The Collaboration and Connection of A&H in the City
On Thursday, December 10th, TC faculty and alumni came together for an unforgettable evening of dancing, learning, sharing, and connecting at The Joan Weill Center for Dance, home of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for A&H in the City: Ailey Arts In Education. As part of the event, attendees were led in a movement and choreography workshop by Ailey Arts In Education Master Teacher and former company member, Nasha Thomas, focusing on Mr. Ailey’s masterwork Revelations. Attendees then participated in a thought-provoking discussion regarding cultural literacy in the classroom, multiple intelligences, and gesture as discipline, with TC Faculty Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz (English Education), Patricia Martínez-Álvarez (Bilingual/Bicultural Education), and Catherine Box (TESOL & Applied Linguistics).
After the event I sat down with these featured TC professors to understand the scope of their multi-faceted experiences, which included collaborating with each other, fostering needed community space for alumni, and becoming students again. I now invite you to be a fly on the wall in a reflective and enlightening conversation with the passionate professors who were part of this moving event.
Patricia: I left the event very inspired, it was kind of feeling butterflies in my stomach, to tell you the truth. I really didn’t expect to get so engaged with the process.
Yolanda: In all of my time at TC and the different events that I’ve done on behalf of TC that was by far the best event. When I say best– for me the movement of the body, the energy of being with alumni, being able to meet with people who have been at TC and be reconnected with TC through the mode of dance was a wonderfully creative experience.
Catherine: I loved the fact that we could be students. We’re always talking to people about how to manage group work and how to circulate around, and finally I was back in doing group work myself which was a nice change.
WHY FACULTY COLLABORATION?
Patricia: Working together added to the whole experience. We were actively learning and making meaning of the information at the event together and then sending it out. Collaboration is always great and you learn a lot whenever you get to have a discussion at the interdisciplinary level.
Catherine: It was a collaborative meaning making. We come from different experiences. For me, because I do microanalysis, I’m always looking at the little things, whereas Yolanda has a much bigger picture view, and Patricia as well, talking about multiple intelligences. It really helps to situate my thinking and ground myself.
Yolanda: Collaboration is at the center of everything that I do, which is why I think I embraced it so quickly when I was brought together to work with Patricia and Catherine. As soon as we sat down I said, “Okay, I know this is going to work.” I try to do collaboration in everything that I do, so it was the perfect set-up for me. The value added is that I now feel that I am closer to two of my colleagues.
WHY CROSS PROGRAM COLLABORATION?
Patricia: The three of us attend to similar issues so we have some commonalities– that we attend to minoritized learners. We are trying to create more equitable spaces for learning and for different perspectives. There is a level of social justice that is palpable and can be reached that we share. So for talking about how dance and movement comes into place in education, and in relation to culture, I felt that it was a good group to engage in that discussion while coming from different perspectives.
Catherine: It was really nice because when you try to collaborate across programs it usually winds up falling flat because it’s too big of a commitment. This is a way that we can do it in a small way so that we now know each other. The next time we do something together, we already have this shared background on each other. Collaborating with Yolanda and Patricia helped give me a richer understanding of the kind of work that they do, and how my research might connect with theirs. I think it’s a really good way to get faculty to talk to each other outside of committee meetings. There are so many nuanced pedagogical and philosophical connections between our programs!
Patricia: Collaborating helps us create a shared identity within TC. I think those at TC aim to work towards that shared identity. When we prepare teachers we are trying to take it to the collective level while allowing for the individual level.
Yolanda: When you bring faculty together and they get a chance to talk about what they do and learn more about each other there is a possibility for research collaboration, and to see the work that they do through different lenses. That is the value added– that you’re building stronger relationships among colleagues but also putting a united front to the alumni to see how people are coming together across programs to benefit them. The collaboration of this event is multi-layered and very well conceived.
THE VOICES OF ALUMNI
Patricia: It was so powerful in that I got to hear the teachers and their experiences as they enter the field. It kind of renewed for me how teachers need to be heard and they need a space for talking once they graduate from TC, and they are trying to make sense of what they explored in graduate school. It was so clear in that conversation that they really needed to talk about what worries them as they realize first hand how things work in the educational system. And there were different and even contrasting opinions and people were trying to attend to each other’s situations. It really enlightened my idea of how much support alumni need once they leave TC.
Yolanda: I felt like we had this community where we shared the dance and then, breaking of bread. There were so many teachers who needed to be validated in that space and they were. It was almost like “Look at me, I’ve been teaching for 20 years and here’s what I’ve been doing,” or “Look at me, I’ve been teaching for 3 years and I’m really struggling.” So then it became a space of validation and a space of people just listening to one another.
