Highlights from the Integrated Learning Summer Institute

Once again, Alameda County Office of Education’s Integrated Learning Summer Institute was intellectually stimulating, emotionally moving, and overall inspiring.  As a professional who believes fully in the power of artists to ignite profound change in schools and communities, it was so nourishing for my heart, mind, and soul to be able to spend 3 days in the beautiful redwoods of the Oakland hills with people who, not only agree with me, but are also working hard to bring this vision to life.
Here are my favorite highlights from our time together:

  1. Ken Wesson and Shirley Brice Heath – You may not think of Stanford researchers as rock stars but these folks brought the friggin’ house down.  Among other things, they explained the science behind why hands-on learning is so important and necessary.  Mr. Wesson made the crowd go wild when he said “The 10 digits on the hands are the original digital devices.”  Check out his work on “Brain Sight” (“Can touch us to ‘see’ better than sight?”) and Heath’s work on work and play in schools and communities.
  2. Young Artists – One of the coolest elements of the Institute was the young people who were invited to attend the 3 days and make art as a response to all that they were learning and noticing.  They presented their pieces – songs, poems, visual art pieces – at the very end of the conference and brought the place to multiple standing ovations.  Many people had left before then…that happens at conferences.  We’re all busy.  I get it.  We have other places to be.  But I found myself feeling sorry for all those folks who didn’t stay until the end to witness what we witnessed.  It was truly magical and the whole point of why we go to conferences like this in the first place.  Oh, I also can’t forget the young artists who performed throughout the conference like spoken word artist Tassiana Willis from Youth Speaks and alum from the Westlake Middle School Jazz Ensemble…awesome! transformative! wow!
  3. Getting to present my “Make a Play. Change the World” methodology – I got to lead a session on the last day of the Institute based on the methodology that is at the heart of the work we do at Go Girls! Camp.  It’s so incredibly fun to have the opportunity to lead adults in play.  There was a lot of laughing and silliness and plain ole fun.  But, we also dug in, took it seriously, and talked deeply about compassion, why it’s important and how the art of theater can help us build more compassionate communities and individuals.  One woman – someone I had never met before that session – came up and hugged me afterwards.  That’s all the testimonial I need right there.
  4. The focus on action – Each afternoon was dedicated to participants working in “Collaborative Action Groups” with the goal of helping better reflect on their learning in a way that would lead them to concrete action after it was all said and done.  I had the honor of co-facilitating one of these groups with theater teaching artist Jack Nicolaus and, I have to say, it really worked!  At the end of our 3 days, our group left with goals such as “Incorporate movement often,” “Work at becoming an extreme noticer” and “make a daily practice of honoring 1 child everyday.”  We even walked away with our very first small steps (a la Kaizen) that would ensure we were able to effectively work towards these awesome goals.
  5. Meeting Barbara Hackett Cox – At the very end of the conference, I had the opportunity to make an announcement about all the cool things we are doing here at TAG and, little did I know, Barbara Hackett Cox was sitting in the audience.  Barbara is one of the key leaders in our field and co-author of the Teaching Artist Handbook, which, if you don’t have, you should get now.

neil-degrasse-tysonAnd finally, let’s leave it to our main man to sum it all up for us…I was introduced to this incredible wisdom on the first day of the Institute:
“We are part of this universe. We are in this universe.  But, perhaps more important than both those facts is that the universe is in us.”  – Neil DeGrasse Tyson, The Most Astounding Fact



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