Same But Different

Do you ever have moments where two of your worlds collide?

This happened to me today in such a lovely way. I’ve written before about my participation in the Fall Festival of Shakespeare at Shakespeare & Company, a place I have since worked professionally and a place that will always be special to me. Today one of Shakespeare & Company’s long-time company members and master teachers came to UT Austin to facilitate a workshop about the work she does with a program designed for young people with special needs. In the morning, Lizzie led us through some exercises that we then helped facilitate with several community members in the afternoon. Encountering someone from my Shakespeare & Company world, a place that planted the seeds for my teaching artist practice during this intensive graduate school experience was such a thrill for my heart.

Creating safe spaces and building community in a classroom are two things I think about a lot in my teaching artist practice. It was so refreshing to think on these big ideas with new people, inspired by a new context. Though the focus of the workshop was on activities used to engage people with special needs, so much of what we did can be transferred to other classroom contexts, and that goes both ways. I think at the beginning of the day I expected to learn things that were completely new to me. By the end of the day I was thinking about the transferable nature of the strategies and conversations. So much of today’s explorations apply across my teaching artist work:

  • Ask open questions that invite students to make decisions within creative exercises.
  • Take one moment at a time.
  • Freedom within a clearly defined structure.
  • Use people-first language and seeing the person, not the label.
  • As the facilitator, be prepared to let your pre-conceived ideas go. Your students might come up with a more inspired idea!
  • Engagement looks different in each person. Someone choosing to sit out of an activity might actually be internalizing every piece of it.
  • Get rid of the idea of “us and them.”

Difference exists, and it takes many shapes. As teaching artists and facilitators, it’s important that we see and work to understand the differences in the room. Difference can and inform our choices around content, strategies and artistic activities. But we can’t let difference paralyze us. An “us and them” mentality separates. In order to connect, we have to abandon that mindset. Every classroom contains an array of perspectives, lived experiences, values, ideas, passions, emotions, abilities, expectations and talents. In order to tap into all of this, facilitators have a responsibility to create a nonjudgmental, supportive space. And this is not specific to working with people with special needs. Creating safe spaces is critical when you’re working with people. Period.

To learn more about Lizzie’s work, check out the documentary, “People Like Me”


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