Posts Tagged ‘teacher leader’

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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Danielle Sullivan

May 22, 2018

Music Educator

This is the one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders. CLICK HERE for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories. Thank you Danielle for sharing your story!

Danielle Sullivan teaches music, band and chorus at Etna-Dixmont School. This is her second year at the school and her 8th year teaching. Danielle teaches general music PreK-6th Grade, 4th grade band, 5-6 grade band, 7-8 grade band, 5-6 grade chorus, 7-8 grade chorus and jazz band.  There are about 230 students in the school.

What do you like best about being a music educator?

I love seeing students do something they thought was impossible.  At the beginning of the year they believe that there is no way they’ll be able to play/sing this song and by the end of the year (quarter, semester…) they’re able to. It’s wonderful to watch.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

  1. Administrative and community support are huge. Without support you’re always fighting for what’s right.
  2. Teachers who care
  3. Students who want to learn

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom? 

I love hearing students play and sing alone. The student and I learn so much about their ability when they play alone. Quiet and shy students who either need more support or other opportunities can be lost in a large group if they never sing/play alone.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

I love all the new people I have met and the ideas we share.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of teaching young students to love music. If you can get them young then you have them for life. Being able to teach young children to love music is of the utmost importance to me.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

All the other duties that aren’t teaching; paperwork, curriculum work, meetings, emails. Doing all these other things makes it harder for me to find time to do research new lesson ideas and work with colleagues.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

Having older students who consider themselves ‘musicians’.  All of the students that come through the music room door are musicians. When they are young (as is the case at my school) they don’t have a choice; everyone has music class.  But as they get older (middle school and high school) they are no longer required to take music, band and chorus are optional. Having a strong music program with a lot of older students may seem like luck, but if you get students to consider themselves musicians then they will seek out music when it’s no longer obligatory.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Don’t be a workaholic! It doesn’t benefit you or the students!

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

For school, I would buy enough instruments so that any student who wanted to play and couldn’t afford it could use a school instrument.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

Not learning the banjo earlier in life.

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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Lori Spruce

May 15, 2018

Visual Art Educator

This is one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders.  CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories.  Thank you Lori for sharing your story!

Lori Spruce has been teaching visual art to grades 9-12 at Brewer High School for the past 10 years.  She currently teaches Art 1, Honors Art 1, Graphic Design, Photography, Advanced Photography, Painting, Advanced Art and AP Studio Art. In the past Lori has taught printmaking and sculpture. In addition, Lori is the department curriculum leader. 

What do you like best about being an art educator?

I like empowering students through the study of art by assisting in their discovery of meaning in the visual world around them. I feel that being an art educator helps students make connections between intellect and emotion through the communication of ideas generated from that experience. It’s exciting to watch that happen and to see them make those connections in other areas of their life and learning.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

Lori with AP student caricature study (of Lori)

I believe that the three keys to any successful visual arts education program are:

  1. to promote the discovery of new knowledge through creative activity,
  2. to motivate learners by considering the interests and activities of the particular age group I am working with, and
  3. to instill empathy by encouraging learners to solve problems that connect to the larger world.

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

I have found that the assessment I use in my classroom has helped my students understand their own growth as opposed to comparing themselves to others. Through reflection, my students better understand the artistic process that was involved in the end product rather then just the skill. I believe it gives them the opportunity to see where improvements can be made and therefore build on their own ideas. Also, I feel that my assessments emphasize the importance of how the mistakes they made, and hopefully overcame, ultimately contributed to the learning as well. So many art students are afraid to challenge themselves because of the fear of making a mistake and by having that be a part of the assessment process, I’ve noticed more learners letting go of that fixed mindset.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

I feel the benefits of becoming a teacher leader through the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative has mainly invigorated me at a critical point in my teaching career. My school has gone through many changes in the past few years and sometimes that can be draining. Working with other arts educators, sharing stories and teaching practices, and then applying that to my own curriculum has motivated me not only in my classroom, but to share what I have learned with colleagues even outside of my content area. This past year, I have worked closely with our science department leader by attending a STEAM conference at the RiSE center at the University of Maine and worked on developing ideas for future projects. We now have common language that we use in our classrooms. Even some of the students have picked up on it. One recent student told the science teacher during instruction he sounded like “Mrs. Spruce”!

