This mix media metissage e-book is created with the intention of engaging readers in an interactive experience. Weaving together a range of artifacts such as stories, photos, drawings, slideshows, poetry, social media posts, scholarly quotes and life writings, this e-book is a multi-dimensional space where the visual, sonic and imagination meet.
In order to get the most out of your reading experience, the following descriptions will illustrate the format of each type artifact you will encounter in this metissage e-book.
"A pull quote will appear in this format. Pull quotes will feature direct quotes from the following scholars: Maxine Greene, Elliot Eisner and Gregory Cajete."
Gifs are short video clips that are automatically played in loop. Gifs included in this metissage will feature highlights from the movie “Dumbo” in order to give life to the specific scenes within the narrative.
Box texts will appear in the format below and will contain selected life writings.
Images and Videos
All other artifacts will appear as photos, slideshows, and/or videos. These mediums are interactive and are meant to be viewed in the order that they appear in the metissage. T
“Story, expressed through experience, myth, parables and various forms of metaphor is an essential vehicle of Indigenous learning.” - Cajete 30
As a young girl, I developed a deep love for elephants. I grew up watching Dumbo - a classic Disney animated film about an elephant who learns that he can fly. Dumbo was born with unusually large ears - a quality so unique that it was first seen as a curse until he later discovers it to be a blessing. According to my mother, Dumbo was the most played-on-demand VHS tape in our household. He was an elephant who walked through the face of adversity, who found a friend to lean on, who was encouraged by his tribe, and who took risks in order to fulfill his potential. This elephant was my first childhood hero.
I have never bothered to ask why. Why Dumbo? Why not Pinocchio, Lion King or Snow White? Why not Little Red Riding Hood? The Bearstein Bears? Or Franklin? I was told hundreds of stories and watched dozens of animated films as a child, so why Dumbo? Why, even as an adult, am I still so mystified by this character? This animal? This story?
“Stories mirror the way the human mind works, and they map the geography of the human soul. Indigenous stories related the experience of life lived in time and place. They were not only a description but an echo of a truth lived and remembered. They remain the most human of human forms of communication. ” - Cajete, 139
It was not until I began my journey as a Masters of Art Education student that I realized the significance of Dumbo’s story. My first course, Curriculum Theory and Art Education (Educ 868), introduced me to the pedagogies of indigenous education and challenged me to revisit the my own life’s story. This course encouraged me to reflect on how I have arrived to where I am today. It challenged me to recall the many lessons I have learned along away and to analyze the impact that different people, places, animals and events have made. It was through this process of retelling and re-imagining my life’s story that I came to the realization that my journey and Dumbo’s journey are one and the same.
In Gregory Cajete’s book, Look to the Mountian, he reflects on the tradition of the Aztec people of Mexico whose purpose in education is to, “encourage their students to find their face (develop and express their innate character and potential); to find their heart (search out and express their inner passion); and to explore foundations of life and work (find the vocation that allowed the student the fullest expression of self and truth)” (35). This tribal metaphor resonated so strongly in my soul as this quest for finding face, heart, and foundation - is at the very core of both Dumbo’s story and my own.
For this reason, the following metissage will be told through the story of Dumbo as a metaphor for my own personal journey in finding face, heart, and foundation. Braided together with strands of life writings, quotes from scholars like Maxine Greene, Gregory Cajate and Elliot Eisner, and concrete examples from my own teaching and artistic practice, this metissage chronicles my growth so far as an artist, teacher and living human spirit. Created with honesty, curiosity, passion, and fun. This is my metissage. This is our story - Dumbo and I.
“Plurality” is “the condition of human action because we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live.” Even though we are on a common ground, we have different locations on that ground, and each one “sees or hears from a different position.” - Greene 156
Dumbo’s story begins with an expecting mother elephant named Mrs. Jumbo. She was a circus elephant who wished that a stork would deliver to her a newborn baby. After waiting patiently, her wish came true! Mrs. Jumbo’s baby elephant, however, was born with a distinct and unusual quality - a pair of ridiculously large ears! The other circus animals made fun of the poor baby elephant and nicknamed him Dumbo. But Mrs. Jumbo loved him in anyways - big ears and all.
This scene is the moment where Dumbo begins to find face. To find face is to find, “the spiritual nature of character and to learn how to develop our true selves (Cajete 63).” Similarly, in my own journey, my story begins with my mother and my ridiculously large ears (metaphorically of course).
Upon delivery at the circus, Dumbo looks up at his mother in awe of the full grown and magnificent elephant that she is. My mother, Mrs. Nelia Valencia, in my eyes, is the epitome of success and the definition of strength and courage. Being raised by her taught me to be ambitious, a high-achiever, and a perfectionist. Being raised by her meant high expectations, consistent reminders of my potential to do great things and an undying source of support.
Mrs. Valencia was the eldest of five children. Because education was expensive in the Philippines, she was one of only two siblings who were able to graduate with a high school diploma and then later a university degree. To pay for her hard earned education, her younger brothers worked on the farm to support her dream of becoming a nurse. Being a nurse she thought would be her best shot at success as that was the route that many Filipinos have gone on in order to move aboard and build a better life. Working aboard would allow her to repay her brothers for the sacrifice they have made. She graduated from nursing school and immediately left her home and her country behind at only eighteen years-old. She brought nothing with her but herself, her culture and her dreams - a bright, smart and proud Filipino woman.
