacy of diversity is patterned after my time living, training, and creating theatre with artists from 30 different countries at Odin Teatret in Denmark. There, diversity was the welcomed standard; we celebrated each artist’s culture, we collaborated as equals, and we worked in service of our craft and of each other. As such, I teach and model global citizenship, compassionate collaboration, and empathetic listening and learning by responsibly honoring each student’s own language, culture, and lived experience. I frequently ask students, at the beginning of class or rehearsal, to share their lived experience by completing the phrases I am_____, I want_____, I need_____. Then, I conclude class or rehearsal by having students complete three more phrases: I hope_____, I realize_____, I learned_____. I also promote sensitivity, celebrate students of all backgrounds, and challenge students to examine colonialist thinking, cultural appropriation, and ideological hegemony. I explore different modes of thought and creative practice and I encourage students to find the universal human truths imbedded in the various cultures to which they have been exposed. In these ways, I encourage students to learn and practice compassion and respect for each other and themselves.

 

I view rehearsals and production work with students as classroom engagement as well. In this pedagogical setting, I foreground diverse perspectives by collaborating with faculty outside of my department and I promote social justice and equality by partnering with community organizations as part of my creative work. I have worked with faculty from Criminal Justice, Government, Gender Studies, and Leadership. I have also coordinated with local social welfare organizations to advance social justice and to expose students to theatre’s capacity to promote equitable and just social practices.

 

Ultimately, my mission is to create spaces of cultural awareness, mutual respect, collaboration, and empowerment. In recently devising As We Climb, I actualized this mission in both the subject matter of the production and in its process. The production addressed gender inequities and oppressive sexist and racist ideologies based on the writings of bell hooks, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and global feminist activists. In rehearsal, I addressed my students as “collaborators” and we worked collectively to arrive at the production’s dramatic question. Through equitable discussion and democratic processes, we arrived at the following: Why are we so afraid of feminism’s invitation to honor the full humanity of all individuals and end systemic oppression? In tackling this challenging subject matter with mostly male students of the global minority, I fostered intellectual humility, transparency, clarity, and kindness by modeling it for my students. My cast not only reciprocated but thanked me for my openness and my willingness to listen.

 

Last, I teach more than course content. I aim to teach students new ways of being in the world through learning. I want students to make connections between themselves, their goals, and their world. I was honored to receive a thank you email from a student once who seemed to have had the very experience that I was trying to craft for him. He wrote: “You made us think beyond the play and into what it actually means and how it applies to the real world. What I got out of your class was so far beyond the lessons you taught.” My ultimate goal as a teacher, is for all of my students to be able to say that at the end of our time together.