We concluded our dance workshop with a jam circle that was safe and celebratory. At the end, with sweat dripping from our smiling faces, we held our palms out towards each other and felt our collective energy.
Tag Archives: stop moment
“It is not uncommon for the arts to leave us somehow ill at ease or to prod us beyond acquiescence. They may, now and then, move us into spaces where we can envision other ways of being and ponder what it might signify to realize them. But moving into such spaces requires a willingness to resist the forces that press people into passivity and bland acquiescence. […] To resist such tendencies is to become aware of the ways in which certain dominant social practices enclose is into molds, define us in accord with extrinsic demands, discourage us form going beyond ourselves and from acting on possibility.”
– Maxine Greene 1
Clunk, screech, crash, thud!
“Why do we have to move the desks every week?”
For the last two and a half years of studying Arts Education within the academy, my classmates and I have moved our desks around the room, reconfiguring them in hopes of creating a learning space that is less hierarchal, more inclusive, and more freeing.
This week there is extra bitterness in my voice.
“Rows? If they want to sit in lines, they should have to move the desks!” I grumble as I throw more wire framed chairs into a stack.
Finally, we stand in the open space we have created for ourselves. I exhale and feel the tension leave my body as we begin to play.
We are just a minute or two into a short exercise, marching, singing, swimming, sliding around the room when our class is interrupted by another student at the door.
“You are being too loud,” she says.
We are frozen mid-play.
We do not apologize, but we do accommodate her.
Of course, we all have to use this building, and our classes have different needs, but I feel hot with annoyance because I know that our class’s activity is seen as less important.
“BUT THIS IS HOW WE ARE LEARNING!” I want to yell.
What kind of learning do we encourage by sitting in rows, by being silent, and by taking orders from the top?
Does it nurture students who feel safe in their bodies, who speak with courage, who embrace vulnerability, who engage in honest interaction, who know themselves before leading others?
Today these two experiences exemplified the struggles [arts] educators face every day, even when we know wholeheartedly that a classroom of learners not only sits and listens, but also moves and makes sound.
1 Maxine Greene, Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995), 135.
As I drive around the corner, a tiny dark shape appears on the road through the fog. It’s already past midnight and I’m longing for bed, but I pull over and get out of the car.
A pigeon is sitting still in the middle of the lane. I crouch down close to it and I see that one leg is retracted protectively.
I approach the bird with a towel and it stumbles in circles.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
I scoop it into my hands and hold it as carefully as possible but the pigeon cries out.
“It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”
I lay the pigeon down underneath a bush.
In bed that night, I think about why holding the pigeon “stopped” me. Realizing the rarity of being within touching distance of a wild animal makes me feel disconnected from the natural world, but realizing the rarity of being an active witness makes me feel disconnected from my humanity.
How many times have I been silent while witnessing an act of discrimination on public transit? How many times have I kept walking when being addressed by a panhandler? How many times have I neglected to ask if a stranger who may be struggling needed help?
In his book Becoming Human, Jean Vanier retells the biblical story of the beggar Lazarus in order to illustrate the gulf that exists between the privileged and the poor.
“What is the abyss that separates people? Why are we unable to look Lazarus straight in the eye and listen to him?
I suspect that we exclude Lazarus because we are frightened that our hearts will be touched if we enter into a relationship with him. If we listen to his story and hear his cry of pain we will discover that he is a human being.”1
Pulling over to hold the pigeon reminded me of how easy it is to remain isolated and ignore the needs of others. As an educator, I know that I must model being an active witness and allow my heart to work past fear so that it may be touched by compassion.
1 Jean Vanier, Becoming Human (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2008), 70.
“We have the whole building to ourselves.”
“Can we perform in the hall?”
“Or maybe in the study room? Some of us could stand on the chairs and tables.”
“Yeah! But we can’t turn off the lights in there and we’re supposed to perform in darkness.”
“How about the bathroom?”
“Let’s do it.”
“Alright everyone,” we announce to our audience, the other half of the class, “We’re going on a field trip. Follow us.”
We quickly place ourselves one-a-stall and close the doors.
A drone begins a few stalls over.
A whooshing rhythm joins in.
Our individual sounds build as someone experiments with stomping on the floor. Another classmate hits the wall. I feel inspired to shake my door.
Without centralized direction or visual cues, we listen for our times to add or subtract sound, and slowly, our composition comes to an agreed resolution.
We are fortunate that this kind of activity is encouraged. Because it is the norm, the stakes are lowered.
Although we come to class as artists and educators who are mostly predisposed to practicing outside of the box, we create this environment together.
As Fels and Belliveau write in Exploring Curriculum: Performative Inquiry, Role Drama, and Learning,”The kind of curricular experiences you create with your students reveal your values, who you are as an educator, and how you believe students best learn.”1
Because our professors have modeled vulnerability, we have made ourselves vulnerable.
Because our professors have modeled playfulness, we have space to be playful.
Because I feel trusted, I can trust others.
1Lynn Fels and George Belliveau, Exploring Curriculum: Performative Inquiry, Role Drama, and Learning (Vancouver: Pacific Educational Press, 2008), 40.
Presently in my program at Simon Fraser University, we are investigating “stop moments”. As Dr.Lynn Fels explains, “These stops are action-sites of learning which, in turn, inform our pedagogical practices and/or ways of being in the world.”1
Over the coming weeks, I will share my “stop moment” short stories and illustrations here. I have changed the names of students.
Kyle’s red hair bounces on his head as he marches around the room with a homemade stir-stick-and-paper flag that reads, “Outdoors!”
It’s a wet Friday afternoon and cabin fever is spreading quickly in the grade 4 classroom.“Yes,” I agree, “let’s get some fresh air and have some free time outside.”
I open the door and the students bolt in every direction. I am happy to observe their self-initiated games on the playgrounds, fields and courts. But I am a new substitute teacher, and I often feel self-conscious under the gaze of other teachers and administrators.
Some boys playing on the basketball court are too far away for me to properly see them, so I ask a student to retrieve them. All but two come back.
“Why are Justin and Daren still over there? Are they purposely ignoring me?” I ask Mark, one of the boys who returned.
“No, it’s just that Justin needs to cool down, and it’s better if one friend can stay with him. Daren is going to make sure he’s okay.”
I watch Justin kicking the basketball around, and Daren calmly walking behind him. Mark’s comment reminds me to be a more sensitive witness to the relationship dynamics already present among students and to decentralize power by trusting that students often know what course of care is best for themselves and for each other.
1 Fels, Lynn. “Coming into Presence: The Unfolding of a Moment.” Journal of Educational Controversy 5, no. 1. Accessed January 17, 2014. http://www.wce.wwu.edu/resources/cep/ejournal/v005n001/a020.shtml.