A few years later, she finds herself in Canada raising two daughters with only one wish for their futures - that they will have a good education and a stable career. Because becoming a nurse had opened up so many opportunities for her in her journey she never gave up on trying to convince my sister and I that it was the most ideal vocational choice. To my mother, being a nurse was a tried and true way of making a positive difference in the world while also ensuring financial stability. My mother was also not alone in this thought process as many Filipinos have used nursing as a route to immigrate into Canada. It was so common for filipinos to go into nursing that the profession as was stereotypically labeled as the “Filipino Dream” amongst our family and friends. In my culture, it is an expectation to obey the wishes of your parents. Many filipino parents wished for their sons and daughters to be nurses. Needless to say, my story did not turn out that way.
Despite going against her wishes, my mother eventually understood that I had a different path. With her move to Canada, I was born with a different set of circumstances. I was born with a unique disposition. I was born with my own passions, desires and innate characteristics. I was born with my own version of Dumbo’s ridiculously large ears.
My Ridiculously Large Ears
At birth, Dumbo was gifted with a unique physical characteristic. In my own life, I was also gifted with unique characteristics but perhaps not just physical ones. In my analysis of Dumbo’s story, I imagine Dumbo’s ridiculously large ears as a metaphor for the vast complexities of my own innate character and potential (or in other words my “face”).
In this course, my process of finding face started with the creation stories and the writing of (as well as reading of) my Where I am From Poem. This poem was a free write concrete poem (otherwise known as a pattern poem or shape poem). The contents of this poem is inspired the place I call home, the culture I have grown up with, the ambitions I am reaching for and finally the state of being I am in now. This poem’s typographical form, verbal cadence and written content are all reflections on my innate character. This poem is a reflection of my journey in finding face.
Through writing and reading my Where I am From Poem - I have discovered a little bit more about what my unique characteristics are. Like Dumbo, I too had to live with my quirks, my gifts, and my circumstances for sometime in order to truly understand what my potential is. I learned that my ridiculously large ears include but are not limited to the following facts: I am an artist and a dancer. I am a believer of God. I am both a student and a teacher. I am good at science but I am not called into the sciences. I am not a Filipino or a Canadian but I am a Filipino-Canadian. I am a dreamer and a hard worker. I am a big sister, a friend, a girlfriend, a daughter and a grand daughter. I have anxiety but I am not my anxiety. My mind, my being and my learning spirits, operates best in physical space. I am kinaesthetic being. My mind processes information in small fragmented bursts. I feel deeply and experience wholly. I am not the expectations of the people around me.
These are the circumstances that I was born into. These facts are what makes me, me. In revealing these facts to myself, stating them and performing them, I have grown more confident in who I am. I have grown more invested in my continuous quest of finding and developing my face. I am given permission to be unapologetic for being fully and authentically me.
This process of retelling my life’s story and finding my face has not only given me permission to appreciate who I am and validate my ambitions moving forward but it has also allowed me to appreciate and validate the stories of others. In working through this process with my peers in my Masters of Art Education cohort, I am able to understand at a deeper level, the importance of listening and learning from other faces and other life stories. This sense of plurality as described by Maxine Green has allowed me to view my world through multiple perspectives and to value the uniqueness of each person that I have the privilege of connecting with.
Despite being mocked by the other elephants, Dumbo found guidance and support from his new found friends; Timothy Mouse and a flock of crows. Timothy Mouse was Dumbo’s first mentor. He believed so much in Dumbo’s potential to be a star that he was eager to find opportunities to help him shine at the circus. Later on, Dumbo also meets a flock of crows who at first were skeptical of Dumbo’s abilities but, when proven wrong, became his support system. They supported, encouraged and motivated Dumbo to push beyond his doubts and reach his full potential. With guidance and mentorship from both Timothy Mouse and the flock of crows, Dumbo learned that he could fly!
Like Dumbo, I was lucky to have found a support system of artists, dancers and creatives. Choosing to invest myself into the arts was not a very popular opinion growing up, so the encouragement was vital to my resilience. With guidance from my mentors, I was encouraged to dream. I was taught how to create and was inspired to make art. With the support of the creative communities I have been a part of, I experienced the value of community and saw my potential as an artist. This is how I found my heart. This is how I found my passion.
"Creativity and transformation are interrelated in every context or act of artistic creation. Apprenticeships, formal and informal, were the primary vehicle for learning a particular art form. In such apprenticeship relationships, the mentor many times set up conditions in which the apprentice would learn how to identify with the creation of an artifact. In the making of ceremonial art these conditions were extended to include the transformation of the apprentice to a requisite level of consciousness. In this way art became a process of spiritual training that involved the spiritual development of the artist at every turn." - Cajete 154
In my journey, I have been blessed with not one Timothy Mouse but many. I have had several incredible role models in my life from school teachers, to aunties and uncles, to older cousins and childhood friends. However, I can say with confidence that the mentors who have influenced me the most are none other than my dance teachers. There is something about the passion, skill, and high spiritedness of a dance teacher, that drew me in as a shy, timid, and self-conscious teenager.
