The Center for Creative Education in Palm Beach County provides arts integration programs to K-2 students. The Center structures its school support by pairing teaching artists who partner with regular classroom teachers to deliver the creative arts integration. The arts are used to help students learn the Common Core Curriculum and to think creatively and logically. Once a year, in the summer, the Center invites all of its teaching artist and teacher partners to a two-day retreat at the Center. This year the Center put on a creative experience for all of the teaching partnerships using the metaphor of the Venice Grand Canal Parade and Masquerade Ball.
During the first day, teachers and teaching artists went to 3 brand new classrooms at the Center to build masks, design costumes and rehearse dramatic plays for entertainment. They also had breakfast and lunch catered in by the staff of the Center. On the second day, they finished their masks and costumes, rehearsed, and then dressed up for the parade. At noon, they paraded in costume down the long gallery hall with student art hanging on the walls. The parade lead into the Hilton Theater inside of the Center which was festooned with Venice Masks, banquet tables and a mirror ball. Participants were seated at decorated round tables of 8 and consumed a feast of roast chicken dinner with Ceasar salad and three different kinds of pasta. Finally, the entertainment of improvisation in costume was performed by all participants in four acts, using four different groups of teachers. Acting out, bravado and soft touches were met with smiles and giggles, laughter and surprise by the audience. The final activity culminated in the masquerade ball where everyone danced and laughed.
Teacher impact was visible from the beginning as smiling and laughing broke out during the first rehearsal. Teachers were surprised to be handed rolled up pieces of parchment because their “rolls” were not scripted, but instead, described their parts in the play, allowing the teachers to create the actual words for their characters. Teachers were eager to make their own masks and individual creativity increased to meet this challenge. Costume challenges were met with solutions that only brought laughter and admiration from others. Bobby pins and hot glue solved so many issues! Some of those in the parade added batons or parasols that seemed outrageous in the making stage but perfect in the parade. The dancing was elegant as teachers made flowing regalia’s propensity for awkwardness—normal. And the improv, using nothing but a description of their rolls and a few chairs, came alive. Teachers played doors, walls, ghosts, windows, main characters and bit parts. The action of the play was advanced and the other teachers were happily entertained.
Building Teaching Capacity
The Center was able to give teachers a two-day experience of creativity. The thought behind this work was to help build the teacher’s capacity for understanding how creativity starts with struggle and leads to high participation, better thinking, concentration, engagement, and risk taking. When doing the plays, teachers were out of their comfort zones, struggling to create a character, much like their students. In the mask making some teachers felt comfortable at the start, but many did not, and yet they persevered. Not knowing how to start is one of our students’ fears. Not knowing how things will work out is something students experience every day while teachers are much more certain how things will work out every day. Building teaching capacity for understanding how their students get stuck right at the beginning of classroom activities is very important because it is part of a daily process in life and learning. Teachers experienced this uncertainty and then rallied their ideas and resources to complete their tasks. Experiencing this process of not knowing followed by struggle and success, was mentioned many times over the course of two days.
Creativity when well supported by teaching knowledge of the creative process can benefit all students. The Center staff produced the conditions for success of these teachers because they had prepared for three weeks, had four stations that supported the mask making, research, costumes and play production and allowed enough time for creative hesitation and success. Food and breaks were plentiful and the final test was a performance assessment where everyone could easily see the success of the two-day program. Success spilled out everywhere as teachers helped each other solve mask, costume and play challenges with creative solutions, team work, collaboration and laughter. Teachers left feeling ready to use this experience to improve their work in their classrooms for the coming year. Their students will benefit from this type of professional development!