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What Do I Really Want My Students to Learn?

During the last week in June I took a Collaborative Curriculum Design class through Alameda County’s Alliance for Arts Leadership. The instructor was Trena Noval, a digital media artist and arts education professor at California College of the Arts. The attached image is from my maps- and journeys-themed process journal, which is a starting point for my upcoming fourth-grade curriculum.

After a year of teaching, I find being a student a rewarding and comforting experience. I have become fully aware of my own cravings for structure, community, and discussion. As a part of the class Trena asked us to write reflections and develop personal and professional learning goals. This task feels HUGELY empowering and reminds me of the importance of my own reflection.

Also in the class is Caren Andrews, a talented, compassionate and inspiring visual arts teacher at the San Francisco Friends School who uses a process journal between herself and her co-teacher to encourage reflection and discussion. It hangs in the art studio, and they go back and forth writing to each other! I look forward to utilizing this tool with my inspiring team of arts professionals.

On one of the days we had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Anne Thulson, an arts teacher out of Colorado who recently presented at the 2010 NAEA Annual Conference, which took place in Baltimore and focused on Art Education and Social Justice. Thulson laid out her teaching theory, based on Paulo Freire and Marcel Duchamp, and then showed us a few projects that grew out of her pedagogy. I found myself taking furious notes and experiencing a powerful affirmation of my former artist-teacher self.

When I first started teaching in middle and high school classrooms in New York City, I had no idea what I was doing. So I approached it like an artist. I asked myself dozens of questions. I asked the students dozens of questions. I brought in provocative, contemporary work and asked the students what they saw and what they thought. We explored our surroundings, participated in active research and then transformed our research into final pieces—powerful, political, public pieces. But when I moved to California and started teaching in elementary schools I allowed many people around me to shape the way I teach, perhaps because I was intimidated by the students’ ages and abilities. I convinced myself that I was finally beginning to learn to “teach.” I didn’t approach it with the same intuition; instead, I used already-constructed curricula to lead the way. Thulson’s presentation today was a reminder that my former artist-teacher self had all the right intuitions about how to build an engaging, culturally relevant, provocative curriculum. Now I just need to reclaim that process and adapt it for my younger students.

Goals for my own teaching practice:

How can I build a K-5 art curriculum that teaches equality and respect for cultural and racial diversity?

How I can create a structured, yet flexible, curriculum that is transparent to classroom teachers, administrators, and students?

How can I help to build an arts-learning community in my school district that is focused on diversity and equity?

How can I incorporate advocacy for students of color into my own studio practice?

How can I encourage understanding and support for a contemporary art curriculum that challenges traditional concepts of art?

Hopes and Dreams for my Students:

How can I grow into a strong, capable, confident person who owns my own voice and helps to construct cultural knowledge?

How can I be ready and equipped to deal with the structural racism that confronts my past, present, and future?

How can I become a critical thinker and form my own opinions about important local and global issues? How can I address these issues through various modes of communication?

How can I bring comfort to myself and to those around me? How can I help to heal my community?

Brooke Toczylowski is a full-time Visual Arts Specialist with Youth in Arts. She teaches K-5 in the Sausalito Marin City School District.

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