Reflecting on my Journey to becoming a Life-Long Learner
I have been dancing my whole life; truly, as long as I can remember. Dance has been there for me through every pivotal point in my life. Dance isn’t just something I do; it is a part of me. I have always viewed myself as a dancer or a dance teacher, but not until beginning my journey through the Masters program did I begin to view myself as an educator. The journey to this understanding has dramatically changed my view on education, myself and my art. I learned how to negotiate life, express myself and empower myself all through dance and now I understand that I can bring those same benefits to all students by incorporating dance into an academic setting.
In May of 2010, I completed my Bachelors Degree in Theater Art, Dance at Sonoma State University. I was unsure about what the next chapter of my life was going to be like after graduation, so I applied to graduate school. After graduation, I was immediately accepted into the Maters of Education: Curriculum, Teaching and Learning program at Sonoma State and began in the Fall of 2010. At the time that I began, I was not clear on what my expectation for the program was. I was a young student trying to figure out how I was going to move through this program and pave my own way with the unique emphasis in Dance Education.
Growing up in a small town, with limited resources, I only saw education as one-dimensional. Students either learned through reading, writing or lecture. Often times, our intelligence was dictated by standardized tests. Learning was approached in a traditional manor and if a student didn’t fit into that mold there were not many other education options for them. I often times was one of those children that didn’t respond to traditional methods. After learning about myself through the readings and research throughout the program I have come to know more about myself than I ever imagined. I now understand that I am a kinesthetic learner that needs to “do” to learn. The education in elementary school that I received was wonderful, but I have found that their are other children like me who need to learn through doing and dance can be that avenue for so many.
At the time that I began my program I was teaching dance at a local elementary school. The elementary school was an arts magnet school that provided arts enrichment to their students. This was new and exciting view on education that I was unfamiliar with. After working with the school for sometime I began to understand that dance could be a very useful in education. Through dance I could provide enriching experiences that were more than learning dance technique. This was the seed that eventually grew into what my cognate project is today. Through the graduate classes I learned how to research, reflect on my teaching practices, and understand and analyze different educational philosophies that have created the teacher that I am today.
Understanding and Analyzing Educational Philosophies
Maria Montessori Ruldolf Steiner
Through out my studies in the graduate program I have had the opportunity to learn about many different philosophers of education. Different classes have provided time to discover and analyze philosophers giving the platform to cultivate my own philosophies of education. These assignments have proven to be valuable to my growth as an educator.
My first class of graduate school was EDCT 585 taught by Dr. Perry Marker. I was hesitant and intimidated walking into a classroom full of traditional teachers while I had no experience in that setting. The first day Dr. Marker began lecturing on philosophers and theorists and I was immediately out of my comfort zone. For the first assignment, we choose a philosopher to research to better understand their theories and philosophy. It was also suggested that we observe their practice in action. On a whim I chose Maria Montessori. Going into the research I had no preconceived idea about her practices and dove head deep into the research. With my small town background I was not exposed to any of her ideas as a young child and found myself immediately drawn to her work.
Through out the research process I fell in love with her child-centered approach to education and the way her philosophy puts great emphasis on cultivating an intrinsic love of learning.
The second assignment of the class was to look at a different philosophers beliefs, how they are viewed in society and the strength and weaknesses of the practice. I chose to research Rudolf Steiner and his Waldorf Education. This, like Maria Montessori, was a very foreign philosopher to me. I had little, to no, exposure to the Waldorf method and found the research to be fulfilling in a way that I had never expected. I, personally, connected with the Waldorf Education because of its emphasis placed on all art forms.
In the process of researching Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner I found power in knowing that their are choices available in education. This was my first experience with child-centered learning. Like Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy is child-centered and encompasses the whole child. Both of these philosophies understand the importance of placing value on what is developmentally right for the child cognitively, physically and linguistically. These practices are centered around educating the whole person and that was a very new and exciting idea for me. These assignments were the beginning of my journey to falling in love with education. The research allowed me to look at, and continue to evaluate, education with a unique lens.
Applying Research to my Classroom
Children warming up at 'Dance with Laney'
In Spring 2011, I atteneded EDCT 586 with Maryanne Berry. Going into the course I was unaware of the impact that it would make on my view of myself as a teacher and researcher. I had my own view of what a researcher was and I did not fit that mold. I saw a researcher as an intelligent, well educated person who made hypothesis, tested and concluded the results. I came to understand that I am a researcher in my class every day. Previously having studied Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies I learned how valuable becoming a researcher in your classroom is. Both philosophers research and document daily to develop class materiel that is relevant to their students. This was a new and exciting element to my classes that I was eager to explore.
