Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Elizabeth Moore: Reflections on Phase I of the Fellowship

Below, Elizabeth reflects on her training at UNCSA and her experiences as a participant in LCI's International Educator Workshop, part of the Institute's annual Summer Season of professional development for educators.

Reflections on Phase I - From My Fire Escape

I have had phenomenal teachers. Teachers who inspire their students to learn through their passion for a subject, with how they bring them to take responsibility for their own learning, or with their ability to show the relevance of what they are teaching to each student’s life. Sometimes by being tough, and letting you know when you haven’t given your best. Every teacher that has ever left a positive impression on me has been interested, curious, and engaged with this world of ours. My interactions thus far with the Teaching Artists here at LCI have impressed upon me how much they embody all of these things.

In high school I had this teacher who was as dedicated to his students as to spend long hours outside of school going over physics problems via telephone with his most stubbornly science-inept pupil, and constructed weekly challenges where we had to devise creative methods of defeating “Evil Pete” (his mischievous counterpart) using only the items listed and our knowledge of physics. I, that previously science-inept student, soon became a champion in the battle against “Evil Pete.” Although I retain little understanding of physics, what I will never forget is that, through this and other similar experiences in high school, I learned how to learn.

I like to think that I have been practicing this skill ever since. As content became more important while learning a very specific set of skills and techniques in my study of viola at UNCSA, I did not need to focus on figuring out how to study the information. I had already learned how to learn - leaving room to enjoy the process and focus on the content. Each student at UNCSA is there to become a practitioner of their particular art form. Many of us develop a sort of “tunnel vision” while learning these skills. While this was good for me in that it allowed for a level of focus not often possible outside of conservatory, graduating and entering the “real world” coming from this reality seemed a startling, and to me, frightening change. In what ways can I employ myself as a musician? Is it o.k. to take some time before auditioning for graduate programs? What types of ensembles am I ready to audition for? How do I find students in a city like New York? I am so grateful to have the opportunity to spend this transitional period at LCI. It is giving me tools that are changing the way I look at and think about the world around me. As I begin to notice new things and ask more questions, new ideas occur to me as options for a young musician such as myself in New York. I am reminded everyday by the example of the staff and Teaching Artists here at LCI that the learning isn’t over. That it has in fact just begun.

My introduction to the Capacities for Imaginative Learning is already having an immense impact on my daily life - how I look at visual art and dance, how I listen to music - even how I converse with my friends and colleagues has been altered. Implementing the Capacities for Imaginative Learning into my work and practice as a violist is a very exciting possibility. Some of the Capacities fit neatly and naturally into the way in which I have been taught at UNCSA and the way in which I already practice - identifying patterns, making connections, reflecting/assessing - others are a foreign way to approach my art form, but I am excited to integrate them. The applications seem endless to me, and I feel like they put the strengths and values of all the best teachers I have had into one, concise, concrete and beautiful philosophy. I now have a better idea of how I might become one of those teachers that inspires others to be curious and passionate about the arts and the world around them. In the meantime, they are already helping me to grow as a musician and into a more aware human being.

Specifically, this summer at LCI has become about noticing deeply and taking my noticings and turning them into questions. Open questions. Questions that lead to more questions and maybe research. Maybe that research turns up answers, and perhaps it just leads to more questions, but regardless, it is a fascinating process. It is these two capacities that have most effected me - just realizing (or perhaps re-realizing?) that there is an infinity to what can be observed has change immensely the way I look at the here and now. At a point during the International Educator Workshop we were asked to view the large Henri Moore sculpture in the reflecting pool here on the LCI campus. Although I had passed by it many times, it had never spoke to me. In the next 45 minutes something happened. By having to live with and consider it, the sculpture took on meaning for me. Curved and straight lines, textured surface, shadows cast on the water and on itself. Sunlight and dark hollows, shadowed. My noticings go on. From the roof-lawn of the Lincoln Restaurant it reminds me of a serpentine sea monster - perhaps the Loch Ness monster - exploring the sunlit surface. His title, Reclining Figure, is merely an abstract suggestion, and the sculpture now has a meaning and character specific to me and my experience with his work of art. Somehow, like that time Evil Pete motivated me to explore the use of physics, this sculpture by Henri Moore captured my interest.

