#ArtsEdWeek

New Frontiers: Teachers Say the Pandemic is Redefining Arts Education

North Carolina Arts Council
Friday, September 18, 2020

We knew this school year was going to be different. In July, five months after schools closed early to stop the spread of COVID-19, Governor Cooper announced that K–12 schools would reopen in August with social distancing plans in place. Across the state, school districts battened down the hatches, rallied their troops, and prepared for a school year destined to be defined by the pandemic.

Last month, the school year began with more questions than answers. Could schools hold in-person classes safely? Could they guarantee that every student had the tools and skills they needed to attend school remotely? Could they ensure that remote learning wouldn’t augment the disparities that impact student achievement in a typical school year? How would the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic and virtual learning impact the social development and well-being of students? And how would the teachers — who already give so much of themselves to their work — fare? 

To observe National Arts in Education Week, we asked a group of arts educators to reflect on the triumphs and challenges of teaching the arts this year. Their responses exemplify the dedication and ingenuity of North Carolina’s arts teachers and give us a deeper understanding of why arts instruction is critically important during this time of struggle. 

Our series concludes with interviews with arts educators from Swift Creek Elementary in Raleigh and Rockingham Middle School in Rockingham.


Jazzmone Sutton
Music Educator at Swift Creek Elementary
Raleigh

You’ve shared an image that captures what your work “looks like” right now. What’s going on in this picture? 

This year is about trying our best with flexibility. I currently work from home and ten minutes before my first kindergarten class this year, my internet went out. The only spot to get a good signal from my phone, which I was using as a Hotspot, was outside in the parking lot. It wasn’t ideal teaching in the August afternoon heat in a parking lot to a class of kindergarteners who were attending their first music class. However, it was fun, and we got it done. We spent our time together laughing and learning, just as it should have been.        

Walk us through a day in the life of your job right now. 

A typical workday begins with communication between students, families, and staff via Google meets or email. When my live classes start, I teach 20-minute live lessons until the end of the day. Between my classes, I answer questions, problem-solve, or build relationships with students. At the end of the day, I check student work and communicate with families, staff, and students. 

What’s most rewarding about teaching this year? 

The most rewarding part is spending time with my students. They bring such joy and hope with them to music class. Despite the distance of online learning, my students are overcoming so many obstacles to be active in music class. 

A lot of my students have to overcome the challenge of learning in changing environments. Many come to music class from busy daycares, centers, and moving cars.

What’s most challenging about teaching this year? What is helping you stay motivated and hopeful? 

A lot of my students have to overcome the challenge of learning in changing environments. Many join music class from busy daycare centers and moving cars. I’ve also had some come online from a local fast-food restaurant and outside of the U.S. There are no instruments to play or spaces to dance, and singing can often distract others in their environment. It is hard for an eight-year-old to focus on a square of their teacher singing and dancing on the computer while everyone around them is talking and playing.

Yet, my students show up, assess their surroundings, and make the best choices for their learning environment. I am amazed at how committed they are to actively participate in music, no matter their circumstances. I am honored to be their music teacher. They bring such joy and hope to class.

What has the pandemic taught you about the value of arts education? 

During this pandemic, I am reminded how arts and music education brings a greater sense of life and connection to people. It is why my students show up to class each day with smiles on their faces despite their circumstances. We bond over music and the joy that it brings. I could not have canceled music class the day my internet went out, because we all would have missed out on the gift that is making music together. We have laughed, sung, and even danced from our folding chairs, houses, daycares, and moving cars. Music has connected us because that is what music does.


Ashley Lupfer
Visual Arts Educator at Rockingham Middle School
Rockingham

You’ve shared an image that captures what your work “looks like” right now. Tell us what’s going on in this picture. 

Teaching 100 percent virtually with 100 percent smiles. The second I let technology frustrate me, it impacts the students, too. Showing myself and my students grace is a must.

Walk us through a day in the life of your job right now. 

Every day consists of meeting my students virtually at our scheduled class time, followed by calling to check on each student I haven't heard from. After school I work on our virtual art club, prepare learning activities, assist colleagues, and help students with new tools. Students have been doing a great job articulating their needs at the middle-school level.

What’s been most rewarding about teaching this year? 

