Starting a new school year is always hectic. There are classrooms to set up, student files to review, assessments to complete and lessons to plan. But communicating to students and colleagues how the arts can be used as a vehicle for learning is one of the most important things to do when you are a Turnaround Arts school.

Our wonderful principal, Sandy Wilbanks, gave us the opportunity to do just that during a professional development day. After attending the Turnaround Arts: National Summer Leadership Retreat, we were inspired and excited at her proposition to model an arts-integrated lesson for the school staff.

Teachers at Meadow Homes engage in a poetry lesson integrating literacy and performance.
Teachers at Meadow Homes engage in a poetry lesson integrating literacy and performance skills.

Our team included three teachers who work at Meadow Homes Elementary School in Concord, California. Our main goal was to inspire and empower our colleagues while building community. We wanted them to know that, just like us, any teacher can succeed with arts integration.

At the retreat, we were deeply touched by poet Glenis Redmond’s presentation. She used the autobiographical poem “Where I Am From” by George Ella Lyon in a literacy lesson that challenged us to create a poem based on our own lives. In our professional development session for Meadow Homes, we challenged and encouraged the staff to create such a poem as a way to bond with each other and to discover connections between literacy and art.

We started our presentation by reviewing a couple of arts-integration strategies familiar to our staff. We divided into small groups. Then each group used their bodies to create a theatrical tableau — a frozen picture — inspired by the word community. We debriefed by reflecting on how we could apply these strategies in our classrooms.

Next we dived into our poems. In the first part of the lesson, we shared a saying from our childhoods. Then we brainstormed the places, games, food and people who inspired us as children. With this raw material, we drafted and shared our original poems.

As a culminating activity, grade-level teams combined favorite lines from their original compositions into brand-new group poems. Using sentence strips, each team moved their favorite lines around until they were satisfied with the result. This was the most animated part of the presentation since everybody, from veterans to new teachers to support staff, collaborated to create a poem that would represent their team. At the end of the activity we once again reflected on the uses of the activity in the classroom and ways to adapt it to different grade levels.

We believe the opportunity to model an arts-integration lesson to the staff at Meadow Homes was a unique experience we would like to repeat. Even though the three of us had worked at the same school for many years, we had never collaborated on a project before. By working together, we learned and practiced valuable strategies that will benefit our students.

Read the group poems here!

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