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of the visual art program that I have helped build at Brewer High School. Since I have arrived, we have designed and moved into a new art suite with three beautiful classrooms built to accommodate a diverse art curriculum including a new digital and traditional photography program and digital media classroom. We had to really advocate for the importance of this space and our program and I am proud that the community supported it.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

Lori Spruce presenting a workshop with Tim Christensen at the MALI Mega in March 2018

Budgets, and time. In the above question I spoke of how proud I was that our community supported our new art suite. However since that project was approved, we have lost 1 ½ art teachers. Because of that, we offer less upper level electives then we used to which means students can’t always get in to the classes they want or need if they are interested in pursuing a career in art. It is not just our department affected by these budget changes but it still is hard to see happen.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

I have twin boys, now young men, one of which has cerebral palsy. My son has a lot of physical needs and still lives at home with my husband and I. He has an amazingly busy life that requires much of our assistance. I went back to school to get my art teaching certification when my boys were in elementary school. I started teaching full time when they were in high school. I can say for sure that supporting my family and their needs along with starting a new career took a lot of energy and commitment. I can also say that so much of that experience has contributed to the type of educator I am today.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Lori making art at the MALI summer institute

To continue making art and taking courses. I could use the ‘making art more’ advice myself. I find it really hard to find the time but in the rare event that I do, I am so much calmer and patient with my own students. Remembering what it is like to be a student and take part in a creative process is important. A few years ago I committed to a collaborative art show with one of my AP students. I regretted it the minute I said yes but I knew there was no turning back. It was one of the most amazing experiences and it meant so much to my student. After it was over, I got an incredible thank you letter from him. It was worth every minute I stressed over preparing artwork for it!

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

Hmmmm….boy I think this has been the toughest question. I would have to say that I would like to bring back the art position that we lost. Our classes are much larger now and we are unable to offer as many upper level electives which are really important in a high school visual arts program. I have to teach more preps which makes it harder to focus on curriculum development. This past year I have spent much of my teacher leadership working on arts integration at the high school level. With another position, I’d love to see an arts integrated or design thinking class where students can combine content areas to come up with solutions to real world problems.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

I’m pretty politically active but I always wish I had done more. Especially when I see decisions made that I don’t agree with or that negatively affect our students and our schools. It’s so important to education, our environment, our communities and beyond!

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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Hope Lord

May 8, 2018

Visual Art Educator

This is one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders. CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories. Thank you Hope for sharing your story!

Hope Lord has been the Art & Design teacher for 300 grades 6 through 8 students at Maranacook Community School for the last 7 years. She also teaches and inspires 16 gifted and talented art students and is the co-advisor for the school’s yearbook. Prior to that Hope taught in RSU #38 for 19 years, 12 as a special education teacher.

What do you like best about being an art educator?

It’s wonderful when I see my students make connections between art & other content areas. I love watching my students take risks in their art and grow as artists. I enjoy being surrounded by young artists and presenting them with opportunities to explore, develop, challenge, and create art. The best part of being an art educator is witnessing a student’s success, as they become and see themselves as artists.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

Three keys to a successful visual arts education program are creativity, perseverance, and collaboration.

  1. First of all, creativity is important because an arts educator is always looking for creative inspiration for new lessons and challenging their students to innovate and take creative risks in their artwork. Art educators also have to be creative in obtaining the resources they need for their art classrooms and for adapting materials and lessons to challenge and meet the needs of all their students.
  2. Perseverance is also key to successful arts education. The process of creating art requires the artist to experiment, revise, and rework their art numerous times. Students need to learn perseverance because students often experience failed attempts in communicating their message or executing their design. By encouraging students and supporting them through the revision process, students learn to persevere and develop a life-long skill. Perseverance not only helps students become artists, it also helps them work through any difficult task they face in school and future careers.
  3. The final key to a successful arts program is collaboration. Seeking and receiving feedback and collaboration is crucial in planning, developing, and creating artwork. When students collaborate they gain insight and new perspectives that they wouldn’t if working in isolation. Collaboration also challenges and inspires an art educator. Collaborating with other educators and community members enriches an art program, providing greater resources and connections that working alone cannot. Collaboration teaches vital 21st century skills that prepare students for life.

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?      

Quality assessment helps me understand how a student is learning and the degree to which they comprehend a concept. It also helps me plan my instruction based on concepts students need more instruction or may have misunderstandings and need clarification. Assessment also provides students feedback on their learning and how they can improve their work. 