I was fourteen years old when I started my dance training. For most dancers, fourteen is a considerably old age to start. The truth is, although dance is a big part of my family life and culture, my parents viewed formal dance classes as a luxury for the rich. I remember in elementary school, I watched a group of a peers perform a dance at the talent show. Since then, I have always wanted to give dance lessons a try but it wasn’t until I was fourteen that I finally had that opportunity.
My first dance teacher, Natasha Gorrie, introduced me to the ins and outs of hip-hop culture and dance. Being immersed in her creative processes, she taught me the art of creating movement and choreography. She taught me how to feel, respond and appreciate music at a deeper level. By word of mouth from her teachers (the originators of various street dance genres), she shared her knowledge about hip-hop dance history with her students. She showed us the difference between a dance that is authentically rooted within the values street culture and a dance that was created within the structure of the studio dance culture. She taught us the difference but also the value of both. She taught us how to be both artist and competitor. She emphasized the importance of having an artist voice and that being different or weird is okay, interesting and valued. She invited me and my peers to find who we are as expressive movers through improvisation. She sought out opportunities for us to dance at malls, benefits shows, and competitions. She taught us what Cajete would call the “ceremony of art.”
"The ceremony of art touches the deepest realms of’ the psyche and the sacred dimension of the artistic creative process. This is the level that not only transforms something into art, but also transforms the artist at the very core of’ being. This way of doing and relating to art makes the process and context of art - making infinitely more important than the product." - Cajete 53
After Natasha Gorrie, it was Jennifer Olekiuk, Stewart Iguidez, Jojo Zolina, Kim Sato, Liz Vasen and the list goes on and on. Each of these mentors to this day are all still practicing artists. To this day, they are breaking boundaries and paving the way for the next generation of street dancers. To this day, they are sharing their knowledge and experience through teaching community classes. They are the pioneers of our Vancouver street dance culture, who are still students of dance themselves. They are still developing their craft and sharing their knowledge and expertise with the young and emerging dancers in our community. To this day, I have continued to make an effort to connect and collaborate with each of them.
My street dance mentors have transformed me both as an artist and a human being. They unleashed a deep sense of desire and curiosity in my heart to learn more about music, dance and myself. After specializing in street dance styles for several years, I eventually grew a greater desire to learn more about other dance genres outside of the street dance umbrella. Through emerging myself in hip-hop dance culture, I realized that all dance cultures must have a deep rooted history. There is so much more to learn about music, about people, about history, and about myself through any and all of these forms of dance. My street dance mentors where the first to open the doors wide open to my endless exploration of movement, culture and self. In my journey, I have been blessed with not one Timothy Mouse but many.
“Dreaming was recognized by all American Indian societies as a way of creating and understanding the essential nature of relationship with in and outside one’s self.” - Cajete 144
After a bad day at the circus, Timothy Mouse gives Dumbo a pep talk. As a result, Dumbo falls asleep and dreams of dancing multi-colour elephants. The next day, both Dumbo and Timothy Mouse find themselves up in a tree. It didn’t take too long for them to realized that while Dumbo was dreaming, Dumbo was already flying.
When I dance, that is when I feel fully alive and all I want is to feel this way everyday and/or be in the business of providing spaces and encouraging others to feel this way everyday. I have had dance dreams as a performer, teacher, studio owner, talent agent, costume designer, theatre director among many more dance performance related roles. These dreams are one of the many driving forces and motivations that have lead me to discover my life’s vocation.
“It is true enough that the arts will not cure a toothache or help very much in surmounting the pressures place on us by the material world. But in another way, they are really momentous, because they provide for spaces in which we can live in total freedom.” - Donoghue 129
My dance teachers were exemplars for my dreams and vocational goals as an artist. By observing the lifestyle of my dance teachers, I saw with my own eyes, the professional opportunities that dance can offer. By watching my mentors live off of their art, I was given permission to imagine my own future as a professional dance artist as well. My dreams to pursue a career as a dancer were validated. I started to understand that being an artist is and can be a viable and respectable way of life contrary to the stigma of the “poor working artist.” I was given the confidence to take strides towards a career in the arts.
Part 3 of my Where I am From poem highlights this moment in my life of reaching for my dreams. My journey in pursing dance was (and is) not an easy journey. It takes discipline and focus as well as confidence and courage to go against the grain and to take that risk. Luckily, I had my mentors and my support system.
A Flock of Crows
"The community is the primary context, through the family, clan or other Tribal social structures, where the first dimensions of education unfold for all human beings. For American Indian Tribal education, the community is a primary context for learning to be “a human, one of the People.” - Cajete 41
When Dumbo first met the flock of crows, they did not believe in his gift at first. The crows were amused about how Dumbo wound up in the tree with them. They laughed at the idea that Dumbo could fly.
I met my flock of crows at the Simon Fraser University (SFU) contemporary dance program auditions.
