May 25, 2023

2022 Woodruff Arts Center Educator Conference Reimagines Curriculum for Georgia Teachers

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When Nicole Levy graduated from the University of Georgia, becoming a visual arts teacher meant her passion for art would be entrusted to her students. At Westlake High School, the course’s curriculum, proportionate to her classroom, promotes individuality. It is an inviting and distinctive course preferred by her former students. Concretely, it is a curriculum that’s concomitant with the Woodruff Arts Center Educator Conference.

The annual conference, June 2-3, invited educators from cultural institutions and school districts across Georgia to take part in experiential instruction that concentrated on enhancing the teaching practices of educators at all grade levels. Attendees spend time at the conference considering ways to integrate art instruction in their respective environments by blending theory and practice.

Like other educators, Levy attended the conference to network and detail experiential instruction that could keep students engaged through relevant curriculum during the upcoming academic year.

Attendees of the 2022 Woodruff Arts Center Educator Conference networking moments before Dr. Fahamu Pecou's keynote address in the Rich Theater (Photo Credit: Jalondra Jackson)

The conference began with check-in at the Alliance Theater followed by a Sunrise Stretch with Ling Olaes shortly after. The “gentle” yoga activity subtly introduced this year’s theme: Rejuvenate. Recenter. Reimagine.

Presented by the Alliance Theater, High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the conference served as a “spa day” for teachers. “This year more than ever teachers are so tired, and the burnout is real,” Kate McLeod, Head of School and Teacher Services at the High Museum of Art, said. “How do we get to a place where they can make art, relax, talk with their colleagues, and look at art?”

In several attempts, educators have had to find ways to remain anchored after a straining two years; going back-and-forth between in-person learning to a remote environment, and vice versa due to COVID-19. In a contemporary sense, educators must be flexible in their responsibilities: teach, develop, support and protect. Often, there is not an off button for their responsibilities.

For Levy, art has served as a form of healing for students who have experienced trauma, particular to COVID-19. This year, the conference equipped educators with tactics to help students cope with sessions, like the examination of art-based rituals as social emotional learning support.

“It helps [students] get out whatever is inside of them, I use it sometimes because it’s good for the students to release,” Dr. Mariah B. Cannon, a visual arts teacher at Sequoyah Middle School, said.

Levy added that having a classroom that duals as an open yet safe space for students contributes to the idea of social emotional learning support.  

Outside of the concurrent sessions, educators took part in short conversations with interdisciplinary artist and scholar, Dr. Fahamu Pecou, and award-winning Broadway & television director, Kenny Leon. The two keynote speakers examined their artistic practices as it related to the conference’s four tracks: Allyship, Arts Integration, Visual & Performing Arts and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math).

After being virtual for the last two years, the 2022 conference resumed in-person programming at the Woodruff Arts Center. Since 2013, the Educator Conference has offered educators over 20 hours of professional learning over two days. In support of its primary purpose, the program was restructured to fit the personal goals of educators. At the end of the conference, educators are supplied a certificate, in addition to any materials obtained during the sessions.

“We are interested in helping them reach more less calculated goals,” Liz Davis, Head of Secondary Curriculum and Partnerships at the Alliance Theater, said. “Things like reconnecting with the joy that led them to being a classroom teacher in the first place is much more exciting to us.”