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

MALI has provided me the support, encouragement, and skills I needed to become an arts leader in my school, district, and state. I have the confidence to take creative risks in my teaching. My teaching has improved because of those risks and the collaboration with teachers throughout my district. My professional growth has enabled me to become an arts education leader and mentor to new teachers in my district. Additionally, I have the confidence to share my teaching experiences with other art teachers and receiving constructive feedback. MALI has been a great inspiration. 

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of the work I’ve done with some of my most challenging students. I love seeing these students grow creatively and find success in art, when they have not been successful in other content areas. As I watch their art confidence grow, I also see their self-esteem improve, and it warms my heart. I know the extra investment and encouragement these students need, is well worth the effort. Every student needs to feel they are good at something. I am proud that I have been able to assist students in finding success in art and also building their self-esteem.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

The day to day politics of education interfere with being a great teacher. The increasing demands of our time and ever changing policies, hinders educators. The lack of support & funding for the arts from administrators, school boards, community, and legislators, all interfere with being a great teacher.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

I have spent the last seven years developing an arts curriculum that is engaging and fosters creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication, while connecting the arts to other content areas. It is hard work and requires continuous revisions and alterations, as I teach each group of students. When a well planned and integrated art unit is executed, it seems effortless. However, it requires numerous hours of planning, research, collaboration, and support.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

I would tell them to trust their instincts and take risks. Share your ideas with colleagues and get feedback and support to act on those ideas. Reach out to your community and colleagues throughout the state for resources and support to bring your ideas to fruition.

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

Making drums at the MALI Summer Institute, August 2018

I would take some of the money to build a new art and design studio and gallery at my school. I would also establish a grant that would be available to art teachers to help fund art materials and equipment, field trips, and artists in residence programs throughout Maine.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

My only regret would be that I didn’t start my teaching career as an Art Educator. Even though I enjoyed the challenges and successes of a Special Education teacher, I wish I would have taught Visual Arts from the beginning. I would still have had the opportunities of teaching students with special needs, but through the arts lens. Teaching art and mentoring young artists has been very rewarding and my only regret is I didn’t start sooner.

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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Laura Manchester

May 1, 2018

Visual Art Educator

This is one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders.  CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories.  Thank you Laura for sharing your story!

Laura Manchester teaches visual art at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston. She has been teaching the entire school population of just over 750 children, 32 classes a week for 7 years. Laura also teaches the after school art club, 4 days a week for an hour. Each session runs for 6 weeks which includes a rotation of 15 students from grades 1-2 and 15 students from grades 3-6.

What do you like best about being an art educator?

The best part of my job is when teachers bring their classes back to me in a week and tell me that their students made connections between what they’ve learned in my room and what they’ve been learning in their general classrooms. Seeing that art is influential and valid throughout a student’s day is integral to keeping art alive and relevant. It’s very rewarding when the kids can make their own connections, independently.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

  1. Relevance. Keeping what students learn relevant to their world keeps them engaged and excited. It’s natural to want to know WHY you are learning something or how it connects to you.
  2. Consistency in routine. When students know where things are and what to expect, they can focus their energy on learning new things. This doesn’t have to be boring. By having clear, positive expectations you allow students to “own” their experiences and be more adventurous when learning new ideas and processes in the art room.
  3. Get excited. If you’re excited about what you’re teaching, the students will be as well.

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

Assessment helps me to check what students know and need to learn. By using a variety of summative and formative assessments throughout the year, I can see how close students are to meeting specific overarching curriculum goals and where they need practice or support. I use a lot of student self-assessments to help kids make connections between lessons and curriculum goals.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

As the only visual arts teacher in such a large school, it has been difficult to get connected with other arts teachers. By joining MALI, I’ve opened so many more opportunities to collaborate and celebrate my craft. MALI inspired me to try new things in the classroom, refreshed my approach to assessment and overall given me the chance to approach this school year with my best foot forward.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of the connections I have made with the school’s community during my time here in my current teaching position. Attendance in after school events is quite low at our school- with only 4 parents participating in our parent-teacher organization and typically less than 50 attendees at any given event. Several years ago I joined our parent-teacher organization and have consistently made calls and had conferences with parents to engage them in what their child is doing in my classroom. I think it is because of this, and because of the genuine interest and excitement that art can bring to people that our annual art show is the best attended event of the year. As I mentioned earlier, many events are not well attended after school. The art show has consistently brought in over 500 attendees for the last 6 years. Those numbers alone are something to brag about- let alone the enthusiasm that parents have when they see the incredible work their children have done. While my work here is exhausting, the connections and results of those connections with families are priceless.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

