Teachers are the ultimate givers. Whether figuring out how to best reach a shy child, juggling how to cover content standards, or building supportive relationships with colleagues, the demands can often feel endless. This led us to wonder: What are teachers doing to replenish themselves? Last month The San Mateo County Office of Education and Lime Design launched Creativity Residences, a professional development day of arts immersion held at Miramar Farms, a stunning Half Moon Bay venue overlooking the ocean. The day involved dancing, painting, drumming and improv theater. It was framed by laughter, glorious food, and brilliant sunshine.
Creativity Residencies was our attempt to show gratitude for the work that teachers do. It was about elevating and celebrating our teachers. Several weeks later, we asked our teachers to share their reflections on the day. Here are five things we learned.
“Creativity so often gets pushed out of education.”
Many of the teachers talked about having a lack of work-life balance, feeling burnt out, and needing support. They used the metaphor of an empty cup as they described how “…the giving to each child is coming out of your soul.” It seems that what they experienced at Creativity Residencies deeply resonated with these needs. They described it as “egregiously wonderful,” “a gift,” “a chance to get in touch with our emotions,” “a day of being connected with joy,” “rejuvenating,” “peaceful,” and perhaps most importantly, “a chance to be still.”
“Really? We get to have a day like this? Teachers are not used to being treated this way.”
Sometimes the details really do matter. Miramar Farms was a delightful host and created a warmth that permeated every aspect of the day. From the moment the teachers arrived, there was a sense of peace. Warm scones and coffee awaited. Teachers talked about “the joys of a luxurious, delicious and leisurely lunch,” the “peaceful respite of watercolor painting,” “the invigorating collaborations,” and the “freedom to dance and make music.” They described the easy flow of the day and the focus on process that created an atmosphere where “happiness, smiles and laughter were abundant.” They were humbled, surprised and appreciative and felt “valued,” “respected,” and “honored.”
“It was deeply rooted in the things that are good for us.”
Teachers described this as “one of the most meaningful PDs I ever attended,” and “the best PD I have been to in over 30 years.” They described how it was unlike other PDs due to its high level of engagement and active participation and how it focused on “not being lectured, but instead it was experiential and made you feel instead of just being told.” They valued the time to collaborate and discover through meaningful conversations as the day wound down, and valued that it was focused on “reawakening your creativity” and was “a day to get in touch with all your senses.”
”I feel like the arts are such a special way to get in touch with our emotions and our inner souls.”
The teachers embraced improv theater during the first session. They felt that Lisa Rowland, the guest artist, created a “safe space” that allowed them to “be spontaneous,” “trust their intuition,” and “take risks.” They mentioned how Joey Torres, the guest musician for the second session, was able to help everyone feel comfortable whether they chose to dance, do body percussion, or play the bongo drums. The exuberant sounds we created together were filled with collective energy and spilled out of the barn doors. The teachers appreciated how they were able to wander through the eleven acres of property as they decided what they would paint during the third session. They sat on benches overlooking the expanse of ocean, explored the flower-filled gardens, and visited with the chickens. As Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” These activities seemed to give the teachers the space to do just that.
“When we are given an opportunity to immerse in the arts we are in a better place to give back to our students.”
The teachers appreciated how the day was all about them: “…this showed us what a professional development day could and should be like. It was all about replenishing us.” Even though they loved the “me day” aspect, it was not surprising that they thought of myriad ways to connect their experience to their instructional practice. As one teacher said, “It didn’t stop that day for me.” They introduced the improv games to their students, and were delighted to incorporate music activities during the day simply by using their hands as drums.
In addition to incorporating art-based activities, the teachers brought back several important elements that impacted instruction. They saw the connection between the arts and social-emotional learning. Some felt that it was very powerful to be in their students’ shoes where they were learning new things, and others expressed the importance of using “your growth mindset” and “acknowledging the discomfort” of trying new things. They talked about creating time and space for stillness in the busyness of a classroom day where there is so much pressure to get things done. Others shared the importance of creating beautiful spaces in the classrooms so that students feel both proud and empowered. They thought about how to emphasize how learning is an experiential process that requires risk-taking.
Perhaps the most important thing the teachers brought back to their classrooms was a sense of rejuvenation. We know that creative expression is a powerful tool. With the complex challenges in the world of education today, hearing teachers’ voices reminds us of the critical importance of their mental health and well-being. This day allowed our teachers to become stronger teachers because they took the time to replenish themselves. One teacher’s words seemed to encapsulate the essence of Creativity Residencies. As she expressed, “Every teacher deserves a day like this.”