After having explored the depths of the Vancouver hip-hop dance scene as well as other genres of dance, I felt a calling to go into teaching. I felt called to inspire, guide and mentor the next generation of dancers. I wanted to be an advocate for dance in the public school system. I grew up with this absurd understanding that dance classes was a luxury only for the rich and I was determined to change that.
In order to do this work, however, I entered a new paradigm - the British Columbia (BC) education system. To become a public school dance teacher, I first had to pursue an undergraduate degree not just in dance but in another secondary teachable subject. According to the SFU teaching program requirements, dance was not considered a teachable subject. So there I was at the SFU contemporary dance program auditions where I met my flock of crows.
I auditioned twice for the program. Both times I felt completely out of place as I did not have classical ballet training since I was three years old. I got some very uninviting looks from the other dancers. Like Dumbo, it was clear that they did not think I had what I takes to fly with them. The first time I auditioned I received my rejection letter promptly in the mail. Unfortunately for SFU, I was not about to take no for an answer. I stood up and invested all that I could in as many ballet, contemporary, and modern classes that I could get access to. Although, I was still not quite as elegant and as perfect at the other crows, I was accepted into the program after auditioning for the second time. My journey with the flock began.
It was a four-year process of hard work that transformed me physically, emotionally, socially, culturally and creatively. Like Dumbo, I was not like the others. I had a very obvious and unique quality in both my movement choices and my physical range. When I started the dance program, it was very clear that I was a hip-hop dancer in a contemporary dancer’s world. I was not made or trained to fly in the way that the other dancers in my cohort were. But because I was committed to my dream and my purpose, the program molded me into a more sophisticated mover and a more articulate artist. I was able to work with my elephant ears and use it as my strength. Through each process of creation, through each technique class, through each choreography exploration and through each failure, I learned how to use what I’ve got to my advantage. I learned how to improve on my weaknesses. I learned how to fly.
"In each process of creation, there must be an initiation, purification, death, and rebirth of the artist through focused creative work. In working, reworking, and suffering into being a work of art, the artist is creating and recreating himself. It is, in a metaphoric sense, a matter of life, death, and rebirth.”- Eisner 150
In the four years of my undergraduate dance studies, I noticed an instructional shift about mid-way through the program. I found that the techniques we were learning from sessional instructors were beginning to look and feel more grounded. I started to see my street dance and my contemporary dance worlds collide. Suddenly, the skills that I had developed prior to my immersion into the SFU program where being cultivated. This shift was a natural progression due to the changes in the Vancouver contemporary dance scene outside of the program.
In our repertory show entitled, “War Requiem” our professors worked collaboratively with a range of contemporary dance artists including Company 605 (formally known as 605 Collective). This Vancouver-based contemporary dance collective had an aesthetic that was influenced by both modern dance as well as street dance. In Timothy Mouse’s words, “the very thing that held me down, carried me up and up and up!”
In this piece and in so many others, I was immersed into a range of contemporary choreographic processes. Similarly to my experience in the hip-hop dance community, I was immersed into the contemporary culture and way of being through collaboration and experimentation. I began to understand and appreciate the context, the language, the poise, the aesthetic and the ways of being in a contemporary dance community.
After four years of discovery, rebuilding, and flying, I graduated with my flock in 2014. Together we each earned a Bachelors in Fine Arts Degree. This degree was our “magic feather” that served the exact same purpose as the magic feather in Dumbo’s story. This degree gave us permission to fly into our professional careers.
Feather or Not
"The true sources of knowledge are found within the individual and the entities of Nature." - Cajete 29
To become a high school dance teacher, I needed that magic feather. Like Dumbo, I needed my Bachelors of Fine Arts degree as a symbol of achievement and a rite of passage into the Professional Development Program. In this case, I needed this token of affirmation to legitimize myself as an educator and artist. I needed this degree to prove to myself and the public education system that I am an invested and credible professional. I needed this magic feather to fly to where I am today.
However, now that I am working as an arts educator, I realize that I am where I am today not only because of this “magic feather” but because I also possess in my very being - the aptitude, the skills, the creativity, the heart, the work ethic and the imagination to do what I do. I realized that this degree in and of itself does not give me the ability to fly. I realized that I have been flying on my own all along (using nothing but who I am and the knowledge/skills that I have gained along the way).
"Education is always in process and is being built from the stones, and upon the foundations, of prior structures." - Cajete 27
At the climax of Dumbo’s story, he finds himself at the top of a burning tower. Looking down at the height he must jump from, Timothy Mouse gives Dumbo one last word of encouragement. Dumbo checks for his magic feather and he jumps!
Like Dumbo, I find myself standing upon a tower observing the risks and insecurities I have for taking a leap of faith. I imagine this tower as a multi-level building with many moving parts. I imagine that the tower that I stand upon as an educator has three levels: the school community, the new BC curriculum and the Surrey Secondary Dance Teacher’s Association (SSDTA). These levels build on one another to create the foundation upon which I am developing my teaching practice.
This tower is my foundation as an arts educator.
