Friday, February 3, 2012

Sara Barney: Reflections on Phase II of the Fellowship

As they neared the completion of Phase II of the Kenan Fellowship, each Fellow was posed three questions by their teaching artist mentor. Here, Sara responds to the questions from her mentor, Deborah.

-Which Capacity for Imaginative Learning has infiltrated your daily life the most, and how do you see it impacting your personal and professional life moving forward?

Along with Living with Ambiguity and Questioning, I would have to say that Reflecting has had an impact on my personal and professional life the most.

“Reflecting/Assessing: To look back on your learning, continually assess what you have learned, assess/identify what challenges remain, and assess/identify what further learning needs to happen. This occurs not only at the end of a learning experience, but is part of what happens throughout that experience. It is also not the end of your learning; it is part of beginning to learn something else.” --from The Capacities for Imaginative Learning 

Reflecting and assessing situations seemed simple and common when I was introduced to the ten Capacities at the beginning of the Fellowship. I can remember reflecting on school assignments growing up, and I believe some life speed bumps as well, but I never consciously understood reflecting on art and personal life on a regular basis. I guess I underestimated my brain capacity. Reflecting, I have found, can and should be an ongoing element of life and learning. I have dug much deeper into different situations over the past six months that have allowed for me to change and refine perspectives I have. Reflecting is allowing me to view all aspects involved. I find it to be overwhelming at times. It can produce an overload of information in my brain. In the beginning, any sense of becoming overwhelmed sent me running in the opposite direction. During the Fellowship I was put in situations that running just wasn’t an option, or at least that is what Deb alluded to. During this time, I have allowed myself to sit in that uncomfortable feeling of being overwhelmed by my reflections. I now have experienced a true sense of filtering through possible jaded thoughts and have a clearer understanding of my personal and artistic needs. I am still in discovery of what the near future holds for me, but I now know I have these, as I call them, guidelines and tools to help me in my decisions. It is helping me shed the notion of “should” and allowing me to see what could be.

-Having an extensive teaching background already, what surprised you, challenged set notions and reaffirmed your own teaching practice during your experience in LCI classrooms?

During my experience in LCI classrooms, I was reminded of past opportunities I have had teaching. Reflecting on my observations in the classroom here at LCI brought out a certain confidence in myself and allowed for me to put any fear of leading aside. In this opportunity, I gave myself permission to truly observe and absorb this new information that was presenting itself.

Most of my teaching experience has been in technical-based classes. After entering UNCSA, I became more involved with creative learning and composition. In the past few years I have had the opportunity to introduce children to ways of exploring movement in an unfamiliar fashion comparative to ballet. Here are a couple of ways we explored movement: We, the children and I, investigated how music can be incorporated in composing a new dance, as well as investigated incorporating text, 2-D pictures, and/or personal drawings as forms of inspiration to cultivate new ideas. I truly love to see when a child finds a new sense of confidence in their work and is able to apply it to their day-to-day life. The creative process with children can be very rewarding in this way.

Working alongside an academic setting brings a whole new element to the situation. There is a true collaboration of ideas that needs to be had. There are many people and standards that can produce a challenge, but when all parties are involved, Teaching Artists and Academic Teachers, it can be an enjoyable whirlwind. I appreciate the opportunity to bring the arts to children. I feel a strong importance for arts to be tightly woven into our school system, and I believe LCI is making these very large leaps to make this happen.

This experience has reaffirmed my love of teaching and working with children in particular. I believe the arts is a way to allow children to learn and become comfortable in the uncomfortable. I want to find a path that I feel passionate about that incorporates all parts of these aspects. I have always enjoyed teaching, but during this process I have found the desire to continue my education to be able to pursue it in many ways. At this point, I am unsure in which particular teaching direction I would like to run in. I know I will always feel at home teaching in a private dance studio, but when I add elements of academics, that is when it becomes unclear. I ask myself, “Is LCI philosophy what I solely want for my teaching future? Do I want to teach dance in academic schools? Maybe administration and development of programs is what I would like to pursue.” I am convincing myself that I do not need to figure out exactly which direction to run in at the moment. The one thing I do know is that I want to continue my education. I want to learn about standards, the Common Core Standards, core art standards, the Blueprints, and other forms of learning that I am unfamiliar with. I feel at that point, after becoming a bit more familiar with these ideas, I can make an honest decision in which direction I would like to pursue.

-How has your self-structured time evolved (good and bad) from your accustomed schedule set in school and influenced your identity as an artist?

In school I had little control in choosing my classes. If I had an academic class that needed to be selected, it was a “must” that it occur only between 8 a.m. to10 a.m., and sometimes there were only two choices. There it is, that was the only control I had over my schedule. So, needless to say, I relied on “The Boards”, the place where my schedule and notifications were posted. I became to enjoy not having to make those decisions. I have spent the last 20 years of my life in school. I have had other people make some big decisions for me and point me in many directions. I have now found a true sense of independence without having that structure. I cannot say that self-structured time was always easy and enjoyable, though it has allowed for me to take more initiative in my life. I am responsible for my schedule now. This includes all those big decisions that I have always had some assistance in. At first it seems really scary, but I think I get scared because I worry if people will approve of my decisions. When someone else makes your schedule and tells you where you need to be, there is a sense that if something falls through, that it wasn’t completely your fault. This adds some comfort. That comfort now isn’t there the majority of the time now. With this, I am having to take on that responsibility head-on. Allowing myself to let go of the fear of approval has now become somewhat exhilarating. I foresee this influencing many layers of my life, personally and artistically. I feel a bit more free in my decisions. As in my new-found appreciation for reflecting, I am shedding the notion of “should” and allowing myself to see what could. I feel that directly applies to my self-structured time. I now have the freedom to clearly see what I want for my future and the stepping stones I can take to get there.

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