The Front Story

I have been teaching drama for 18 years, in a variety of capacities, and for many different age groups. I love the theatre, I love teaching, and I love working with students.  I believe education is an invaluable experience of enrichment, and feel the arts should play an important role in all students’ education.

In order to be a strong teacher, I believe it is important to continue to be a student; to encounter unknown situations, to keep my eyes open, and to bring multiple perspectives into the classroom.

And, as a teacher of the arts, I also believe it is also important to continue to develop yourself as an artist.  (This I say, but find to be a challenge due to the busy schedule of the school year — any suggestions?)

In 2009 I attended the World Summit on Arts and Culture in Johannesburg, South Africa.  During the congress, I had an opportunity to converse with international colleagues who believed, like I do, in the power of international collaboration and the arts, and had the opportunity to visit a few schools in the area.

This trip marked the beginning of a new phase in my development as a teacher, and as a student.  The journey to South Africa reignited my passion for international education and communication, and encouraged me to seek out other international opportunities for conversation.

Since then, I have made several trips abroad, to present my work at conferences, to visit friends in far flung places, and to develop collaborations between myself and colleagues world wide.

When I learned about the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, I thought the opportunity would be a next logical step towards deepening my teaching practice.  When I began the application, the volume of words necessary to reach its completion was overwhelming; couldn’t I just perform a monologue instead?

The application process turned out to be a valuable experience, however.  It forced me to identify what I felt passionate about in my theatre education teaching (empathy education), what the root of this was, and how the core manifested itself in my life and my work.  I was shocked.

Since I finished the application, I have been doing a lot of reading about educating for empathy, character education, etc., and thinking about how I can be more mindful of weaving this into my teaching.  This background reading and research will only help to strengthen my action research project when I go to Singapore in February.

The Backstory

I was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, the oldest of three children.  From an early age, I was fascinated with expressions of culture.  I taught myself how to read with travel books. I wrote stories that took place in China.  I spent a lot of time with my Israeli neighbors.  I created puppet shows.  And, from the age of three, I took theatre classes to learn how to travel to wherever my imagination would take me.

For many years, I enjoyed a fairly Rockwellian existence with a loving family in the middle of Iowa; I excelled in school, I played soccer.  The summer I turned eleven, however, everything changed.  I became ill with a syndrome no one could identify.  In a matter of weeks, I became an “other,” physically different from students in my class, and the receptor of daily taunts, prank phone calls, and broken friendships.

Regardless of the health challenges and the bullying I endured at school, my parents encouraged me to continue taking theatre classes.  I spent a lot of time at the Des Moines Playhouse.

Performing in two productions of Peace Child at The Des Moines Playhouse played an important role in my life.  Peace Childbrought together young people from countries at political odds to create and perform a musical about world peace. Despite cultural differences (and language barriers), the members of the Peace Child casts were able to effectively communicate with each other through music and dance. In doing so, we discovered we had the same dream — to live in a peaceful world. Through my experiences in Peace Child, I was able to see how theatre could serve as a means for political and social change.

After I went away to college, I thought a lot about how I had gotten through this difficult time.  It became clear my experiences in the theatre provided the solid ground I needed during this personal earthquake; the theatre enabled me to simultaneously escape and find myself.  In the theatre, I explored other characters’ lives, became an important part of a community, and learned how to express myself.

Realizing how powerful my experience had been, I decided to create similar opportunities for other children.   My career in arts education began.

Welcome!

Hello everyone!

This new blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of arts education and community development.  I am particularly interested in how the arts can help young people develop the capacity to be empathetic, bridge cultural and generational gaps, and create a more peaceful world.

In the coming months I will be traveling to Singapore to embark upon an action research study on empathy and the arts, exploring how Singaporean schools use the arts to help young people develop into citizens of the world.

I am traveling to Singapore on a grant through the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Program.  For more information on the program (or to apply yourself!) see:  http://www.fulbrightteacherexchange.org/dteIndex.cfm.  The next application deadline is December 15, 2011.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.  I look forward to the conversation.