2021 Arts Education Conference: Rest & Renew

Ingenuity and Chicago Public Schools co-hosted the annual arts conference on Friday, April 16th. This year’s conference had a unique theme; Rest& Renew. Featuring a variety of calming, centering, and energizing creative experiences, the 2021 Arts Education Conference: Rest and Renew is designed to provide arts teachers and partners space to reconnect with one another, engage in restorative art-making, and process and reflect on the past year. 

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The 2020/21 school year has been a tumultuous year for everyone, especially teachers. I know that personally, my schedule has changed 5 times this year and our literal school hours have changed 3 times. I have taught remotely, hybrid, concurrently, in-person, and somewhere in between. So I was really excited to hear that this year’s annual Arts Education Conference was focused on the teacher’s health (see: sanity) with the theme of Rest & Renew. Promoting mental health, meditation, breathing, and other self-care exercises teachers were invited to take part in a self-selected program that focused less on pedagogy and more on personal health.

An attendee told me later on that they have been teaching for 20 years and have never been to a professional development with a breathing and yoga for teachers. Typically these are packed with classroom management strategies, tech tips, and deep dives into content. That’s all well and good in a traditional teaching year, but this year has been well; a year. Honestly, I love the idea of a teacher self-care day. Every teacher I know essentially lives with burnout, myself included. It’s part of a larger systemic issue that a single arts conference can’t possibly address, but I think acknowledging it and providing even this is a good start. Typically the “spring stretch” is the longest and roughest time of the school year and even sans-pandemic I could see a yearly PD like this be incredibly beneficial to struggling teachers. If this sounds like you, here are 15 tips to help prevent burnout.

Read More: 2021 Arts Education Conference Brochure

Rest & Renew: The Sessions

After an opt-in morning yoga and breathing session,  the conference had a wonderful opening session, with keynote speakers, live music, and more. Participants were then allowed to attend 2 hour-long breakout sessions of their choosing. Each session was meant to provide teaching with art-making and other creative connect that could double as inspiration for classroom lessons. All sessions were open to any discipline and so the content was not discipline-specific, but rather wove together multiple threads.

Here are the 4 sessions that participants could select from: 

The session that I personally led was the Creative Connections, which I would recommend if you are interested in incorporating music, art, or SEL activities into your classroom. In this session, we blend emotions and feelings with colors, and then colors with music, and eventually music with emotions. It all happens in an incremental but seamless fashion supported by books, videos, and music. The presentation was a condensed version of a weeklong unit I taught to my K-2nd students earlier this year and I modified it so that the intended audience would be teachers instead of students. You can download the slide deck or read more here. (link) I also uploaded all the Powerpoints, mp3s, video, and resources here (link) <- these are the actual slides I used while teaching and are meant to be student-facing.

As frustrating as this year has been for parents, teachers, and students, I think it has also provided a unique opportunity to redefine our lessons, our classrooms, our teaching, and even our PDs. The Creative Connections lesson I presented was one that I would have never planned or taught under typical conditions, but the silver lining has been these new and wonderful ideas. Honestly, teachers are some of the most hard-working and resilient people that I know, and while grumpy on the surface deep down they’re always thinking about their students. So it was a nice change of pace with this Arts Conference to have somebody thinking about them.

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