mindPOP Eric Booth workshop notes

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On Monday, Oct. 8th 2012, several Creative Actionists had the opportunity to attend a workshop by mindPOP featuring Eric Booth.  Eric Booth is a respected theatre practitioner, educator, and is sometimes referred to as “the father of the teaching artist profession”.

His biography can be found here: http://www.everydayarts.info/

Below are some notes from his lecture:

The Core of Teaching Artistry 

The following is an excerpt from an essay in process. The essay captures my learning from leading the First International Teaching Artist Conference in Oslo, Norway.  Representatives from 23 countries came together for three days of experimentation and inquiry to discover what is common and distinct in teaching artistry as it has arisen in so many different cultures.  The following 13 points are a preliminary list of the essential core elements of teaching artistry around the world.  The Teaching Artist:

  • Guides participants to IMAGINE NEW POSSIBILITIES, “to imagine the world as if it were otherwise” (John Dewey).
  • LISTENS ACUTELY before, during, and after the work–the excellence of the listening, the humble dedication to hearing and respecting the person/people who offer their voices, and the priority on hearing the true artistic voice in everyone.
  • Seeks to have participation reach beyond compliance and willingness, to ACTIVATE PARTICIPANTS’ INTRINSIC MOTIVATION to “make stuff they care about” (art).
  • Uses ACTIVE PARTICIPATION as the main tool for learning, relying on giving information as an extension or expansion of, response to, or follow-up from experiential learning.
  • ASSUMES THE INNATE COMPETENCE OF PARTICIPANTS, and constructs experiential activities that intentionally tap those competencies (often latent capactities that individuals didn’t know they had), to spark and speed the experiential learning process.
  • Offers ACTIVITIES THAT ARE INHERENTLY FUN, that launch interesting creative problem solving processes, and that seek to engender pleasure and satisfaction, hopefully joy, in every participant on every occasion.
  • SCAFFOLDS THE SEQUENCE OF ACTIVITIES, to provide satisfaction and success at each step, building courage and investment, toward greater challenge and accomplishment.  With scaffolding, TAs can lead a group to accomplishments they would never have imagined possible in a short period of time.
  • Uses GREAT QUESTIONS as underpinnings of the work to provoke participants to identify the ways in which the activity is relevant to their lives, and to deepen the resonance of the process.  A great question is one that is inherently interesting, has a kind of emotional or intellectual bite, and provokes complex answering processes.
  • Uses REFLECTION to ground and expand the learning of doing.  As Dewey says, “If we do not reflect on our experiences, we do not learn from them.”  TAs use a variety of reflective invitations to guide participants to consider what actually happened inside and outside them during activities to grasp key elements of their experiences: feelings, thoughts, questions, memories, words, insights, etc.
  • Has a plan for every given occasion and IMPROVISES within it, responding to learning opportunities and the participants’ experiences that arise withing the process itself.
  • Takes on a VARIETY OF ROLES in leading a group, including facilitator of group process, as well as the roles of designer, leader, colleague, teacher, and witness.  Good TAs are nimble in changing their role relationships to learners, enjoying each role, and modeling the multiplicity of roles that artistry requires.
  • Seeks in the long view to CHANGE CULTURES.  They seek to activate the human birthright for a caring, creative, collaborative culture that respects the capacities and contributions of all members  that recognizes and appreciates excellence in all its forms, and that delights in the play of imagination for other ways reality can be.

As teaching artists, we can PREPARE PEOPLE TO HAVE ARTS ENCOUNTERS/EXPERIENCES in ways that will make those experiences more meaningful to them.  What if we did 2 minute exercises every class or day focused on specific skills like brainstorming (instead of in bigger blocks of fine art classes), if they are fund and challenging and low risk?

