In Practice: A Breakdance Teaching Artist Experience
Let’s take a look at a real-world example of what this looks like in schools. Educator Dyan Branstetter shares her experience with inviting a breakdancing teaching artist to work with her students.
Dyan’s K-4 Title 1 elementary school hosted the teaching artists Hip Hop Fundamentals, based in Philadelphia, PA. Hip Hop Fundamentals’ mission is to educate, engage, and empower. They kicked off a weeklong residency program with an assembly focused on breakdancing, youth empowerment, diversity, creativity, and working together, embodied by Hip Hop’s four principles: Peace, Love, Unity, and Having Fun.
The students’ engagement at the introductory assembly was through the roof! Watching the artists spin, flip and dance was electric. And they were able to control the excitement of the crowd effortlessly to share new knowledge as they danced through a timeline of hip hop. Students couldn’t wait to try the dance moves themselves. Each class worked on choreography with the artists and performed for each other at an all-school culminating assembly at the end of the week.
A number of years ago, artists-in-residence were funded by the district when the music and art classes were cut in half. Now that music and arts classes have been restored, the funding for the artist in residence was cut.
While not ideal, it is only a minor bump, because instead of simply finding and organizing the residency, Dyan also needs to write a grant and have it approved in order to fund the artist visit. As such, they’ve had successful teaching artist experiences for the past six years.
Dyan’s principal has been supportive of her bringing these artists to their school. Each time, she proposed a grant with a strong rationale and purpose so that it would be hard to argue the benefits for our students. If you have a solid idea based on research and follow through with the work in an organized way, administrators are totally on board.
Matching Teaching Artists with Your Students
Knowing the population you serve is important. Dyan knew she wanted to get some hip hop artists into her school. Her district has a diverse population, yet their staff is not. Past teaching artists brought some cultural diversity through art. But similar to her staff, all of the artists were Caucasians teaching fine arts. Dyan wanted to find some artists that could reflect their student population as well as bring a high level of artistry and professionalism. Hip Hop Fundamentals fit this description perfectly.
Incredible teaching artists are tricky to find, because some people are incredible artists, but their strengths do not align with teaching. Jeff Mather, a teaching artist in Georgia, wisely said, “Just because an artist does beautiful work does not mean that they are adept at sharing their art form with diverse groups. Then again, you could get lucky and find an artist who seems to have some innate ability doing this. But even artists who work with art centers or museums may not have the skill set or wherewithal to succeed in a school setting.”
Each year, Dyan begins her search for perfect-fit teaching artists, and in doing so, adds more to her personal directory of connections. Even if someone doesn’t work out this year, she adds them to her list for the future so she has lots of people to contact in the following years.
What helps tremendously are organizations who have a bank of teaching artists, such as Young Audiences: Arts For Learning. Working with Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, Dyan was able to feel confident that the artists would bring a high-quality experience to her school. And did they ever.
One Person Can Make A Difference
This community partnership was a long time in the making. Dyan’s not an administrator, and she doesn’t have the power to choose school programming or change curriculum. However, she strongly believes in arts education and arts integration. So she does everything she can do to bring more of the arts to her students.
It is a lot of behind the scenes work! You’ve got to secure the grant. Communicate and schedule with the artists. Don’t forget mapping out the scheduling logistics of the experience for students. However, it is completely worth it when the student’s reactions are so positive. In a survey sent to teachers after the teaching artist experience, 100% responded that their students enjoyed the experience. Dyan’s school was able to spark something inside of a number of their at-risk students as well… Some of whom drastically outperformed students who were frequently recognized for academic success.
All students left their session with the teaching artists feeling strong and confident. The message from the artists was that it doesn’t matter if you mess up, just keep going! They pointed out perseverance, focus, and self-control in the rigorous choreography, which transferred so naturally back to a classroom setting. One of Dyan’s favorite measures of success? A sign-up sheet that was started by one of her learning support students in the two minutes they had between the session and lunch.
Obviously, there were many benefits of this hip hop experience for the students. But there were benefits for the teachers as well!
Good teaching artists are like a little hands-on PD for educators. Teachers have the opportunity to pick up arts integration techniques for their classroom… all while observing and assisting during their class’s session with the artists!
One way Dyan helps facilitate this is by pulling together an experience-specific resource guide to share with teachers during the artist’s week. Why? To help spark lesson ideas and connections! Here is a sample of our Hip Hop Resource Guide geared towards K-4 teachers:
DOWNLOAD THIS PDF
Teaching artists bring practical knowledge, experience and artistic skills directly into the classroom. These opportunities can be wonderful ways to jumpstart your arts integration and STEAM efforts, as well as expand what you’re already doing in your curriculum. We call that a win-win!