From my fire escape I see the street, through the rain protruding with a slippery glow. Street light, heat, noise and dirt rise to my perch - and I’m crazy in love with this city. There is an anonymity about this crowded place that is at once terrifying for an artist (and surely any other ambitious individual) and practically intoxicating in its opportunity. Opportunity that invites reinvention and adaptation of myself with every new street, neighborhood, and concert hall I enter for a first time. Opportunity in the people I may meet and the art and music I have begun and will continue to experience. But best of all, LCI is giving us a place in this vast city where we are not anonymous, and providing us with the tools with which and the environment in which to grow as artists, future educators, and as people.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hannah Emerson: Reflections on Phase I of the Fellowship

Below, Hannah reflects on her training at UNCSA and her experiences as a participant in LCI's International Educator Workshop, part of the Institute's annual Summer Season of professional development for educators.

I spent the last four years of my life training to become a professional dancer and the last four weeks devoted to being a Kenan Fellow. At University of the North Carolina School of the Arts, I worked my body daily to better my technique, explored various ways of generating movement, and performed in works created by others as well as myself. At the Lincoln Center Institute, I worked alongside the other Fellows to introduce my mind to the philosophy of aesthetic education, explored the Capacities for Imaginative Learning, and saw performances by the finest theatre, dance and music companies in the world.

Until very recently, I thought my training at UNCSA and aesthetic education as practiced by LCI were two different entities. I found their goals valid in their own light yet located on opposite ends of the spectrum. It was not until my participation in the International Educator Workshop that I notice how my past education at UNCSA unswervingly relates to my current learning at LCI.

At the beginning of the workshop I felt intimidated. I saw myself separate from the teachers attending. I felt under-educated. I did not fully understand how I could fit in with a group of teaching professionals. I was worried. How would I carry on a conversation about education when I do not know anything about being a teacher? I didn't want to seem young and unintelligent. Fear was guiding my experience. The awkward lulls in conversations made me nervous. I tried avoiding them, which explained my quiet demeanor at times and why I was often found surrounded by the other Kenan Fellows. I was immersing myself in the LCI philosophy but not much immersion was taking place in regards to my relations with the other participants. I was lost on how to make connections.

Midweek, wrapped up in a group of early elementary school teachers having a discussion about what skills the teaching artists leading the workshop were building, I did a lot of listening. Critical thinking, increased awareness, imagination, risk-taking, confidence, collaboration, stimulating curiosity and deep engagement were just few. All the groups shared similar findings, and I began to recognize how familiar employing many of those skills were to me. Even before the Fellowship began, I was asked to notice deeply, question, see patterns, and exhibit empathy. As a student, choreographer, and performer, my teachers at UNCSA constantly asked me to employ these skills, both in the classroom and on stage. The teaching artists were developing the same skills in the educators as my teachers at UNCSA did with me. Just then, I grasped how superficial I was when comparing UNCSA and LCI previously. On the surface, they looked so different to me, yet at the core the values are the same.

At that moment I realized, I was not at the International Educator Workshop to become an educator; I was there to become a stronger artist. I no longer felt a pressure to understand how to think like a teacher. I realized, even though I feel my ambitions as a professional artist are different from those of professional teachers, the skills needed to be successful in each respective area are identical. I found the connection, and it opened up my ability to carry on more conversation. The confidence in my voice grew, and it changed the rest of my experience.

By the end of Phase I, I’ve come to a new understanding. The Capacitates for Imaginative Learning not only create stronger educators, artists, and learners; they make better people. For me, my next battle is learning how to take action. I’m curious so see how my new experiences will foster my future decisions.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ryan Layton: Reflections on Phase I of the Fellowship

Below, Ryan reflects on his training at UNCSA and his experiences as a participant in LCI's International Educator Workshop, part of the Institute's annual Summer Season of professional development for educators.

