Mary Dagani | March 2018

Teacher Motivation: Step Outside of Your Box

I don’t know about you, but as a creative teacher, I struggle with my thinking process.  There are days when my imagination runs wild and free, flitting from one new idea to another.  That carefree attitude knows no boundaries.  It’s fun being an artist, isn’t it?  And then there are THOSE days.  The days when I feel restricted by the rules that others have set upon me.  The drudgery of being robotic in my daily routines.  I often grow tired of those constraints and yearn to break free.

It seemed to me that this had become my teaching life until I discovered a quote that shed some light on my duality.

“Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box.”

                            -Twyla Tharp,  The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life

I couldn’t help but wonder how this applied to my job as a STEAM and Arts Integration Specialist.  What did the walls of my box consist of?  What structures did I need to surround myself with in order to support my teaching?  And more importantly, what was waiting for me on the other side of those walls?   These questions inspired me.

What’s in the box?

To construct a sturdy box, whether physically or metaphorically, you must have 6 sides.  Looking around at the requirements of my job, I found the following to be my most durable construction materials:

  1.  All content area standards (CCSS for Math & ELA, NGSS, etc…)
  2.  National Core Arts Standards
  3.  Engineering Design Process
  4.  Elements of the Arts/Principles of Design
  5.  Other teaching professionals
  6.  Time & Material

By reinforcing and strengthening my understanding of these areas, I was able to create a solid container for my teaching.  As long as I had these securely in place, I knew the foundations of my lessons would be structurally sound.  It was my box, and I embraced it.

Take a step outside

Once I had built that box, I began to push against the sides and broke free of it.  I saw my teaching from a different perspective.  What did I see?  A more creative approach to thinking through problems.  Someone told me it was called the Engineering Design Process.  Yes, design process thinking (how I refer to it) in and through the Arts can provide us with the opportunities to fail and learn from our mistakes in a safe environment.  Integration of Dance, Music, Theatre, and Visual Art can help our students gain a new perspective of content through the lens of creativity.  So much of the way we problem solve in our daily lives involves design process thinking.  Consider getting a young child to eat his/her vegetables (“Here comes the airplane!”) to designing the latest technological wonder device.  We are met with challenges every day.  It is a creative approach to problem solving that helps us become more open to possibilities and innovation.

Our everyday world is full of dichotomy – a struggle of opposites – freedom versus rules, cold versus hot, haves versus have nots…you get the picture.  And what better way to build the future of our students than by utilizing the design process to think through constraints or parameters in order to discover multiple solutions.  Using the Arts to teach concrete concepts of core areas allows for students to push the boundaries and think outside of the box.  That is the glory of STEAM and Arts Integration.

But first build your box.

I found this TED Talk given by Michael Bahr way back in 2013.  I hope it inspires you to strengthen your teaching box and when the time is right, I invite you to step outside and enjoy the view of your content lessons through the creative Arts.

About the Author

Mary is a STEAM TOSA, Project Lead the Way Launch Lead Teacher, and an Orff Schulwerk music specialist. Her eclectic background, along with her 28 years of elementary classroom teaching, gives her a unique perspective on Arts Integration.