Foundation Level 1: School Community
“Community is the place where the form of the heart and face of the individual as one of the people is most fully expressed. Community is the context in which the indian person comes to know the nature of relationship, responsibility, and participation in the life of one’s people.” - Cajete 165
For the past three years, my school community has been ever changing. I have had the privilege of teaching at three different schools since I started teaching in the Surrey School District. Each school had it’s own identity with a unique mixture of staff, students, pedagogy and traditions. This year, however, I earned my very first continuing contract and am finally blessed with the opportunity to plant my roots and to “build a home” at my current school - LA Matheson Secondary. The school community is the first level of my foundation as a teacher. In terms of my long term development as an educator, my practice must be rooted within the soil of my school community, the walls of my own classroom and the hearts of my students.
L.A. Matheson Secondary is an inner city school with a student demographic that is different from any other school I have ever worked at before. I noticed from the first day of classes that my students are incredibly diverse. My classes consist of a range of student abilities from English Language Learners (ELL), to mixed abilities (both designated and non-designated), to at risk youth with social-emotional and/or behavioural challenges. It was very clear to me at the start of this semester that my approach to my teaching practice will have to significantly change in order to reach my students.
In response to such a high level of student needs, the staff at L.A. Matheson Secondary use the power of community and collaboration to help support one another. Every week the staff engages in a dedicated Professional Learning Community (PLC) time, where teachers (and support teachers) in all departments collaborate and share resources on a variety of professional topics like assessment, field trips, cross-curricular learning etc. Many of the teachers at L.A. Matheson also sponsor a range of extra-curricular initiatives such as setting up seasonal decorations, serving hot breakfasts every morning, planning lunch programs, working with students in the Youth Educational Support (YES) portable as well as supervising the after school sports and academic tutoring clubs. It has been an enriching experience working with such open-minded and forward thinking staff. As a new addition to the community here, I have been greeted with such genuine kindness, respect and support from my colleagues. In an inner city school such as L.A. Matheson Secondary, we teachers experience a multitude of challenging situations with students who come from such complex (and sometimes heart breaking) stories. For this reason, I have come to understand the importance of working together in order to tackle the everyday challenges (both big or small). I consider myself lucky to be part of such a collaborative teaching staff who are so willing to lend a helping hand, listen to each others concerns and support one another. As I start to plant my roots here, my hope is that I will be able to contribute to and involve myself more in the collaborative efforts of my colleagues.
As a dance specialist, I was hired by administration to foster and build the dance program at L.A. Matheson Secondary. In accepting this job, I was aware that the dance culture in this particular school community is still in it’s infancy with only a few blocks of dance being offered each year. Part of the contributions that I hope to bring to the Arts Education Department is an enriched approach to dance education so that more students are able to experience the art of movement. My first few months on the job was spent getting to know the interest of my students in my dance classes and offering dance workshops after school. Is the student community interested in hip-hop or contemporary? Tap or Jazz? Bhangra or Tinikling? What kinds of music do they like? What is their understanding of dance? Who are my students and what about dance interests them?
After testing the waters and exploring a range of movement styles with my classes and after school workshops, I felt a sense of passion and desire for South Asian dance forms such as Bhangra and Gidda. It did not take long for me to discover that there is is a very strong and proud South Asian community at L.A. Matheson Secondary. The desire to explore and celebrate Indian culture and dance was oozing out of my students everyday. There was only one problem. Indian dance was not yet part of my dance training arsenal. I had my work cut for me.
“Indigenous thinking recognizes that learning is complete only if it starts from the beginning and follows through. One skill builds on another, but the basics must always be honored. Learning is step by step.” - Cajete 30
In many ways, my quest as a masters student could not have come at a better time as I am now also committing to a new movement journey. In October 2017, I made a commitment to myself and my students to learn more about Indian culture and dance. I started by consulting within my own network of dancers who specialize in Indian dance. I attended local dance shows featuring classical Indian dances and have sought out dance studios and community lessons with the lower mainland.
While researching the history of Indian cultural dance, I discovered that there is a breadth of dance styles each with it’s own rich cultural significance tied to very specific provinces, regions and traditions in India. I learned that there are about eight different classical Indian dances, all of which are based in on the Natya Shashtra - an ancient Hindu teaching that describes all attributes of dance. These classical dances include: Bharata Natyam from Tamil Nadu, Odissi from Orissa, Kuchipudi from Andra Pradesh, Mohiniattam from Kerala, Kathakali from Kerala, Kathak from North India, Manipuri form Manipur and Sattriya from Assam. In addition to these Indian dance styles, I also discovered that are many more folk dances such as Bhangra, Gujarati, Dandiya, Garba and so on. Dance was an integral part of Indian culture. I was quickly swallowed by the richness of Indian dance history. I realized that my quest in learning Indian dance was going take a lot longer than a few short months.
By dabbling into a few of these Indian dance forms and immersing myself into some local dance classes, I was reminded of my time as a beginner hip-hop dancer and my experience as a late comer in contemporary dance. I really enjoyed stepping into a new world and discovering more about the Indian culture that many of my students have been raised in. I am looking forward to continuing my journey in studying more cultural dance forms. With a more diverse cultural palette my hope is that I will be able to offer, educate and introduce these forms in my classes. My hope is to honour the cultural significance of these dances and in doing so, reaching (and hopefully inspiring) more of my students.