Sometimes the "student view" online is a bit different from what I can see on my end, so I have had several students volunteer to explain the student side of the Canvas platform we are using. Students have done a great job exhibiting leadership during this time.

The pandemic has exposed the vastness of what an effective arts education can look like.

What’s been most challenging about teaching this year? What is helping you stay motivated and hopeful? 

Much of what art educators do with students is tangible, so I have felt very "out of reach." I miss buzzing around a classroom filled with students discovering, celebrating, getting frustrated, and just really learning together. I think there are ways to get closer to that feeling in a virtual setting, which I am excited to try out. I am focusing on giving individualized feedback to ensure that those personal discussions about student learning are not lost.

In your words, what has the pandemic taught you about the value of arts education? 

The pandemic has exposed the vastness of what an effective arts education can look like. There is so much that falls within the scope of arts education, and the possibilities can be overwhelming! Learning how to prioritize content and provide diverse learning experiences has helped me see where I can be more flexible and create as many choices for my students as possible. Accepting that things will be different, but that they can also take some exciting turns, has really helped me move forward with a positive mindset.

Kids Still Want to Know They Are Important: Arts Education Meets New Needs in the Pandemic

North Carolina Arts Council
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

We knew this school year was going to be different. In July, five months after schools closed early to stop the spread of COVID-19, Governor Cooper announced that K–12 schools would reopen in August with social distancing plans in place. Across the state, school districts battened down the hatches, rallied their troops, and prepared for a school year destined to be defined by the pandemic.

Last month, the school year began with more questions than answers. Could schools hold in-person classes safely? Could they guarantee that every student had the tools and skills they needed to attend school remotely? Could they ensure that remote learning wouldn’t augment the disparities that impact student achievement in a typical school year? How would the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic and virtual learning impact the social development and well-being of students? And how would the teachers — who already give so much of themselves to their work — fare?

To observe National Arts in Education Week, we asked a group of arts educators to reflect on the triumphs and challenges of teaching the arts this year. Their responses exemplify the dedication and ingenuity of North Carolina’s arts teachers and give us a deeper understanding of why arts instruction is critically important during this time of struggle.

Our second installment of this series features interviews with arts educators from Green Level High School in Cary. The final installment of this series will be live on Friday.


Rebecca Craig
Theater Teacher and Director at Green Level High School
Cary 

You’ve shared an image that captures what your work “looks like” right now. Tell us what’s going on in this picture. 

This photo shows me teaching theater in a brand-new way. Instead of bouncing around the classroom, I spend much of my time leading activities and conversations through the use of my laptop and dual monitor. However, one thing that hasn't changed is the way I start every class full of enthusiasm and a smile on my face!

Walk us through a day in the life of your job right now. 

I get up in the morning, get ready for my day, grab all my things, and drive to school just like I would if we were in a world without COVID. But that's where the familiarity stops. I park at the school, we do a health check at the front door where they take our temperature, we get a sticker every day that says, yep, I've been verified as not having any symptoms of COVID, and then I walk into my classroom. Typically, my classroom is filled with loud, enthusiastic students, but right now it is quiet and calm. . . the opposite of a typical theater class. I get my computer set up, I get my coffee, I start the meeting, and then wait for students to join. My whole day essentially takes place in this spot. 

What’s been most rewarding during this time? Is there a specific moment you’ve had with your students that illustrates this?

Teaching the arts is so communal. It's built on relationships, and in this format that's harder: not impossible, just harder. I have a class that is particularly energetic. They love sharing. They've coordinated silly costumes for class. They are the best cheerleaders of each other that I have seen. That has been the biggest reminder that the arts are still important and meaningful. The kids are ready to create. 

What’s been most challenging about teaching this year? What is helping you stay motivated and hopeful? 

I have never sat so much in my teaching career. I'm typically up and about handing out props, giving and watching monologues, and moving around the room with the kids. This year, instead of me moving my body physically from one group to another, it's me changing my tab to be in another breakout room. Reorienting the ways in which I can engage with students has been challenging. 

Kids feel disconnected on the internet. It's easy to turn off your camera, turn off your mic, and disappear. But kids still want to know that they are important. They want to know that their voices matter. In a setting like theater, that can happen.

