In 2018/2019 teachers came together to discuss the impact of the AIRS studios on their students and their school communities. There were several guest speakers, who brought their expertise to the group to frame the insights that the teachers were experiencing first hand.
We noticed the connection between material practice and the emphasis on process with evidence of social emotional learning in students. Using tools from fingers and hands to knives, pliers and hammers to transform and manipulate materials brought a sense of confidence, accomplishment and self-reliance. Responding to the world through tactile and unfolding processes provides space for students to slow down, look closely and give space to the complexity of ordinary things.
In the studios, students were encouraged to work inclusively and collaboratively, whether through larger projects in which every student contributed to the whole or more individually with a mindset of shared inquiry. This allowed students to take risks through exploration, experimentation, and the exchange of ideas. It also opened students up to the different perspectives, ways of seeing and imaginings of others.
Teachers noticed the way in which art enabled students to find their own voice through art, to share their own stories and make connections to place and community in a deep and powerful way.
Teachers noted the importance of the studio for providing a place of safety and freedom of expression in an environment of non-judgement. The studio space enabled students to expand their horizon of what art and the endless possibilities inspired by the imagination.. The art studio provides a shared space for creating embedded within the whole school which builds a sense of belonging within the school and the wider community.
For our first AIRS collaborative inquiry session of the 2018/19 school year, lead teachers had the privilege of hearing Dr. Jane Garland speak on Social Emotional Learning and the visual arts. Jane is professor emeritus of clinical psychiatry at UBC, and has been working in the field of mental health for over 30 years. She is the founder and director of the mood and anxiety disorder clinic at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, author of Taming the Worry Dragons and has been influential in bringing Social Emotional Learning awareness into the redesigned BC curriculum.
Social Emotional Learning is a process that can be taught. Jane shared that in order for social emotional learning to occur, one must be in a state of awareness– being present in time and space; beembodied - through an integration of sensory experience; and maintain a state of calmfocus or emotional equilibrium. This enables the processes of social emotional learning to occur; observation– attending to both detail and how it relates to the big picture; reflection– creating an internal picture in one’s mind and assessing this in relation to existing knowledge; andresponding - through purposeful action. It was striking to see how the visual arts naturally invite students to enter into a state of mindful attentiveness and that the processes that train the capacity for social emotional learning are present within the art making process itself.
Jane spoke about how the AIRS program confirmed what years of clinical experience had taught her, that the arts naturally foster and can train the capacities and processes necessary for social emotional learning to occur. The visual arts invite close perception, attention to emotion and the expression of feelings as well as visualization through observation and 3D modelling. The sharing of student work within the school affirms the unique vision of each child within a community of different but equally valuable imaginings, creating a powerful sense of belonging within community. The visual arts are a fundamental language of expression that is inclusive and accessible for all learning and cultural differences.
Christine Giesbrecht, one of our District Mentor Support Teachers with extensive art teaching experience, invited us to consider the relationship between studio habits of mind (Develop craft; Understand Art Worlds; Engage and Persist; Envision; Stretch and Explore; Reflect; Express and Observe) and the development of social emotional learning. A key component is comfort with ambiguity both for students, in taking risks and moving through the place of the unknown, and for teachers, in allowing students to encounter and experience ambiguity through more freedom and choice.
Dr. Sylvia Kind is a scholar in Early Childhood education and studio art research practices as well as the artist in residence at the Children’s centre at Capilano University. Sylvia encouraged us to consider the studio space as one of collaborative co-creation where teachers and students mutually and reflectively inform learning journeys. Sylvia explained that what we attend to whether through words or documentation shows students what we give value to in their learning process. Through more intentional documentation, that makes that learning visible to students, we can create opportunities for students to grow the habits of mind that foster social emotional learning.
These are the words teachers shared to encapsulate what they observed and experienced working with the artist in the studio.