Laura works with Jen Nash at the MALI summer institute, August 2017

The number one challenge for me is that our school simply does not have enough arts staff to appropriately accommodate its high volume of students. My schedule is packed at 32 classes a week, some of those classes having students from multiple classrooms crammed in for a single 40 minute block. With this tight schedule, I have limited planning time at school- which is never used for planning but usually a time to catch up on grading, hanging artwork, providing additional time for students to finish their work, etc. This schedule is so exhausting that it truly inhibits what I can do outside of school to continue my own education or continue as an artist. I rarely have time to plan additional fun activities and because of limited staffing elsewhere in the building, I am very limited in the amount of professional development time I can take.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

In my classroom students are absolutely a joy. I run a tight ship with a lot of student responsibility with materials and procedures. Although many might say it is because I teach a fun subject that students are so responsible and receptive, I believe that it is just as much (if not more) due to the idea that I set high expectations for students and reinforce positive behaviors. Allowing students to “own” the room by providing access to material shelves and student-led responsibilities as well as facilitating student choice is imperative to giving kids a chance at finding a sense of self in a classroom that they only get to visit for 40 minutes, once a week.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Take the time to reflect on what is truly important about your role in your students’ lives. Messes can be cleaned up, rough days come to an end and eventually all that’s left is the impact of the experiences you gave and allowed to happen while you were there teaching. If nothing else, be able to say that you were kind and allowed something special to happen while you were together.

If you were given $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

If I was given $500,000.00, I would pay off my student loans and then buy a few groceries. Haha! Just kidding… I would invest in an unused building- probably one with some cool history to it- and design the interior to accommodate a bunch of arts-based classrooms and studios. There would be a gallery and performance space on the main floor. I would run the building to have classes throughout the year for students of all ages to explore and experience different art forms. Classes would be facilitated by local artists, musicians who would teach their craft to the public in exchange for having a free space to showcase their personal works. There would be some sort of annual fundraiser that would help sustain funds to keep the project running and progressing. Oh, the possibilities!!

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

Most definitely: If I live to be 94 years old, I’ll regret not having dessert every day. That’s a lot of wasted ice cream and cake.

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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Adele O’Brien-Drake

April 17, 2018

Visual Art Educator

This is one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders.  CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories.  Thank you Adele for sharing your story!

Seven of Adele Drake’s 20 years of teaching have been at Leonard Middle School in Old Town. She has been designing and implementing a curriculum for 300 students, in grades 6-8. In addition she serves as a buddy/advisor for 7th graders. Adele also coordinates the Operation Breaking Stereotypes Initiative and the School Garden. Adele says: “There are so many things to love about being an art educator but if I had to pick one it would have to be the fostering of critical and divergent thinking skills”.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

Three keys to a successful visual arts education are the appreciation of art, the love of making things and the need to express ideas by making things.

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

Assessment has been helpful in my classroom in that it helps students to develop an understanding for the vocabulary of visual art. It also helps students to reflect on what they have accomplished and set new goals for themselves.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

Being involved with the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative has benefited me because I have had the opportunity of learning so much from other art teacher leaders. MALI Teacher leaders have inspired me to want to share the work I do as an art teacher with others.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am really proud of the partnerships that I have created with various cultural institutions which has supported my art program and helped me to provide opportunities for my students.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

What gets in the way of being a better teacher is usually not having enough time or money or space to do things.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances? 

One of the things I have worked really hard at is writing grants and fundraising so as to have available basic supplies for my students. It isn’t just luck or circumstance that has enabled me to raise the money to build a raised beds, a garden loom, a green house, garden shed, mosaic tile stepping stones, fencing and a water barrel collection system.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

The advice that I would give teachers is that 50% of being an effective teacher is the ability to build respectful relationships with students.

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?                                     

If I were given $500,000 to do whatever I wanted I would use it to create an arts integrated curriculum that focused on the school garden.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?           

If I were 94 years old I would look back and regret that I didn’t laugh more and listen more.

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MALI Teacher Leader Story: David Coffey

March 27, 2018

Music Educator

This is one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders.  CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories.  Thank you David for sharing your story!

