Joyce Winfrey (3rd and 4th grade) and Erin Sand (3rd grade) both teach at the same elementary school in Tacoma. Joyce has been participating in Arts Impact this year, and Erin is a previous participant. We talked with them together about their collaborative teaching approach and their work with Arts Impact.
Joyce Winfrey and Erin Sand, Grant Center for the Expressive Arts (Tacoma Public Schools)
When we teach the arts, we are in sync with the most important part of education: relationship building and respecting student voice and agency.
– Erin Sand
I wanted to really take the curriculum and get it in kids’ brains. I’m a visual learner myself, and I understand the value of learning through multiple strategies.
How/When did you get started teaching or become interested in becoming an educator?
Joyce: I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl. I come from a family of teachers, as my Dad was a teacher, my aunt was a teacher, and two of my cousins are teachers. Even as a child, I used to gather the neighbor kids and sit them down to read stories and play flute for them, etc. I am the oldest of three kids, and I’ve always had the responsible position in the family, so teaching came naturally to me (My brothers would call it “bossy,” but I disagree!). I love teaching, and I’m glad that I chose this fulfilling life-long venture!
Erin: I didn’t set out to be a teacher, though it feels inevitable now. I was a graphic designer first. While going to college, I was also working with people of all ages with special needs. At my college art department, I chose a major that didn’t yet exist—I wanted to do special effects in movies, and use technology to create art, which turned into “new media.” Professors had me teach an independent study to other students who wanted to learn. I kept getting put in teaching roles. Eventually, I wound up leading recreation groups for adults with disabilities while doing graphic design. Seeing so much segregation in the adult community motivated me to want to be part of a solution at a younger age, which led me to where I am now.
How are you collaborating during remote learning?
Erin: Originally, I was scheduled to teach 1st grade and Joyce would teach 3rd, but everything shifted the week before school started and we found we were both teaching the same grade, so we decided to co-teach.
We’re not teaching together the whole time—everything has to be a creative solution. We each have time with our own classes, small groups, one on one time with students, and we have the “big team” with both of us co-teaching and guest teachers as well—Dave Quicksall, the Artist Mentor from Arts Impact is one of these guest teachers. We also collaborated with a parent for our social studies unit: Angelina Nockai, a member of the Western Washington Native American Education Consortium (and a gifted Jingle Dancer)!
To be able to collaborate this way—we couldn’t have done it with out the virtual teaching model. This facilitates different ways of engagement, using technology to bring in guests who wouldn’t necessarily be available to come in person. We’re using both synchronous and asynchronous learning.
What made you decide to work with Arts Impact, and how has it gone so far?
Joyce: Being at an art school, many of the teachers had already participated in Arts Impact programs over the years. I was part of a small group who hadn’t, and I thought of it as an opportunity that I had to take—not only had everyone else done it, I didn’t come to this school with the knowledge I thought I needed to integrate art and curriculum.
Currently, I’m the only one involved at the school, and I’m part of the Leadership Collective representing the whole school and helping new teachers who haven’t done it. We’re an art school—we have to have these skills. This is my 23rd year teaching full time and my 7th year at this school—you can see a difference when you teach through the arts in how learning solidifies in students’ brains. When I started, I didn’t want “foo foo” arts, just for students to have fun but not connected to deep learning. I wanted to really take the curriculum and get it in kids’ brains. I’m a visual learner myself, and I understand the value of learning through multiple strategies.
Erin: I did the 2-year Arts Impact program 10 years ago. I can tell it’s been enhanced since that time. The lesson Joyce and I did with Dave (Artist Mentor) this year was verbs, adverbs, adjectives through theatre. That’s the same lesson I did years before, and I was hoping for a new one—but it was new! The way he adapted to the remote situation was brilliant. We extended the lesson for 3 more days to incorporate writing and ELA, and it definitely enhanced current practice. The kids love Dave—they always want more!
Do you have a background in the arts?
Joyce: My only background is playing flute in school. I took an art class in high school and my art is all over the gallery of my mom’s wall.
Erin: I disagree! Joyce crochets; she led a class project on Tar Beach (the book) with narrative writing, and her class made paper quilts. Her current hobby is making masks! She’s donated more than 1,000 and sells them online.
For me, I do have the arts background, but as an educator, there aren’t that many in our field who would say technology is a traditional artform, but it is for me. Prior to remote learning, I felt isolated in that skillset, but now Joyce is right alongside me.
What do you think arts-infused learning brings to your classroom or your teaching?
Joyce: I look at it like using all your senses—I know everyone has had the experience of listening to a lecture—maybe watching but mostly listening. If you’re able to take notes, you can get some movement. When you’re doing the arts you’re engaging all your senses: you can hear it, see it, smell it, feel it, use movement—the lesson gets into your brain in all these different ways, not just in one way, and it solidifies a lot better. It’s also an emotional response. When we teach multiplication, maybe flash cards are one way but if you’re singing it and dancing it it’s more fun and you remember more. Erin is using clay with writing—it facilitates dyslexia. If it makes you feel good, if it’s fun, you’ll remember it.
Erin: I think of the Maya Angelou quote: People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When we teach the arts, we are in sync with the most important part of education: relationship building and respecting student voice and agency. Creative expression is exactly that. You are allowed to express yourself in the way that you feel comfortable and powerful. Maybe you can’t speak it, but you can draw it, or if you’re given a script you can use someone else’s words to express something. Art brings out the core of who a person is, and we get the honor of seeing that in our students.
You learn critical thinking skills through the arts. And our world needs that.
What’s something you think our community should know (but maybe doesn’t) about your students, your community, your teaching.
Joyce: Sometimes people think of art as just crafts or fluff, but I think it’s important people know that supporting the arts is truly important because it makes a difference in supporting the whole child and helps with learning. If you look at your own school, you can push more for the arts, encourage the teachers to participate in Arts Impact and support learning with arts. It makes learning better and it helps the students.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Joyce: I just know that being at this school and doing this (Arts Impact), is the best of both worlds, because I get to do something I love, teach in creative ways, and it’s not frowned upon but encouraged and I feel really blessed to have a green light to teach this way. I’ve taught in other schools and there was difference. There may be a difference between academic rigor and artistic rigor—but you can have rigor with the arts.
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