TEACHING ARTIST STRATEGIES:

  • Tap Competence. Assume everyone is a colleague and capable.
  • Personal Relevance.  Place a high priority on helping students to draw connections to their own lives from an arts experience or encounter.
  • Scaffold the Experience. Build your activities so that there is a progressive experiential return on the investment of paying attention and participating.
  • Enabling Constraints.  Use obstructions to allow for greater critical thinking and creative problem-solving.
  • Entry Point.  Pick one core idea and draw people in experimentally through that core idea.
  • Engagement Before Information.  Engage students through experiences and create a hunger for information before you deliver it.
  • Law of 80%  Eighty percent of what a TA teaches is who she is as an artist/person/learner/citizen.  Accepting the responsibility that we must be that change we wish to see in the world and embracing a wide view of the role of an artist, the TA is dedicated to living authentically and bringing that self into teaching opportunities, which include more occasions than just dedicated workshop time.

Diversity in the Classroom?

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After the recent writing activity at training gathering information and experiences about exploring diversity in the classroom, I thought it would be helpful to share 3 excellent books from the Creative Action library that explore the subject and suggest activities.  If you’d like some ideas or want to explore the topic more before November and January trainings, check them out!

Storybook Theatre?

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I was recently reminded of these books in conversation with a Teaching Artist who is adapting Storybook Theatre for older grades (3rd+).  Whether you are looking to adapt the Storybook Theatre curriculum or simply looking for engaging activities to do around a storybook, these books by Shirley Raines and company have an excellent assortment of recommended books (all Caldecott or other award winners) on a variety of themes (animals, nature, friendship, family, etc.) and engaging/well-thought-out accompanying activities: cooking, drama, writing, music, art, etc.  They are available from the Austin Public Library.

The Whole Brain Child, part 2

What if communication that honors differences but promotes compassionate linkages (integration) stimulates the integrative capabilities of the brain?  Mental health can be seen as a balancing act between differentiation and linkage, between chaos and rigidity.  This is evident in that most major mental illness is either characterized by a predilection of the mind for chaos or rigidity.

We can encourage integration of the mind.  We can teach mindsight.  We can teach how to monitor information and energy flow within, which is the pathway to integration.  We can define the mind, which is embodied and relational, and we can build stronger, integrated minds.

What is the relationship between mindfulness (meditation, etc.) and attachment (therapy)? There is a relationship still being explored between the experiencing brain and the observing brain.  Meditation is a kind of internal atunement, where the mind sees itself with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love (or kind regard).  We should practice mindfulness everyday.  “Taking time in is a core aspect of mental health and we can teach it to young people.

The way we take care of each other is by promoting integration of the mind. So, how do we integrate a child’s brain? Honoring differences, yet promoting linkages?  Some strategies:

  1. ATTENTION: Through attention we stimulate new connections and new experiences.  We can talk about our feelings and our shared experiences.  “Where neurons fire, neurons wire”, meaning whatever we emphasize in behavior, expression, or content creates new pathways and patterns in the brain.
  2. CONNECT, THEN REDIRECT:  The right and left sides of the brain are different more in being, not in what they do.  Both sides of the brain do a lot of the same work, but there are different centers of processing.  The left brain is linear, later to develop, linguistic, logical, literal, text-oriented, focused on the letter of the law and details.  The right brain is holistic, earlier to develop, nonverbal, visual-spatial, autobiographical and mnemonic, contextual, and concerned with the spirit of the law and how the parts add up to a whole.  YOUNG PEOPLE ARE CONSIDERABLY MORE DEVELOPED IN THEIR RIGHT BRAINS.  This means (and adults commonly make mistakes here) that kids need hugs, empathy, and emotional connection before we try to solve their problems and offer left-brained teachable moments.  Connect to them empathically, then redirect logically.
  3. NAME IT TO TAME IT: Helping a (young)  person name and describe their feelings helps to calm and relieve those feelings.  This is integration between the two sides of the brain at work.
  4. USE IT OR LOSE IT/MOVE IT OR LOSE IT: When a (young) person is overcome with emotions, it is helpful for them to channel that emotion into a useful outlet like writing a letter, drawing a picture.  When a person becomes stuck in mental loop or loses mindsight because of a lack of integration, anything that can move the mind can be helpful.  The mind is embodied, so it can be changed or refocused.  Breaking these loops with non-sequiturs or dramatic interruptions can be helpful in moving the mind along.
  5. LEARN FROM CONFLICTS:  Conflicts are opportunities to increase integration in deeper ways.  “How do we learn from this?”  It is natural for children to become angry with adults and vice versa.  Modeling good resolution skills, emotional/social skills, and good reflection/processing can be hugely useful in integration of the young person’s mind, but also in deepening your connection with them.  “To flip your lid is human, but if you’re not honest about it and make a REPAIR, you’re inhumane.”  If we do flip our lids as adults, we can apologize, talk about the experience with the child, and provide comfort/empathize with how the experience may have felt for them.

