Brock University’s annual Arts Matter: Integrating the Arts Across the Curriculum conference is a highlight of the year for teacher candidates. This year, the opportunity to dig into the arts may be more meaningful than ever.
Designed to give teacher candidates additional professional development in teaching four art forms, Arts Matter is the only conference of its kind in Canada. It was launched by Shelley Griffin, Peter Vietgen and Kari-Lynn Winters, who are all Associate Professors in the Faculty of Education.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the three to reconsider holding the event, now in its 10th year, they decided to hold it online because of how important the arts are both in the classroom and in times of crisis.
“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw how children, parents and caregivers were creating art in all of its forms to help cope with the anxiety we are all continuing to experience,” said Vietgen.
“In these uncertain times, we are committed to the needs of our teacher candidates and to continued teaching and learning in the arts,” added Winters. “The arts make us human. During these historical moments, we need humanity more than ever.”
The organizers hoped the conference would allow teacher candidates to tap into the arts for their own benefit while also building their capacity to teach these subjects in the future. On Sept. 16, approximately 40 teacher candidates participated in dance, music, drama and visual arts sessions. The sessions, which took place on Microsoft Teams, were facilitated by Ontario educators who are experts in teaching the arts.
“We commit to exposing teacher candidates to all these art forms through additional professional development early in the instructional year so they can integrate their learning into their Bachelor of Education program and their practicum experiences,” said Griffin.
Through these sessions, teacher candidates explored integrating the arts across the curriculum with a special focus on teaching and experiencing the arts through distance learning and using technology in teaching of the arts.
“I chose to participate in this conference because I wanted to understand how the arts could be taught in an online platform,” said Elwin Anthonypillai (BA ’20), first-year Consecutive Teacher Education student.
He thinks the Arts Matter sessions helped prepare him as a future teacher by providing resources to consult when writing lesson plans as well practical experience of how to blend different course materials with the arts in meaningful and exciting ways.
“I feel much more confident in my future as a teacher because I feel I have a great foundation to build on with art courses, regardless of if my classroom will be online or in person,” he said.
Building the confidence of teacher candidates is one of the goals of Arts Matter. The teacher candidates who participated will teach the arts as grade K to 6 or 4 to 10 teachers. This can be intimidating for those without experience in the arts.
“I knew I had to step outside my comfort zone and become more knowledgeable on arts topics,” said Kailey Peirson (BSM ’18), second-year Consecutive Teacher Education student. “I have added more lessons to my teacher toolkit and feel as if I could walk into a classroom of any grade and teach at least three concepts from [the session],” said Peirson.
Each session included just 10 participants to ensure everyone had a chance to interact. In some sessions, teacher candidates were able to work in groups of three or four in virtual breakout rooms.
As well as engaging in activities, teacher candidates were also able to learn new tools or innovative practices using familiar tools to create engaging lessons for future students.