David Coffey currently teaches music grades 6-12 for RSU 71 in Belfast. He is in his 15th year of teaching but only 4th year at RSU 71. He currently teach choirs grades 6-12, 6th grade general music, and high school modern band serving around 170 students. Outside of the school day he serves as music director for the middle school and high school musical productions, teach an a cappella group called Belfast Voices, and serve as Department Chair for the high school Visual and Performing Arts Department.

What do you like best about being a music educator?

I like the opportunity to open student’s minds to new discoveries.  Though it’s great when those discoveries are academically focused, social and civic discoveries are equally important to the building the lives of our students.  At the beginning of my career I adopted a vocal music motto; Building lives and voices with song. That is the essence of what I believe as a vocal music instructor and it brings me great joy when I am privileged enough to see it happen.  

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

The assessment practices I have developed over the past three years, online individualized vocal assessments based on voice type and level, enable me to enter into one on one digital conversations with students in ways that I was previously not able to in an ensemble setting.  Using Google Classroom as a platform I am able to assess students individually without losing any rehearsal time. The assessments I offer provide students an experience where they are able to learn a song on their own, record a video of it, receive feedback from me, reflect on and respond to that feedback by correcting their performance until standards are met.  This allows them to see and hear vocal growth as they continue through the choral program.

David’s students performing at Point Lookout for the arts and economic impact Maine Arts Commission luncheon.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

By becoming involved in MALI I have encountered new colleagues, been given access to new resources and new ways of thinking, and because of those things I have grown as an educator.  The ultimate goal is growth, whether it be mentally, physically, spiritually, professionally or in the case of MALI, a growth fusion. In order to grow we must first acknowledge that there is room to grow (there always is!) and then seek or seize the opportunities as they arise.  I didn’t really know what to expect when I agreed to be involved but I am glad I did.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of the relationships I have built with the staff, students, parents, and the communities where I have worked over the course of my 15 years in education. Though not always easy and while this taken many forms it is always wonderful when the people involved feel a sense of satisfaction, self-worth, and joy. Whether it be working with students and audience members at concerts, preparing students for festivals, getting volunteers for our annual mattress sale, or lending a voice at a school board meeting we, as an education community, have academic, social, and civic responsibilities that we must see through together. What we do as educators, administrators, parents, and community members matters. How we support one another matters. Though not always perfect I am choosing to focus on the positive (or should I say “Accentuate the Positive”) things that have happened to me as an educator and hopefully the contributions I have made have helped to positively shape the lives of the educational communities I have been a part of.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

David’s students taking a break from performing at Point Lookout for the arts and economic impact Maine Arts Commission luncheon

One word answer, me…okay, so maybe the answer isn’t quite that simple but that is pretty much the case.  Is it true that there are plenty of external factors at work? Yes, but ultimately it is me. Time is one of the biggest things I complain about; not enough time to do this because of that and not enough time to do that because of this. Let’s face it, there’s a lot on our plates. However, while all of that is true, I am starting to realize that maybe there isn’t enough time because I haven’t set limits for myself. Why haven’t I set these limits I might ask myself? Do the words guilt, pride, or ego ring a bell? I want so badly to do a “good” job and help as many people as possible but at the end of the day I haven’t always done a very good job of taking time to take care of me. It’s the whole analogy of putting on your air safety mask in the case of an emergency on an airplane. You can’t help your neighbor until you have put your mask on first. I don’t want to sound selfish or come across as thinking only about myself but this year I am trying to put my mask on first. Yes, I am very busy still but I am taking some time to focus on things I want to do, things that help me feel more refreshed, more energized. Do I have it all figured out? No, of course not, who does? Am I trying, am I doing my best given the circumstances I have to work with? You bet, it’s all I can do sometimes! What are you doing you might ask? Exercise was completely squeezed out of my schedule last year and it has taken its toll. While the toll was more mental than physical, it was noticeable. Knowing that exercise was an important part of my life that was missing I had to make some adjustments to my schedule and expectations of myself to add it back in. I am still working it out but I am glad I am trying, it has helped me and those around me immensely.

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

Before I moved to Maine I worked for 10 years as a choral and eventually modern band (rock band) director serving students grades 6-12. I also directed the music for the fall musical, had an extra curricular a cappella group, and served on various committees here and there. Pretty standard fare for an Ohio music teacher.