In understanding the nuances of my school community - I hope to develop my practice in a way that will make a meaningful contribution to the lives of my students and my colleagues. I hope to stay inspired by the opportunities and possibilities that this community offers so that I am able to overcome the challenges that this community presents as well. As I take leaps of faith everyday in my practice, I hope to develop a deeper appreciation for and understanding of my school community.
Foundation Level 2: New Curriculum
“Curriculum modelling it the first step in the systematic processes of designing a learning experience based on a philosophical perspective. it is but one of many creative possibilities” - Cajete 69
The next level of my foundation as an arts educator is the new curriculum. In British Columbia, our education system has recently revamped the curriculum in order to better suit 21st century learning. It is an exciting time to be teacher as educational reform is now being encouraged at the provincial level. At this time, seasoned teachers are being challenged to shift and re-imagine their practice. Similarly, newer teachers are also being encouraged to think more creatively about how they plan to develop their practice. The new curriculum opens up endless possibilities as there is no tried and true way of approaching it. In a way, the new curriculum is a great equalizer of teachers both new and seasoned as it encourages dialogue and collaboration between generations.
Over the last three years, I have experimented with several of the key ideas that are presented in the new curriculum. Ideas such as competency-based and process-based learning have directly influenced the way I understand student growth. I also resonate with the notion of nurturing self-reflective and self-directed learners so that students have more ownership of their own learning. In my classroom, I am attempting to implement many of these concepts into my practice, especially through alternative assessment strategies and cross-curricular/inquiry-based learning. The new curriculum has encouraged me to be confident in myself as a teaching professional, to make my own mistakes as a student of education and to find my own methods that are true to my teaching pedagogy and the nature of art.
Learning-Based Assessment and Student Ownership
The student is also a prime resource in the evaluative process. Teachers can learn a great deal about what students have learned by listening to them talk about their work. What do they pay attention to ? What do they believe is successful? Do they support their judgements? If so, how? - Eisner 194
One of my least favorite tasks as an educator is collecting marks and assigning letter grades (or percentages). Even as a student, I have always seen grades as such an arbitrary way of representing growth, knowledge and ability. When I first discuss assessment with my students, I often ask them the following questions: Do we really need grades or marks to learn? Can a student learn a skill without ever receiving letter or percentage grades? How about riding a bike? How is it that a person can learn how to ride a bike without ever being given an A or a 86% rating on their bike riding skills? I take the time to discuss the difference between receiving marks and receiving meaningful feedback because it is important to me that my students are able to recognize what is necessary and unnecessary for their growth.
While I also understand that grades are still part of the paradigm of Canadian public education - I am adamant in creating learning spaces where my students are encouraged focus more on the learning and less on the grade. With the implementation of the new curriculum, I realized that this was an opportunity to do just that. I was determined to change the language from “grades” and “marks” to levels of achievement (ie. Excelling, Achieving, Developing and Beginning) and the development of skills. To do this, I devised a new language and a new assessment strategy that would shift the conversation from marks-based to learning-based (See “The Dance Studio” video interview above for more information).
“Imagining things being otherwise may be a first step toward acting on the belief that they can be changed.” - Greene 22
This growth-based and student-ownership-based assessment model, has allowed me to post-phone the conversation of letter grades and marks to the very end of the term (or just before each reporting period). Conversations up until that point are focused on the learning, the skills, the experience of creating art - as it should be. By the end of term, students are able to celebrate both their failures and their successes. By the end of the term, students should also be able to provide evidence of their learning by comparing their work at the end of term to their work at the beginning of term. By the end of term, students should be able to accurately identify their level of achievement which can then be converted into an appropriate letter grade or percentage.
I developed this assessment strategy in response to the new curriculum and implemented it behind the closed doors of my dance classroom. At the time, I was not sure if other teachers were also reinventing their assessment models but it was what made sense to me, to dance, and to my students - so I went with it. After a few years of developing and refining my strategies I learned that other teachers were also using student-portfolios and learning maps.
This year as the arts education department head at L.A. Matheson Secondary, I shared my assessment ideas to my team for feedback. I was curious to know if these strategies could work across disciplines as my department includes the Visual Arts, Drama, Music and Dance subject areas. Luckily for me, my department is composed of young, eager and fairly new teachers - who are also willing and interested in adopting a more skills-based approach to assessment. We are now developing learning maps for each of the fine performing arts subjects offered at our school. With the new curriculum as our platform, we are flying together and are working as a team to align our assessment strategies
Inquiry-Based and Cross-Curricular Learning
“To understand how children themselves reach out for meanings, go beyond conventional limits (once the doors are ajar), seek coherence and explanations are to be better able to provoke and release rather than to impose and control.” - Greene 57
With the implementation of the new curriculum, new teaching methodologies have also surfaced. So far, I have experiment with inquiry-based and cross-curricular learning which I have found has worked well with the creative process of student choreography. These learning concepts and methods have inspired me re-think how I engage my students in the creation process of dance.