Applying my new found researcher identity, I wrote my first Literature Review and conducted my first pilot study. The project that I created was with 2nd grade students and was my first adventure in creating a true dance integrated curriculum. I worked with the 2nd grade teacher to create a dance based project that was centered around what they were studying in their core curriculum.
This was my first research based project where I studied the literature and then applied what I had learned to my own class. The teacher and I worked together to create a memorable dance activity for the students that addressed the California State Standards in both Science and Dance for 2nd grade. I have since gone on to create countless other dance integrated project at the elementary school and for my own private dance studio students. Learning to become a researcher has broadened my teaching and learning abilities to where I am now able to better create meaningful child-centered projects for students.
Reflecting on my Teaching Practices
Butterfly Dancing at 'Dance with Laney'
One of my favorite assignments was given by Perry Marker in EDUC 570. Our Personal Practice Theories (PPT) was assigned for us to reflect on our teaching practices and articulate what they are proved to be a challenging yet wonderful task. Taking the time to sit down and reflect on what you believe as an educator and what you want your students to gain from having you is exciting. Up until this point in my career I didn’t see myself as an educator. I knew that I was a dancer and that I taught dance. I viewed my teaching differently than I viewed an educator. Viewing myself as an educator was the point where I understood that my expertise had value and that the children would benefit from having me as their teacher.
Writing my Personal Practice Theory gave me the platform to understand where I came from and where I was going. I was able to reflect and see the value and purpose of my journey. I now know that through dance I can prepare students for life, I can give constructive criticism in a positive environment. I can instill confidence in all of my students while challenging them to be critical thinkers and engaged learners. These are my personal practice theories that I incorporate into every class that I teach. As educators we are there to teach children more than facts and technique, we are there to prepare them for the life ahead.
Conclusion to My Journey
Throughout my journey as a dancer, teacher and a student I have come to a place where I feel more passionate about my art and my role as an educator. I feel passionate in knowing that I have the knowledge to instill confidence and awaken conscious awareness in my students. Starting out on this educational journey, not knowing where the road may lead me, I have come to a place feeling empowered in my physical and mental abilities and developed a strong confidence in my role as an educator. I know now more than ever what dance has given me. I am a competent, qualified dance educator whose value will give back to my art, my community and my students.
Since beginning my graduate program at Sonoma State I have had many life events, aside from my education, that have influenced who I am today. In the summer of 2011, I was married and shortly after we bought our first home together. In January of 2012, I fulfilled a life-long goal and opened my own dance studio in Healdsburg, California. These life events are all life-altering, but the most important life event that has come since beginning graduate school is that I now view myself as an educator, researcher and life-long learner. Viewing myself in this way, I have come to understand the importance of creating a love of learning within myself and that will be infectious to my students. I have grown as an educator and the work that I have done over the last three years have and will continue to serve in my professional and personal life far beyond my expectations.
This program has molded me through exposing me to theorists and educational philosophies that have changed my views on education. I take away from this program a few simplistic ideas: learning never ends, research is constant and I can instill a love of learning to children through dance. Today, I am a full-time dance teacher at my studio Dance with Laney in Healdsburg. This educational journey has taken me to where I am today and I am excited for the next chapter on this beautiful journey through life.
Oberski, I., Pugh, A., MacLean, A., & Cope, P. (2007). Validating a Steiner–Waldorf teacher education programme. Teaching in Higher Education, 12(1), 135-139. doi: 10.1080/13562510601102388.
Ruenzel, D., & Seward-Mackay, K. (1995). The Waldorf way. (Cover story). Teacher Magazine, 7(2), 22. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Graduate School Reflections and Artifacts
I have always viewed myself as a dancer or a dance teacher, but not until beginning my journey through the Masters program did I begin to view myself as an educator.
Through out the research process I fell in love with her, Maria Montessori's, child-centered approach to education and the way her philosophy puts great emphasis on cultivating an intrinsic love of learning.
These practices are centered around educating the whole person and that was a very new and exciting idea for me. These assignments were the beginning of my journey to falling in love with education.
I now know that through dance I can prepare students for life, I can give constructive criticism in a positive environment. I can instill confidence in all of my students while challenging them to be critical thinkers and engaged learners.
Viewing myself as an educator was the point where I understood that my expertise had value and that the children would benefit from having me as their teacher.
I take away from this program a few simplistic ideas: learning never ends, research is constant and I can instill a love of learning to children through dance.
Working with Kasey Hillier’s 2nd grade Enrich! Class, with the collaboration of myself and Mrs. Hillier, I will integrate movement into their “Animal Projects”. The Animal Projects address a section of California’s State Standards about animals, habitats and life cycles. The students were finishing up their Animal Research Projects at the time that we started the dance integration project. As a part of their academic work, students picked a specific animal of interest and prepared a research paper on the animal. Working the dance integration into the Animal project, the students would be able to explore their specific animal through movement.