However, when I moved to Maine all of that changed. I found myself teaching concert band grades 6-12, high school chorus, guitar class, directing music for both the high school and middle school musical, directing pep band, jazz band, an a cappella group, and trying to do all of the stuff that comes along with being a teacher. Can’t you just hear the Simon and Garfunkel song “The 59th Street Bridge Song?” “Slow down, you move to fast…Gotta make the moment last….” Needless to say, I was not “feelin’ groovy!” Staffing cuts in our department prior to my arrival had eventually led to an unsustainable system with holes in our course offerings and a ½ time position in our band program that we feared was going to become a revolving door (not helpful when trying to build a program). Over the course of 4 years and in collaboration with the district music staff, administration, and school board we were able to shuffle the staff around in a way that better served the needs of our students, schools, and us as music teachers. It wasn’t easy and I even resigned and got rehired along the way but it was worth it in order to provide a higher quality, more consistent music education to our student population.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

David’s students performing at Point Lookout for the arts and economic impact Maine Arts Commission luncheon

Be patient and don’t spread yourself too thin, set limits. In our efforts to provide high quality arts education we can sometimes fall into the trap of trying to do everything at once. In my case, I see a new lesson or concept and want to try it out right away but without considering the artistic process of preparation, incubation, illumination, and implementation. It usually is more like instant implementation that leads to serious inflammation! Be patient, sit with the lesson or concept for a while, let it incubate, so that you can enter deeply into it not just scratch the surface. You have plenty of time to do it.

Arts educators do amazing work and are often give less time to do it. That being said I know that I am guilty of spreading myself so thin that I get to a point where I feel overwhelmed by it all, crushed under the pressure (again, can’t you hear the chorus of “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie….”Pressure, pushing down on me, pressing down on you, no man ask for”). I say yes to this and yes to that and by the end I am doing way too much at once and can’t really do a great job at anything. We have to learn to set limits. We don’t set limits because we aren’t willing to be helpful, we set limits because we want to be able to be helpful. Think about the oxygen mask emergency training given on airplanes (yep, here it is again!).  In order to be able to help others you have to put on your mask first. You won’t do any good passed out on the floor.

Be yourself and listen. You have a core, a center to who YOU are. Am I saying not to look to others as role models and guides?  Absolutely not, but I am saying to follow your inner voice and to be corny and quote Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true.” Always, period! You can learn a new concept but learn how to put it in your own words, use your own voice. People crave authenticity, they can smell phony a mile away. Don’t forget to listen to those older and younger than you, you might learn something. Age doesn’t always mean more wisdom, sometimes the greatest learning you can do is by listening to your students. Trust me, they love to know that they taught the teacher something new and what a lesson that is for them to learn!

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

I regret the way I approached my first year of teaching. I was trying so hard to be like my mentor and try things in a way that wasn’t true to myself and I ended up doing some damage to my program that took a couple of years to fix and rebuild. I forgot to take the advice I would now give to new teachers, be yourself and listen. I wanted to build a program the same way other people did and not listen to the advice of those around me. That being said, if we truly believe that education is lifelong and is about growth then we must also learn to apply that to ourselves as educators and be insistent, persistent, and consistent in that belief. I desire and try to be flexible in all things but to me it is important to always be a learner, that is non-negotiable!

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MALI Teacher Leader Story: Kris Bisson

March 20, 2018

Music educator: Kris Bisson

This is one of several blog posts in 2018 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 7 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series of blog posts includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 93 Teacher Leaders and 8 Teaching Artist Leaders.  CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE  for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories.  Thank you Kris for sharing your story!

Kristine (Kris) Bisson, Music Teacher and Chorus Director for Marshwood Middle School, grades 6, 7, and 8, in Eliot, Maine. She has been teaching a total of 16 years, all of them at Marshwood Middle School. Kris teaches 350 students throughout the school year in six classes: guitar/ukulele, piano, Composing Music, and three grade level Chorus classes (Grade Eight Chorus, Grade Seven Chorus, Grade Six Chorus)In addition, Kris offers several music classes as extra-curricular groups after school. These are always offered as multi-age ensembles open to all students and we have had students participate from grades four through twelve join us for Select Chorus Ensemble, Rock Band, Guitar/Ukulele Ensemble, Piano Class, and Songwriters Workshop.

A unique fact is that I taught here ten years, then had my maternity leave and decided to stay at home to raise my children. After nine years I returned to my position at Marshwood Middle and have been here since. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to return to the teaching position I have always loved. She also is very fortunate to teach my own two children in my music classes.

What do you like best about being a music educator?