Taking inspiration from the Big Ideas in the new curriculum I developed a inquiry-based and cross-curricular choreography project which was appropriately entitled the Big Ideas Choreography Project. This project was first designed as a challenge for my advanced dance students at North Surrey Secondary and Sullivan Heights Secondary. The challenge was to further explore dance as means of communication and research. Aside from the new curriculum the premise of this project was also inspired by Dance vs PowerPoint, a TedX Talk by professor John Bohannon. Dr. Bohannon, is the founder of the Dance your Phd Contest where phD students are challenged articulate their research thesis through dance. In his talk, Bohannon he proposes that abstract ideas can be better articulated through the movement of the body than through PowerPoint. Similarly, the primary task of the Big Ideas Choreography Project is to select a theme, concept or big idea from an academic class as inspiration for a their dance piece. Throughout the creative process, students are asked to consult with their academic teachers in the school to ensure authenticity and accuracy in the information and lesson that is being communicated in their dance.
This project was an invitation for students to inquire about an abstract or academic topic of their choice. It was both inquiry-base and cross-curricular. And although this was a very different approach to creating choreography than what they were used to, I was pleasantly surprised with how well my students rose to the occasion. The Big Ideas that were chosen were as unique as the student themselves. These Big Ideas include the assimilation of our first nations people, rape culture, comparative civilizations, schizophrenia, associative identity disorder, religious studies, depression, World War II etc. In the planning phase of their process, gave my students permission to choose between capturing their choreography through video or preparing their choreography for stage. Students who chose to film their creations were sought out guidance from the media teacher while students who chose to do live performances sought out guidance from the arts and applied skills teachers for help in designing sets, lighting effects and background projections. These choreography projects presented a true collaborative process between students, teachers and subject areas. This project developed a life of it’s own and inspired my students to dive into a deep level of research and creation. Each dance was unique to the style and interests of each student choreographer.
“If the significance of the arts for growth and inventiveness and problem solving is recognized at last, a desperate stasis may be over come and hopes may be raised, the hopes of felt possibility.” - Greene 132
The impact of inquiry-based and cross-curricular learning goes beyond the learning experiences of our students and transcends into the audiences that are invited to witness and celebrate their discoveries. Just last year, a similar inquiry-base opportunity presented itself with the centennial of Canada. The following life writing chronicles the details of this project and the impact made for myself, my students and the organizers of the Canada 150&Me contest.
My engagement with new curriculum has been exciting and inspiring for both myself and my students. It has been the foundation for most of not all of my teaching practices as it aligns so well with my teaching pedagogy.
Foundation Level 3: Surrey Secondary Dance Teachers Association (SSDTA)
“We are all kernels on the same cob. This metaphor denotes the underlying unity yet the diversity of individuals, which characterize tribal communities even today.” - Cajete 165
The Surrey Secondary Dance Teachers Association (SSDTA) is the third and highest level of my foundation, so far, as an arts educator. The association consists of dance teachers from all across the district. We form a united front for all Surrey dance students. As a team, we collaborate on conceptualizing, planning and running enrichment opportunities for both ourselves and our students. Together as an association we have done incredible things for our students such as offering post-secondary scholarships to graduating dance students, running district wide performance events, organizing specialized dance workshops, purchasing and organizing shared dance resources like tap shoes, dance floors, ballet barres and costumes, etc. The association works together to help each other build our dance programs so that each student in our district as an equal opportunity to experiment and excel in dance. We are a tight knit group of professionals and friends who are committed to supporting and taking care of one another.
To me, the association is my new flock of crows as I am still one of the newest additions to this community of teachers. The association as long held traditions and ways of working that I am still getting acquainted with. As I continue to attend meetings and take part in our events and discussions - I am starting to have a better understanding of my place with in the association and am slowly discovering how I can contribute productively to our efforts.
“Democracy means a community that is always in the making. Marked by an emerging solidarity, a sharing of certain beliefs, and a dialogue about other, it must remain open to newcomers, those too long thrust side.” - Greene 39
As we come together to build and support the Surrey Secondary Dance community, I am becoming more and more aware of the diversity of teacher personalities and the differences of student needs between each dance program. It is a very complex balancing act in order to ensure that each program’s needs are heard and supported. Luckily, our association is work on a system of democracy and dialogue and I am hopeful that we can come together in solidarity to provide for the needs of our students.
My school community, the new curriculum and the SSDTA are the three levels of foundation upon which I am developing my practice as an art educator. Each level presents both challenges and opportunities. But like Dumbo, in order to fly, I need to take a leap of faith. I order to fly as an educator I have to be confident in who I am, what I am passionate about and what I can do.
In moving forward and in the interest of flying, I am planing making a proposal to the SSDTA. I like to invite the teachers within the SSDTA to adopt the Big Ideas Choreography Project/Show as my contribution to our district dance community. In doing this, I am hoping that we can encourage ALL dance students in our district to engage in inquiry-based and cross-curricular learning and creating. I have seen the impact it has made on my self and my students and I believe that it is an idea worth sharing.