What has the pandemic taught you about the value of arts education? Is there a specific moment you’ve had with your students that illustrates this? 

Kids feel disconnected on the internet. It's easy to turn off your camera, turn off your mic, and disappear. But kids still want to know that they are important. They want to know that their voices matter. In a setting like theater, that can happen. They are not stuck doing busy work. They're not filling out worksheets. They get to collaborate, and they get to create. This moment now more than ever has reminded me that students have voices and stories that need and deserve to be told. It's harder, but that doesn't make the work less important and weighty. Students have time to actually sit and think and reflect more than they have in the past, and I think that time lends itself to the creation of beautiful art.


Katherine Pope
Dance Educator at Green Level High School
Cary

You’ve shared an image that captures what your work “looks like” right now. Tell us what’s going on in this picture. 

Students are really needing lots of encouragement this year, so I am doing more demonstrations as a virtual dance teacher. By having their teacher actively dancing with them, they are more likely to be successful with movement. 

Walk us through a day in the life of your job right now. 

I start off my morning with the planning period; then I go straight into teaching. I teach 80 minutes consecutively three times a day.  I use multiple cameras so the students can see all angles of the movements. I get a lunch break and two 10-minute breaks in between each of the classes. Everything's virtual just like everything in our lives right now. 

What’s been most rewarding about teaching this year? 

We cannot require students to have their videos on, but I have been able to cultivate a community that feels safe enough where my students feel like they can have their video on without being judged. Thankfully, I have 100 percent participation: 100 percent of my students are using their videos. I'm seeing their faces, and I'm seeing them dance in real time.

Our students are no different from adults during this pandemic. Adults are trying to pass this time by finding new hobbies and ways of doing things creatively, and our students need that outlet, as well.

What’s been most challenging about teaching this year? What is helping you stay motivated and hopeful? 

Being on, fully ready to go for 80 minutes consecutively. Being bubbly and exciting and engaging with my students pretty much all day with two 10-minute breaks. Usually by 2:30 my throat is hurting and I'm ready to crash, take a nap, and do all the things that teachers don't get to do in the middle of the day. 

What has the pandemic taught you about the value of arts education? 

Our students are no different from adults during this pandemic. Adults are trying to pass this time by finding new hobbies and ways of doing things creatively, and our students need that outlet, as well. They're not always being asked to express themselves and how they're feeling about topics in their academic classes. They're going to classes and doing worksheets, and it's very repetitive. In dance, we get to take ideas, such as being in a pandemic for seven months and not being able to go anywhere, and create a dance reflecting those emotions. It gives our students a healthy way to express those emotions in a safe environment. The many facets of arts education allow our students that creative space, which is necessary not only for survival as human beings, but also for happiness and well-being. The kids are eager to create. The kids are eager to work. They're eager to share their ideas, and they have great ones. We need to listen by continuing to offer arts education in the school system.


Slater Mapp
Visual Arts Educator at Green Level High School
Cary

You’ve shared an image that captures what your work “looks like” right now. Tell us what’s going on in this picture. 

The first thing you may notice in this photo is that I am teaching at school, without kids. In the Wake County Public School System, we had this option, and I took advantage of being able to teach in the studio where I had easy access to materials. My wife also works at home and our two children are learning online, so this frees up some bandwidth for them. 

I am so fortunate to have access to some older devices at school, which I use to keep down the visual clutter of having so many windows open at once. Since this picture was taken, I have updated the setup by creating a standing desk out of some unused furniture. I think the rest of the year will probably involve a lot of tweaks like this. I am fortunate to belong to the North Carolina Arts Education Association and to belong to a strong Personal Learning Team, where we are constantly tweaking our pedagogy by sharing ideas and technologies. Working in strong teams and supporting one another is how we are going to make it through this year. 

Walk us through a day in the life of your job right now. 

I get up pretty early, like all the teachers do, because I live about 25 minutes away. We need to be here between 6:30 and 7 a.m. for our check-in, where they take our temperature and we answer a bunch of questions, and then we go in. Classes start right at 7:30 a.m. Right now, we have 80-minute classes. We do 40 minutes on with the kids and then 40 minutes where they go off and work on art assignments or research. We do three classes a day, and I have one planning period at the end of the day.