Patricia: It really reminded me of the restrictions that we have in place in public schools and I was feeling with the teachers that were sharing the frustrations and struggles that you experience as you are trying to implement some new ideas and try to expand the learning spaces while at the same time you have this authoritative figure (the principal or whoever is the leader in their contexts) really focusing on something else unrelated to what is important for children and educators (most often because of systemic pressures)- to the point that these teachers felt they could lose their jobs– this is really serious.
Catherine: We could have extended the conversation until midnight and we wouldn’t have had enough time. Teachers really need to be heard. I realized there’s this need to tell the story– to say, “No, I’m different kind of teacher. I welcome arts into my classroom.” A lot of teachers, who are used to feeling pressure to be ‘academic’ so to speak feel defensive about integrating arts into the classroom. This gave them a space to find allies, and also challenge each other to think critically about the limits and possibilities when bringing artistic expression into the classroom.
For instance, I was so proud of one of my students who was challenging more experienced teachers who were encouraging newer teachers to “be subversive if you feel pushed to ignore artistic and creative expression in your classroom; be an advocate for the arts.” And it’s true in this day in age that it is easier said than done for untenured teachers. And what does being subversive look like? It’s one thing to say “I’m going to be an advocate, and I’m going to be subversive.” But when I’m sitting there with 25 students, where do I start, and how do I keep my job when my security is limited? I thought both sides had a lot of really good points.
TEACHERS AS STUDENTS
Yolanda: I learned so much about a dance that I have seen 3 or 4 times. She [Nasha Thomas] said that the last pose [of the choreography assignment] had to involve touching. For me that was such a deliberate and beautiful pedagogical move because when you talk about collaboration, which is in some ways what Revelations represents– this kind of collaborative celebration of moving from slavery to freedom. It’s like she embodied it and then she wanted it to be in the cultural pieces that we did, and just something as simple as making sure your bodies touch was so powerful.
Catherine: She [Nasha] went so fast and that is typical of dance teachers. I had flashbacks to my own dance training, and trying to follow when you don’t speak the language of dance. Even though I speak a little bit of it, it certainly has been many, many years. It was very hard to follow her when she would give dancing directions without fleshish it out, because it is a language that she is fluent in, and I am not. For example, she never explicitly said that we were counting steps by 8; you had to figure it out. And I thought Wow, this is really challenging. So it really put me in that experience of what it’s like to be in a room where the teacher is fluent in a language that I’m either very rusty on or never learned at all.
Patricia: I enjoyed the cultural piece so much when we were working in small groups and exchanging movements attached to our cultures. I immediately thought about bringing it back to my graduate class. I felt they were creating a space where we were sharing about who we are, very personal things about us and it happened very naturally– to complete strangers– at the beginning, that became non-strangers at the end. Choreographing the movements took a lot of negotiation verbally and nonverbally. Also I learned about the different learning styles that we have and how people access the world through diverse modes, and the way I facilitate learning should allow for those– a reminder that there is no universal way of learning. As a professor you are always reminded that people learn in different ways, and this was a very obvious way of reflecting on that.
WHY A&H IN THE CITY?
Catherine: It helps alumni keep a connection to TC. We are fostering even more connections. One of my former students whom I reconnected with may come in and speak to my students as they are doing their student teaching.
Patricia: I think it gives recognition to our alumni and certainly the students that were there from my program spoke to me more than any others, and explained how happy that they were that they had came, and how they would come again for the next event. All of the sudden the connection is there and we reconnect again, and now they are in service in the schools and it is a completely different world for them. The discussion is richer. I’m just so glad that I had this opportunity to renew and continue the conversation. Professors being part of the event gave our students a familiar face and renewed feelings we once shared. Someone who was not my student said “Thank you so much for telling us about your scholarship because you reminded us about things that are important.” They all seem to appreciate having academic discussions, theorizing the experience that they had, and reflecting on how to take that into their classrooms. The reflection piece is super important when we do these kinds of events. So as long as there is some way of facilitating that reflection, the format could vary from a fishball to other ways of creating that hybrid space that is transformative (e.g., a going around the room building on a series of questions or writing some words done to initiate topics for example.)
Yolanda: A&H in the City is a fantastic initiative that should continue. It is an initiative, but also it is a model of possibilities. It’s this mobile idea, because at the center of it is a coming together of people. Now the alumni are the focus, but you can extend it to the children in the schools with whom we work. It’s mobile and that’s the brilliance of it. It is definitely something that should be continued and should be played with the different possible ways of enacting it. It’s beautiful. It’s absolutely amazing. People came in one way to the event and they left feeling differently.
Alyson Greenfield is a writer and composer living in Brooklyn, NY. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama, is a lecturer in the School of Education at Brooklyn College, CUNY, and is the Event Producer for the A&H in the City series at Teachers College.