"The ultimate goal of Indigenous education was to be fully knowledgeable about one’s innate spirituality. This was considered completeness in its most profound form." - Cajete 41
Dumbo’s story is a story of becoming. By understanding, accepting, and using his gift, Dumbo was able to become his full and complete self. With the help of his mentor, Timothy Mouse, and his community, the flock of crows, Dumbo was encouraged to fulfill his potential. He took a leap of faith and proved to both himself and others that he could fly. Similarly, this course, Educ 868 - Curriculum Theory and Art Education, has encouraged me to look back at my own life story and make meaning out of my lived experiences in order to better understand who I am, what my passions are, and how to fulfill my life’s vocation. Like Dumbo, I have come out of this course with a new found courage to fly. Once in flight however, the challenge is in finding way to sustain it, evolve it, and nurture it.
A Balanced Human-Being
“It is through learning how to live a complete life that honors all levels of their reality.” - Cajete 56
One way that I hope so sustain flight in this profession is to nurture and invest in my whole self. Although I am a teacher, I am also an artist, a friend, a creature of the earth, a daughter and a dreamer. By honouring all aspects of who I am, I am giving myself permission to be a complete and balanced human being. In turn, finding a sustainable life-balance, I will also naturally benefit my practice as an educator. I will become better equipped to nurture my students in their own quest to find completeness.
A Practicing Artist
“The possibilities of growth in and through the arts cease only when we do. The ultimate aim of education is to enable individuals to be come architects of their own education and through that process, to continually reinvent themselves.” - Eisner 240
Another way to nurture a sustainable life-balance and career as an arts educator, is to keep my creative spirit alive. Maintaining my artist practice will allow me to have an outlet for expression, release, inspiration and development. By creating art, I am reminded of the challenges and rewards that art brings to my life. In living (and reliving) this creative process in my own art work, I am able to connect with the creative process of my students at much deeper level. In Stewards of Creation, I am exploring themes that are very close to my heart such as lessons form nature and it’s connections to my Christian faith. In developing this piece, I am revitalized as an artist and am able to share my creative journey with my students as it relates to their creative journey in my classes.
Additionally, being an active artist in the arts community outside of the paradigm of public education will also allow me to stay relevant in the art world. For the past two year, I have been dancing, performing and creating with the TwoFourSeven Urban Dance Company. As a company we have sought out international performance opportunities to share our creations to a wider audience. Working with TwoFourSeven has been more than just a enriching experience as an artist but has also allowed me to make meaningful connections between the great Vancouver dance scene and the work that I am doing with in the four wall of my classroom.
In order to sustain flight in this profession, I hope to continually see art, make art and share art. Throughout the course of this semester, I have made every effort to say inspired by attending a range of local arts events in our city such as: the Meta contemporary dance show, the Jurrasic Park screening at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Canadian contemporary painting exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. I am making art every week in collaboration with my students and in collaboration with my dance company. And in 2018, I am excited to share these creations at our upcoming shows. Being an artist and nurturing my creative spirit has helped me soar to greater heights as an educator.
A Re-Imagining Teacher
“We must not be willing to remain passive, to coincide forever with ourselves. We must instead, seek more shocks of awareness as the time goes on, most explorations, more adventures into meaning, more active and uneasy participation in the human community’s unending quest.” - Greene 151
Flying as an arts educator is and will be a life-long journey as there is no set destination or point of arrival. I anticipate that my practice will be ever changing and ever growing. As my orientation shifts and foundation, my face, heart and foundation will also change. I hope to remain in the practice re-imagining. I hope to continue to look beyond the paradigm of the current education system and to find new possibilities for myself and my students.
While in flight, I intend to continue reaching, exploring and collaborating both in education and in life. I hope that I will continue to have the capacity to find spaces where new possibilities can grow despite surrounding resistance.
“We have to facilitate our children and ourselves in that ancient journey to find our face (to understand and appreciate our true character), to find our heart (to understand and appreciate the passions that move and energize our life), to find a foundation (work that allows us to fully express our potential and our greatest fulfillment), and to become a complete man or woman (to find our Life and appreciate the spirit that moves us). We must again create the kind of education that creates great human beings.” - Cajete 68
As I move forward from this course I am reaffirmed in my purpose as an arts educator. As a mentor and guide to my students, my aim to provide opportunities for them to connect with in themselves, to find their passion, to discover their vocation and to ultimately become complete and happy human beings. As my own quest in finding face, heart and foundation mirrors that of my students, I will continue to engage in my own journey of becoming. When I stand in front of my students today, I find myself flying. I have come to realize that by virtue of teaching I am given permission to be my full and complete self. In the midst of my slight, my hope is that I will also be able to encourage and empower my students to find their face, find their heart, find their foundation and find their complete selves too.
Cajete, Gregory. Look to the Mountain: an ecology of indigenous education. Kivakí Press, 2003.
Donoghue, Denis. The Arts Without Mystery. Little, Brown, 1983.
Eisner, Elloit W. The Arts and the Creation of Mind. Yale University Press, 2002.
Greene, Maxine. Releasing the imagination: essays on education, the arts, and social change. Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000.
Williamson, Marianne. A return to love: reflections on the principles of A course in miracles. HarperPerennial, 2012.