We’ve been doing “get to know you” exercises. The kids have been making art about identity and the world around them. There's a lot going on in the news. Sometimes the kids really want to make art about those things, and sometimes they just want to make art about fashion or sports.

What’s been most rewarding about teaching this year? 

We’re not doing clubs yet, but we are encouraged to have meetups where the kids come in and chat and get to know each other, so that they have a good reason to come back to school, a good reason to turn on that camera, a good reason to sign in to the computer and do the work, because they have relationships established with us and their classmates.  I'm actually sitting outside my classroom now, because I've gotten about six girls together who are all young artists interested in animation. 

Our kids can be a little different than even performing arts kids. I find that sometimes they're a little more introverted, but they really like genuine connections, so connecting them through like-minded interests like animation and design is something that works out well, and it’s just so cool to have that sound of kids talking in my room again.  

You see how much the arts mean to the kids by how hard they work when they don't have to. Last semester nothing was really graded, and they knew that, but they worked hard, and they made amazing artwork. It’s shown me that they really rely on making art: not just consuming art, but making art. 

What’s been most challenging about teaching this year? What is helping you stay motivated and hopeful? 

Everything but the teaching. The teaching is okay. 

What’s hard right now is letting go of the idea that this is going to be anything like any other year before. A lot of people work so hard to build a program, particularly in the arts, and they're so worried about the program dying the next year. We tend to be a little more nervous in the arts when things like this happen.

But the kids are doing great. Hearing their voices and seeing their artwork: that is what keeps everything hopeful. My colleagues in chorus, dance, theater, and band are all professionals, and they're all enthusiastic and love kids. Teachers want to be useful, and I think we are really useful at this time. That has been a big part of what gets me through, too. We all need one another right now. 

What has the pandemic taught you about the value of arts education? 

You see how much the arts mean to the kids by how hard they work when they don't have to. Last semester nothing was really graded, and they knew that, but they worked hard, and they made amazing artwork. It’s shown me that they really rely on making art: not just consuming art, but making art. 

Today we had a little parade where the kids came and celebrated the teachers, which was really nice. One of my former students, an athlete, came up and said, "Mr. Mapp, let me show you the art I've been making.” He showed me all these paintings he'd been doing of sneakers. When everything else was taken away — sports and interactions with friends — this athlete who has an interest in art was really relying on making and doing and creating and thinking to maintain some sort of normalcy. You could tell how much that had meant to him.

Arts Education in the Pandemic: How N.C. Teachers are Reimagining Their Work

North Carolina Arts Council
Monday, September 14, 2020

We knew this school year was going to be different. In July, five months after schools closed early to stop the spread of COVID-19, Governor Cooper announced that K–12 schools would reopen in August with social distancing plans in place. Across the state, school districts battened down the hatches, rallied their troops, and prepared for a school year destined to be defined by the pandemic.

Last month, the school year began with more questions than answers. Could schools hold in-person classes safely? Could they guarantee that every student had the tools and skills they needed to attend school remotely? Could they ensure that remote learning wouldn’t augment the disparities that impact student achievement in a typical school year? How would the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic and virtual learning impact the social development and well-being of students? And how would the teachers — who already give so much of themselves to their work — fare?

To observe National Arts in Education Week, we asked a group of arts educators to reflect on the triumphs and challenges of teaching the arts this year. Their responses exemplify the dedication and ingenuity of North Carolina’s arts teachers and give us a deeper understanding of why arts instruction is critically important during this time of struggle.

We kick this series off with two interviews with arts educators at Northwest School of the Arts, in Charlotte. We will publish new installments of this series on our blog all week.


Chandra McCloud-Glover
Dance Educator at Northwest School of the Arts
Charlotte 

You’ve shared an image that captures what your work “looks like” right now. Tell us what’s going on in this picture. 

This photo says a lot. I call it, "But...press on." Yes, I am teaching ballet to students through a computer without a barre, without feeling the "community" in the traditional sense. But I smile through it all, sometimes to keep from feeling down, but mostly because my students genuinely make me happy. I miss being in the same room with them, feeling their energy, hearing their random stories, their laughter, their tears, their silence. I miss learning from one another and dancing collectively. But I am in a new space that my husband created for the family to enjoy, and it comes complete with a dance floor and padding that absorbs shock when I jump! And I am wearing a tunic as an homage to the great Martha Graham as part of our Teacher Spirit Week. Even though I am teaching alone and dancing alone, it is still great to be part of a team and do fun little things like Teacher Spirit Week. Teaching virtually is difficult, time consuming, and more stressful than teaching in person. But this is my new normal, and I have become more creative than ever. I must press on.