I absolutely love my profession. I love music and am reminded every day of why I love it. I have the amazing opportunity to share what I love with young people and help them embrace what they love about music, too. We do a lot of reflection in class: “Why did the composer choose this note? this rhythm? how would you sing this if you were really feeling these lyrics? how would you sing this differently?”

I love to personalize music making and music creating. Everyone can respond and it can be different to each and every person, and that is acceptable. This is personalization.

Every day we laugh, learn, make music, and work together to discover new things about ourselves. My favorite phrase in the classroom is, “Who else is having this much fun?”

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

  1. Personal expression is unique to the performing arts. Every day and every item of study should carry an aspect of how there is a human response. I try to establish an environment of trust and respect between teacher and students and foster this every day. We work together as a team and support each other. I remind my choruses that this is what an ensemble does: we work together.
  2. Passion is an important element in the classroom. Being able to explore music as an art means being able to share first-hand experiences and giving students that opportunity as well. When you create music you have a story to tell. Tell it!
  3. Taking time to process what we are learning has been a key part of reflection in learning. Taking time to listen and hear my students respond to what they are learning is important learning. Why are we learning this? How does this moment in our learning affect other areas of our lives? I strive to help students continue to think about music beyond our classroom walls.

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

Teaching performance-based classes (Choruses, creating compositions in Guitar, Piano, and Composing Music classes) can sometimes create some confusion around the subjective and objective qualities present. Authentic assessment has created a more objective and transparent method of demonstrating learning. Students can compare the rubrics we use with those similar in every class at our school. It validates the arts. It also provides measurement that can be effectively reached by various means. There are multiple pathways to learning, thus creating a broader spectrum of learning. This has been extremely rewarding to me as an educator and likewise, to my students.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

MALI has provided a generous amount of support and enrichment to my teaching career. Being able to collaborate and learn from highly motivated and skilled teaching artists and teacher leaders has awakened a new area of growth for me. It has reminded me of the risk I ask my students to make daily to try something new and take a leap of faith into the unknown. MALI has brought that desire to succeed closer to me and I carry this with me in my classroom.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Kate Smith and Kris at the summer institute, summer 2017

With the help of my extremely supportive husband and two amazingly awesome children I earned my Masters in Music Education at the University of Southern Maine last year. It was an incredibly busy four years, but everything I studied and researched and learned I have used directly in my teaching classroom. The best lesson from this has to be that while I was working on my Masters, my husband was working on his MBA and our children witnessed first-hand how dedicated we both were to our goals in our careers, in our studies, and with our family. From our example both of our children have expressed how valuable education is and I know they will always remember this.

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

Time

  • I always make time for a student who wants to keep improving or delving deeper during lunch breaks or after school.
  • Researching new material or reading up about improving learning or my own teaching takes time.
  • Getting the word out to the newspapers or parents about the goings on of our trips, activities, and concerts takes time.
  • Sending out “I got caught being awesome!” emails to students and their families takes time.
  • Needing the sleep for the energy my job demands sometimes gets in the way, but is absolutely necessary time! 🙂

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

When I returned to classroom teaching after a nine year hiatus I hadn’t touched my resume, my certification had expired, and I hadn’t interviewed in nineteen years. I put my full effort into the entire process and committed myself fully. This took a great amount of work and I knew it was the absolute thing to do.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Love what you do. Love giving that thirst for knowledge to others. Love being with the age group you work with. There is no greater satisfaction than loving what you do and sharing and seeing that grow in others.

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

I would love to start a music school that extends our learning for Marshwood students – and our surrounding community – giving scholarships to children and adults who want to learn beyond their classroom music experience and grow more music in their lives. Choruses, rock bands, jazz bands, and private lessons on instruments they love or haven’t even explored yet would be definite possibilities to so many people. Having intergenerational ensembles where the people you sit beside are sharing the same love of learning is an amazing experience for any human being. I attended small schools that did not have any band experiences and now I conduct four choruses and a Rock Band. The experience one learns in an ensemble is unique. Every person should experience being a member of a music ensemble.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

Kaitlin Young and Kris at the MALI summer institute, August 2017

I really hope I do not have any regrets. One of my favorite rewards of teaching is the surprise meeting with former students and their family members. I sincerely love finding out who they have become, where they are, and what they are doing. It means so much to know that they look back fondly on their learning in my classroom and have taken some of our learning with them in their pursuits. I can honestly say that I have made music, laughed, and learned every day and hope my students do, too. For this, I have no regrets.

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