Build Your Arts Capacity: Using Safety and Value to Teach Your Teachers
I had a meeting recently wherein a principal gave me a peculiar (to me, at least) request. He wasn't interested in the quickest or most efficient form of reaching the most kids with as many arts as possible, which is where I had been focusing. No, he just wanted me to, you know...start a theatre program.
This is far, far from a bad thing. On the contrary, it's directly within my wheelhouse. But it's also not necessarily a capacity-building measure, something I have been focused on with schools in an attempt to be transparent about their need for me. In an ideal world, I would not be the teaching artist; I would be teaching teachers to be their own teaching artists. (Then again, in an ideal world, there'd be no need for my position, because everyone would already be advocating for the arts.)
So how do you bring arts to a school in your own capacity while also advocating for a bigger culture shift than you can ever handle by yourself? How do you, in essence, argue yourself out of a job?
I am choosing to move forward with three basic tenets of behavior and believe:
1. Proving competency is proving worth.
I am valuable because I know what I am doing, whether or not I am training instructors, administrating from the office or working directly with students.
2. Innovation springs from a safe and valued space.
I am free to be creative and think outside the box because I don't believe that my job is on the line. I am free to take risks, try new things, and bend to the talents and trends of the students I am teaching instead of sticking to formulaic instruction techniques.
3. Working the job is how you learn to do the job.
I have struggled for years with the dichotomy of talent and experience: is it easier to make a teacher into an actor, or an actor into a teacher? I'm still not sure, but I do know that the only way to know is to work it and to try it, and to have a backup plan in case of failure. Fortunately for everyone involved, I am the backup plan. So far, I have never run across a job that I have given out to another teacher that I could not do myself; what that means is that I trust myself to do the job, ultimately, and that gives me the ability to trust others to also do the job, because it is deeply and intrinsically understood.
This is all well and good, but does it establish capacity for others? Again, capacity building is not something my base seems to be interested in for the moment, but you have to assume that it will be in the future. And my current plan is simple: show, don't tell, and let teachers watch.
Open up the rehearsal room. Let them listen to the music. When they have questions, don't schedule a meeting: just answer them. When they need help, don't insist on a therapy sessions and a classroom observation: just help them. Assume competence, assume value, allow for innovation, and understand that you are the expert at your job and they are the expert at theirs, and be there for them. Yes, you will have to overcome your own fears and insecurities; it's worth it. Yes, they will see you make mistakes; when they see you continue to be valued, it frees them up to make their own.
Developing competency, like theatre, is messy and uncertain. And all about trial and error and laughter and forgiveness. Isn't that part of what we're trying to teach students, after all?