Teaching virtually is difficult, time consuming, and more stressful than teaching in person. But this is my new normal, and I have become more creative than ever. I must press on.

Walk us through a day in the life of your job right now.

My day begins with a brisk run-walk around my neighborhood with motivational talks from Peloton instructors. That always gives me a little nugget of knowledge I can share with my students. I check my email, make a to-do list, log on to Zoom, and teach from 9:15 – 4:15, with a couple of breaks. During breaks, I may text my department, colleagues, and dance friends, answer emails, choreograph, catch up on grading, or just breathe for a second. I end my day reviewing and reflecting for the next day. Sundays and a portion of Saturdays are dedicated to actually catching up on grades and creating and uploading modules for the upcoming week.

What’s been most rewarding this year? 

The most rewarding thing is always seeing growth, whether it is growth in technique, artistry, or maturity. My Ballet 8 students set a goal of doing more combinations in the center and across the floor. They knew that in order to do that, they had to focus in class more and practice outside of class more. I saw them work toward that goal last week when they made it to the center. Usually, I have to keep students at the barre for two weeks, meeting every other day. But they got in the center after having only three classes. And they did that, because they are retaining the combinations, retaining and applying corrections, and practicing outside of class. It was very rewarding to see.

What’s been most challenging about teaching this year? What is helping you stay motivated and hopeful? 

Being alone is the most challenging, as well as not having clear and consistent direction. I have to be my own "hype woman" a lot and give them the energy I want to see through a screen. But their smiles, laughter, and dedicated intention keep me motivated. My colleagues inside and outside of my school keep me motivated and hopeful, as well. We are constantly talking on Microsoft Teams, through group texts, and through Zooms, and we're helping one another more. It really feels like I have multiple families and a strong support system.

What has the pandemic taught you about the value of arts education? 

So many creatives are being born out of this pandemic. I have never seen so many companies, organizations, and groups be more imaginative with what the workplace should look like or be more understanding of what "family" means or be more outspoken when it comes to disparities. People aren't just using "diversity" as a catchphrase anymore. They are discussing disparities and how to eliminate or lessen them. People are reimagining what school looks like and are tapping into other skills (“social emotional learning”) besides academics. This is what arts education is all about; it is about reimagining, thinking critically and creatively, including all. We teach our students to be flexible, resilient, dependable, and inclusive. Education can't exist without arts education.


Bryan Wilson
Visual Arts Educator at Northwest School of the Arts
Charlotte

You’ve shared an image that captures what your work “looks like” right now. Tell us what’s going on in this picture. 

In that particular photo, I am mirroring my iPad's screen through Zoom, which is the way I am most comfortable doing demonstrations. I was in the middle of introducing my students to "sight-size method" which is a drawing process where you take measurements of a subject and "translate" (as in geometry) them to your drawing. You essentially end up copying the referenced subject at a 1:1 ratio. Its a bit tedious but helps ensure accuracy and a sharper eye regarding proportion.

Walk us through a day in the life right now.

I start my day a little before school officially starts by pulling up all my classes in Canvas and ensuring that links and assignments are what I need them to be. I take attendance, which takes approximately six minutes (there are inevitably some stragglers), and then I address any announcements. I lecture/demonstrate for about 20–25 minutes, we do a quick recap to make sure all the students are on the same page, and then I let them off Zoom to finish classwork or begin homework.

What’s the most rewarding thing about teaching this year? 

A day without tech hiccups. Besides that, being in a position where I have a sense that I am confident in what I have planned for the next few days.

What has this year taught you about arts education? 

There is so much more to arts education than learning to produce something beautiful. We are in a position to respond to and document what is happening now around the world. It is through the arts that people are able to escape, challenge mindsets, build bridges between communities, and find healing and even purpose. The arts have been a lifeline to many during this time of isolation.

 

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