Dr. Dan Siegel also provides resources for helping to attune the mind (breath awareness practice, wheel of awareness, etc.) on his website:

http://www.drdansiegel.com/resources/

The Whole-Brain Child part 1

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture put on by local organization Austin In-Connection featuring award-winning educator and distinguished mental health researcher, Dr. Dan Siegel.  Dr. Siegel is author of The Whole Brain Child and The Developing Mind, among other texts, and a full biography can be found here: http://drdansiegel.com/about/biography/

The lecture was given at the LBJ library to a full house of parents, teachers, policymakers, social workers, and mental health professionals.  Here are my notes.. –Mitch

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“We all want to create healthier communities.  We all want stronger relationships.  How do we do this?”

Some basic questions:

  • What does a person who wants to help a kid grow well do to actually help?
  • What is a teacher actually doing?
  • What does that have to with what a parent does?
  • On the macro-level, what does a community member or policy-maker do (to help)?

One suggested answer: EMPATHY

What is empathy?

  • The ability to tune in on what is going on inside another person, understanding their point of view, etc.
  • “Focusing attention on the internal experience of someone else”
  • Empathy can literally be a matter of life and death (think of a suicide help hotline).
  • Scientific studies suggest that empathic physicians have better results on immune system functioning and patient recovery rates.

The core research of Dr. Siegel has been focused in the area of attachment.  Attachment research deals with the ways in which a person has their inner life seen and respected (their thoughts, emotions, desires, fantasies, etc.).  This inner life is sometimes referred to as the SEA INSIDE.

“When we see the sea inside, great things happen.  The opposite is isolation.”  Seeing inside this sea inside and relating to others empathically can be summed up in their experience as “I feel felt by you“.  Empathy can be the presence to feel and have insight into others.  Empathy actually changes your physiology, even to the level of enzymes and chromosome maintenance (this has been scientifically proven).  Thus, empathic experiences, and experiences in general, in a person’s youth significantly affect their brain development.

In mental health, there are two poles representing openness to others and openness to the self.  An inability to do either may be referred to as a mindblindness.  Similarly, mindsight is the ability to see inside the sea inside, both with others and the self.  Mindsight is what allows for social and emotional development and intelligence.  Our brains are filled with mirror neurons that detect predictable sequences (the brain is an anticipation machine) and make a map of the intention of the person you’re perceiving.  These mirror neurons also allow us to feel the other’s feelings and connect it to our own feelings.  Our whole lives are shaped by our social nature.  We are born in connection to others.  The self is inherently relational and when we are used or victims of apathy, it feels wrong because it is a violation of millions of years of evolution.  “We as human beings uniquely among species share and distribute attachment responsibilities among others in our community.  We have a deep collaborative nature.”

It is important to remember that the mind is not just our brain activity.  The self is not skin-deep.  Neuroscience shows us that the “downstairs brain” (the seat of experiences and neurological processors for our digestive systems, heart, etc.) provides a conduit to and filter for what our “upstairs brain” does.  Our “upstairs brain” is the place of mindsight, where the linkage and coordination of differentiated brain parts happens, where maps of “me” and “we” are created, where moral reasoning and emotional regulation takes place.  This linkage between the differentiated parts of the brain is referred to as integration.  Our goal in nurturing the healthy development of minds and selves is creating more integration.

(continued)