It is an interesting experience: going about your life as usual when, suddenly, something extraordinary enters your world. You think to yourself, "How did I ever live without this!?" and begin changing the way you do any and everything because now you know something wonderful, and you will never be the same. We all feel this way from time to time about matters of varying importance. For example, I have forgotten what I used to do with my spare time before Netflix. Having all 14 seasons of King of the Hill on instant watch has changed me. But over the course of Phase I I have had a new experience that is far more profound and life-changing. Since having a brush with Aesthetic Education, I can’t think about effective teaching without LCI’s ideas being front and center.

I’m lucky that my guitar teacher at UNCSA was an absolute genius. Although I wasn’t aware of it, he was exposing me to some of the same ideas we have been learning as Kenan Fellows. I can draw several connections from what we did in my lessons to the Capacities for Imaginative Learning. Other areas of my music education, however, didn’t make use of them at all. For example, in music theory class, I think I could have benefited from noticing sounds deeply before analyzing how they were made. Instead, we usually did as lots of music classes do; we listened to a piece one time through with a copy of the score and jumped right into analysis afterwards. This approach to teaching subjects like music theory works well enough, and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything because of the approach my teachers were taking. I know I learned my material well, and it still sticks with me. But the idea of using the Capacities to build on what I experienced, in classroom situations I never would have thought could use changing, is very exciting.

Realizing all of their applications did take me a while, though. When we first started studying them, and even until the very end of the workshop the Kenans participated in, I had questions about how widely the Capacities could be applied. When we used them to connect with a piece of art, I could feel instantly how helpful they were. But when I tried to imagine them in the average classroom, I was at a loss. I just didn’t see how "Living With Ambiguity" could help someone learn math or how "Exhibiting Empathy" could aid in teaching music theory. Frankly, I still don’t. But what I realize instead is that they don’t have to. All of the Capacities can work individually of one another. It isn’t an all-or-nothing sort of deal. While some Capacities aren’t well suited for a particular subject, others can do really great things to deepen a student’s connection to the topic.

My deeper understanding of the Capacities wouldn’t have happened so quickly without the brilliant teaching artists that guided us through the Summer Season workshop. The organization of the whole thing was brilliant. We had deep experiences with two different kinds of art: African masks and Flamenco music. The TAs led us through all sorts of different activities that gave us deeper connections to the works we would eventually see.

When we finally came face-to-face with the works of art, we didn’t just look at them like we may have looked at art before. We viewed three African masks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The African Mask room is one that I normally breeze on through, but we spent an hour only looking at three. At each mask, we noticed more than I would have ever though was there to notice. Similarly, Flamenco music isn’t something I’ve ever had a strong interest in before and would have normally appreciated in a lazy sort of way and moved on. But we got to see a live performance, have a long discussion on what we noticed, and then see the same live performance again. That was unbelievable. The first time through, I only focused on what I related to most-- the guitarist-- and nothing else. But after hearing what everyone else gathered from the performance, I would have felt like I missed out on something big if I didn’t get to see it again and notice those same things for myself.

Only after we had experienced the works of art did we talk about pedagogy. I don’t think it would be possible to talk about the pedagogy without having experienced it in action first. I think it is something you really have to go through as a student before you can start to practice it yourself. Our discussion of pedagogy was the first time I had been asked to create a lesson plan (of any sort) and the first time I had gotten such a close look at the inner workings of Aesthetic Education. I excitedly drafted a lesson plan and activities around Ghostcatching [a digital work of art] and, while it was a new challenge, I found that I didn’t feel out of my element at all. From there, I started thinking about how I can use the Capacities and the teaching skills I picked up in the workshop when I teach my private guitar students.

