BWW Blog: Lisa Beth Vettoso - The Power of Partnership

In my last post I mentioned about the importance of partnership in relation to the success of a residency program. A large part of my job is overseeing the content and logistics of a residency: putting together the curriculum, working with the school district to schedule the classes, etc. But the real meat and potatoes is the partnership that you cultivate between your teachers and your teaching artists.

For some teachers, it can be uncomfortable to have another person in their classroom working with their students - someone else taking the lead. They may not know how best to be involved - will they be stepping on the teaching artist's toes? This is, after all, the expert in the room - at least during the residency time. Other teachers may feel like collaborating in any way is an additional burden. With all of the extra stress of requirements and testing, the residency may be seen as just "one more thing." And something that could be enjoyable turns into something they dread, because it is more work.

For some teaching artists, it may be awkward to step onto someone else's "turf." The teacher and the students are strangers - strangers that in 20 sessions need to not only feel comfortable dancing, but need to retain vocabulary and choreography and perform in front of over 1,000 people (as is the case in our DANCE POWER program). A newer teaching artist may feel overwhelmed by this. However, a more seasoned teaching artist may take things in the completely opposite direction - residencies being "old hat" to them, they take over and leave the teacher out of the equation completely.

So as an administrator, my goal is to ease the discomfort and burden that teachers may feel and strengthen the partnership that needs to happen to make the residency successful for the teachers, teaching artists, and the students.

Yes - the students! The "temperature" of the partnership in the classroom between the teacher and the teaching artist - be it "chilly" or "warm" - absolutely affects how students respond, progress and excel. The teacher is the person in the room with whom the children have been building a relationship. The teacher is the one that they trust and they take cues off of how the teacher responds to the experience. When a teaching artist walks in and is pulling every trick out of their bag to achieve student buy-in, the students watch the teacher: Are they engaged or disengaged? Are they being respectful or are they ignoring the TA and sitting in the back of the classroom grading tests or texting?

We see in DANCE POWER how the way in which a teacher participates affects not only how the students perform in class, but it also has a profound effect on how they treat the teaching artist, what information they retain, and if they participate in the final performance. One of our DANCE POWER teachers changed clothes at the beginning of class - by doing that, she showed her students that she was ready for DANCE POWER - ready to dance! These students loved that their teacher was participating and fully engaged in the experience. They were attentive, responsive, and had above-average attendance at the final performance.

As an administrator, it is easy to feel powerless in the process. How can you help when you can't be in every classroom for every session? Based on my experience, here are my suggestions:

  • Begin every residency with a professional development session and a planning meeting. Even if schedules are tight, try and find an hour for everyone to sit in a room together and go over the curriculum.
  • Talk about your educational and artistic goals. Allow your teachers and TA's to sit together and ask questions of one another. Use this time to ask what they want out of the residency, and how each person can help contribute to its success.
  • Talk about the varying levels of partnership - everyone's comfort level is different and will change as the residency continues and grows. In a dance residency like DANCE POWER, if a teacher is uncomfortable with dancing and movement, we suggest other ways that they can be involved, such as assisting with assessments, reading instructions, lining students up for across the floor and center exercises, counting the warm-up or the dance to keep students in time with the music, etc.
  • Be a cheerleader! Another way a more reserved teacher can collaborate is by being a positive example for the students with a great attitude! This is especially important in a dance residency, where we may have a more difficult time achieving buy-in from the boys, who think dance, especially ballet, is just for girls. If it is a male teacher, even better!
  • End the residency with some opportunity for feedback and reflection. Schedule a meeting in-person or via phone, or send a survey that includes questions around partnership and collaboration. See what worked and what didn't for both the teacher and the teaching artist, and make adjustments for next year.

Partnership isn't always easy - but it is worth the time and effort you put into it. Add your suggestions and tips below in the comments!

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From This Author Guest Blogger: Lisa Beth Vettoso

Lisa Beth Vettoso has been an arts education professional for more than 10 years and has been actively involved in the performing arts throughout her (read more...)

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