Deirdre Moore | September 2013

Mantras for Sanity

Did you ever see the comedy “What About Bob?” starring Richard Dreyfus as a famous psychiatrist and Bill Murray as his new and persistent patient, Bob?  Dreyfus’ character has written a book called Baby Steps.  Murray’s character takes the mantra to heart repeating “baby steps” to himself as he moves forward beyond his fears.  Ever since I watched that movie oh so many years ago, even though it was meant to be a comedy, that mantra has come to mind when I most needed it.  Just recently I really needed it.  “Baby steps” combined with “keep it simple” have proved to be useful mantras when my enthusiasm overrides my reason and human limitations.

I have been given a great new responsibility in my district working part-time at one school as the Arts Resource teacher.  My task is to teach 600 students from Kindergarten through grade 5 dance, theater, music and visual art integrated with the core curriculum.  While it’s an exciting opportunity I must admit to being far too overambitious at the start and thus completely overwhelming and paralyzing myself.  When I finally realized I was putting myself in WAY over my head, I took a deep breath and thought, “keep it simple” and “baby steps.”

Initially I wanted to look at the curriculum for each grade level and see where the arts naturally aligned and then create arts integrated plans based on that.  Once I started digging into the curriculum and cross-referencing that with all the grade level standards for each of the art forms and trying to find a way to organize all that information, I realized I needed to re-think my plan.  Time to make it simple and take one baby step at a time.

First, I decided to create arts units so that each of my grade levels would be studying the same art at the same time.  For space reasons and because I have done so much dance teaching the last two years I decided to start with dance, the art form with which I am most comfortable.  Keep it simple – check.  Next, I examined what each of the grade levels would be studying this fall and looked for places where the dance standards seemed to intersect with the themes.  No need to take on the whole year and all the art forms and all the content for all the grade levels right now.  At that point I was able to start to flesh out the daily lesson plans to ensure I am adequately preparing the students with the dance skills they will need to support integration with the core content.  Baby steps – check.

If you are new to Arts Integration or are finding yourself feeling overwhelmed because you want to do it all, do it perfectly, and do it right now, know you are not alone.  Remember to keep it simple and manageable for yourself.  Take one baby step at a time and you will be more likely to get to where you need to go and to get your students there too.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.