While I still have lots of trial and error to go through before I find how the Capacities will work in my own teaching, I feel myself getting closer to being the sort of teacher I want to one day be. I have realized that teaching is like a puzzle. But rather than opening the box, dumping the pieces onto the table, and going for it, you have to gather the pieces over time and put them into place as you go. Perhaps a good number of pieces can be picked up just by experiencing good teaching as a student. But knowing the individual skills is nothing if you don’t know how they all fit together or if other important pieces are missing. I guess there is no way to know how close you are to finishing the puzzle, and maybe it could be said that no one ever does-- they just keep learning and amassing pieces. But after my experiences in Phase I, I feel like I can see much more of the big picture I’m working towards completing.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Kiah Abendroth: Reflections on Phase I of the Fellowship

Below, Kiah reflects on her experiences as a participant in LCI's International Educator Workshop, part of the Institute's annual Summer Season of professional development for educators.

I could have never anticipated the type of impact this fellowship would have on my life. I had imagined learning a new teaching philosophy, even new skills to succeed as a professional musician, but never had I imagined discovering a new way of learning, a new way of perceiving my whole world (yes, please feel free to commence singing “A Whole New World” from Aladdin...). Just kidding, I’m actually serious about this. Please stop now.

No, seriously, stop. Take a moment and look at your surroundings, and find an object that interests you, anything.

And just start noticing. Notice details.

Maybe there’s something about it that you’ve never noticed before. Is there?

I’ll play, too. There’s an antique clock directly in front of me; I’ll use that. Let’s see, what can I find? There are some points at the top that catch my eye. They’re very symmetrical, a whole array, kind of like a fan. Directly below the points is a semi-circle. Actually, when you combine the two, it could create a sun. (Interesting! I’m starting to like this clock a little bit.) Looking more deeply, I see that there are also stars … tiny stars, etched into the wood below the sun. It’s a beautiful symmetry: night and day. Thinking back, I’ve seen solar themes before in clocks. I guess this makes sense; historically, we do use the sun to determine the time of day. This clock seems to create a particular scene, however, a time of day when both the stars and sun are present. Daybreak or nightfall, I guess. I begin to wonder which it is. Is the sun setting or rising? Something about it makes me think it’s rising. I can even see it in my mind: the sun creeping over the horizon, the grassy countryside vibrant with a kind of waiting, and the stars, still holding onto their nighttime brilliance in the periphery. It’s beautiful, and it feels tranquil and grounding to me. I feel at home. It’s funny to think that, a couple of minutes ago, I didn’t even like this clock. Now, I could probably look at it for hours.

This is LCI. Looking at a work of art, you take time to notice deeply, ask questions, make connections, and through this you create meaning. One of my main questions after the first phase of this fellowship has been: How can I teach using the LCI philosophy? Well, that was my first attempt. (It seemed only appropriate for me to share with you what I’ve learned in a way that also helped me explore how to teach.)

During the International Educator Workshop, I observed the teaching artists leading through questions, a process that stimulated personal discovery. This process is also empowering. But why? I guess because the learner is asked to take his own steps forward. Thus, after a while, the learner realizes that he can walk on his own. Then when left alone, suddenly the learner is walking, searching, making connections, discovering, delving into a deeper understanding, and maybe even carving a new pathway for the future.

My studies at UNCSA provided me with many skills to use as a professional musician, and now my studies at LCI are providing me with a process. I’m excited to see how the two will interact. I wonder in what ways my trumpet playing will change? What techniques could I try that I’ve never explored? Through these questions, I’m inspired. I know that I’m on the edge of many great new discoveries.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sara Barney: Reflections on Phase I of the Fellowship

Below, Sara reflects on her training at UNCSA and her experiences as a participant in LCI's International Educator Workshop, part of the Institute's annual Summer Season of professional development for educators.

School had always been a bit more difficult for me, it seemed. Spitting out information verbatim from the book was never and still is not something I have much expertise in. I had to do extra work just to make it by in some cases. It makes me wonder what the outcome would be if teachers reevaluated their educating norms. What differences would be made if they would address the individual rather than the group as a whole?

