Teaching Philosophy

 EJ with college dance majors and girl scouts as part of  At Home in the Desert: Youth Engagement and Place  (Photo: Sean Deckert)

EJ with college dance majors and girl scouts as part of At Home in the Desert: Youth Engagement and Place (Photo: Sean Deckert)

As a dancer, choreographer, and educator with a community arts focus, I teach with energy, investment and integrity, while creating an environment that promotes discovery through dance.  When facilitating an experience for the accomplished dancer, the student new to dance, or anyone in between, I seek to provide meaningful opportunities for students to connect their experiences in the dance class with other aspects of their lives, with other domains of knowledge, and with their perspectives as world citizens. 

 I foster student connections beyond the studio walls through direct engagement, having student choreographers craft dances within intergenerational environments with non-dancers, for example, while also building a supportive, collaborative learning community within the classroom.  I strive to create an inclusive, respectful educational environment that mirrors my socially engaged creative practice within diverse communities.  In my teaching practice, I partner peers to give and receive feedback, to brainstorm, to analyze, and ultimately to invest in each other’s success.  I often design collaborative midterm and final exams, where students build interpersonal intelligence, while working together to choreograph a phrase or implement a project that synthesizes learning.  In these assignments, students are responsible for giving themselves a grade, as well as assessing the contributions of their peers, using a collaborative assessment model borrowed from Imagining America.   

  Mature Moving Me   class at Mesa Arts Center

Mature Moving Me  class at Mesa Arts Center

 This student-centered approach underpins every class I teach, from a university level introduction to modern dance course, to a graduate level creative practice course, a class in a women’s prison, or a master class for professional artists.  In every class I say, “you are in charge of your own body,” and I mean it.  My student centered teaching philosophy is grounded in a curiosity and respect for individual experience and each unique human body.  One way I demonstrate this respect is by learning every student’s name, even in large classes. Additionally, each class begins in a circle.  This non-hierarchical configuration provides an opportunity for everyone to become present, to see and greet each other, and to reflect upon experiences. In these circles, I promote conversation by asking questions rather than offering statements, and I teach by listening to and then framing what is said. 

I do not impose my voice on students’ work, but rather help them to discover and deepen their own voices.  I believe in the capacity of people, but success necessitates investment from all parties. I have high expectations of students, and I know that those expectations, coupled with my confidence in them, lead students to achieve their goals. With enthusiasm and an encouraging spirit, I work with what’s working, providing individual positive comments as well as specific useful feedback on developing areas.   In a constructivist-learning environment, dancers grow through nurture and rigor, and through both physical and intellectual challenges.  Physicality is an avenue for research, understanding, questioning, and envisioning possibility within our bodies and within the world. I expect students to dance fully and dialogue thoughtfully.  Students in my classes develop technical skills, but also build intrapersonal intelligence and critical thinking skills through frequent reflection. In a University context, and in addition to movement work, students are expected to write insightful papers, present ideas orally and in online discussion boards, and keep a journal of their discoveries. This synergistic combination develops individual vision and voice, which is not overlooked during assessment.

 EJ teaching  Introduction to Modern Dance  at Arizona State University (Photo by Shiloh Ashley)

EJ teaching Introduction to Modern Dance at Arizona State University (Photo by Shiloh Ashley)

The student-centered approach extends to evaluation processes.  At the beginning of the semester, students are provided student-learning outcomes for the course, and are then asked to document, through writing or video, their own personal learning goals within these course objectives.  Then, at the beginning of each individual class, students identify a personal area of focus. Through journaling, students gauge their own progress in relationship to their self-identified goals, while I track their progress in relationship to the course objectives.  At the end of the semester, students write a one page-long self-assessment, and they assign themselves a letter grade for their investment and progress, and justify it.  This self-assessment is factored into their final grade.  Additionally, I meet with students individually to have a conversation about their progress and their overall experience in the class.

I listen to students and let their experiences inform my teaching.  Learning is a participatory process for both teacher and student. It is essential that students are engaged in, and take responsibility for their own learning, and this responsibility also includes being explicit about what they need from me.  One forum for me to receive feedback from the students is in a mid-term class reflection. On post-it notes students respond to three prompts: What’s working in the class?  What are your concerns or questions?  What are you hungry to explore?  The students take these notes and post them on a wall with similar comments, and together we identify themes and outline a course of action.  This mid-term moment gives me insight into the student experience, and informs my choices for the remainder of the course.

As a teacher, I strive to continue to develop as an artist and educator. I learn from my students and co-faculty on a daily basis, as well as with individuals in my community creative practice.  To be the best teacher I can be, I maintain my own physical practice and seek additional professional and educational opportunities to hone my craft. Simply put, being a student helps me to be a better teacher.  It is this drive that prompted my return to graduate school after 12 years of professional practice.  As someone relatively new to the University system, I look to various resources and colleagues, and I ask for their guidance when needed.

 EJ with Norma at East Mesa Adult Resource Center

EJ with Norma at East Mesa Adult Resource Center

I reinvigorate the excitement for movement for my students and myself during every class, working hard while remembering the joy of creating and dancing.  Teaching helps me continually re-ignite my own curiosity and passion for the art of dance by seeing sparks of discovery in my students.  Through teaching, I am able to be a part of a learning lineage, providing a nurturing and rigorous educational environment similar to the one that allows me to thrive, while passing on tools from my mentors and from my experience.  Additionally, teaching helps connect me to the future, and with the brilliance that will be manifest in my students, even long after our time together is finished.