Aesthetic Education has brought new light to the way I look at academic and artistic learning. It gives me hope for possibilities in different approaches to learning and educating. I have found that it allows for learning, of all kinds, to be more open for the individual rather than regimented standards that have been made to generalize the group as a whole. The way these practices has transported me into a new way of approaching learning, as well as life in general, makes me wish I had this opportunity sooner.

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts gave me an unyielding ground to stand on for future artistic endeavors. The focus of our classes were largely skill- and technique-based. In our movement classes, our bodies and minds were pushed to their emotional and physical capacity. It developed fantastic strength and endurance for company life. It was a safe place for me to discover who I am as an Artist with a community of great support. The opportunity to witness and partake in the vast amount of works of art enriched my life in such an exceptional way. To have art at your very fingertips; how can you not be constantly stimulated in a community like this! It is such a rare lifestyle to exist and participate in; I hope I can continue a similar lifestyle here in NYC.

In being introduced and immersed in Aesthetic Education was a fresh way of looking at learning and educating for me. It differed greatly from my past learning experiences. I have always been encouraged to think creatively with great innovation as well as exploring my own imagination while being an artist, but I never considered how this might help my other schooling. These past four weeks have given me insight on how to make that possible.

I have learned that the Capacities for Imaginative Learning can be a great guideline in many aspects of my life. I have found myself feeling a bit more awake when incorporating the different Capacities day-to-day. I started to notice some of the little things that I never really saw before. I have been able to make connections with others that I may not have had the courage to talk to previous to Summer Season. Summer Season has given me added individual strength in taking action in my artistic opportunities as well as life in general. Summer Season has begun to solidify these ideas for me; in personally experiencing new practices, I was able to witness a change in others and myself. I can only imagine how this would have helped me in past schooling.

I now can see the potential for Imaginative Learning, but it brings me to my next question: How could Aesthetic Education improve/develop artistic skill/technique-based learning? I have no doubt that this could be a remarkable collaboration, but the thought of incorporating Capacities for Imaginative Learning and skill-based teaching is intriguing to me. My curiosities lie with the “product” of what these teachings could bring. Would we focus more purely on just some of the Capacities or would they all be incorporated on some level of the dialogue? I am curious mainly because during my hiatus I will be teaching young children Contemporary and Composition [for dance]. I wonder how much of these past four weeks will influence my typical approach to these classes. I have every bit of confidence that they will; it motivates me now to take some risks.

I now have a sense of empowerment and responsibility to practice these new ideas. In the past, for some reason, I have always made myself believe, more often than not, I wasn’t fully qualified. This never stopped me from actually teaching or partaking in situations that were similarly uncomfortable, it just seems that I was doing myself a disservice by having such doubts. In these past four weeks I have experienced something different. It has allowed for me to appreciate the idea of learning through teaching. I am excited to share what I have learned now. The teachings have been consequently more accessible than I thought they would be. I think it might have been through the ways they were presented to me. The notion of giving [a participant] just as much information as needed to complete the task has been a great find. I have discovered that it lets the learner focus on one idea at a time. In similar past experiences, when given a glimpse of the end product, the thought of what it "should" be was debilitating. I sometimes went through the initial feeling of being closed off to any other possibilities. I had to fight my way through just to attempt to find creativity in some cases. Taking a different approach to this task allows for more individual freedom in the process. It gives us our voice back. It allows for us as learners to take responsibility and discover on our own paths. Without appropriate guidance, this process could go sour real quick. The teaching artists who lead me through these activities showed a focused, as well as an open-ended, personal discovery. They showed me that I have much more information to give than I ever that thought.

As I say "see you later" to everyone I have worked with these past weeks, it has been really nice to take the time and look back at everything we have done. I feel that many of my thoughts about life have been altered slightly, and it is truly thrilling! At this point in the Fellowship I am eager to have a few weeks to allow for everything to marinate. Phase II will be a new adventure, and I am raring to go!!