I am a brand new artist hot off the UA training coming to a school near you. This is my first round of teaching with Upstream Arts and it’s been quite the learning experience for me, and hopefully our participants. My first observation in watching UA teaching artists lead a class was how structured each session was, down to the minor details. Have you ever thought about where you stand when you’re giving instructions? Are your feet planted to the floor or are you shuffling around? How can you restate that question as a statement? “What did you see?” “Tell me what you saw.” How can you explain this activity with the fewest words possible? This is what we practice in our artist training. Structure. Keeping it concise.

Every class begins with our Guidelines for Good Graces, as a reminder of how to treat people and more importantly, treat yourself. The guidelines are followed by the schedule, written on the whiteboard for everyone to be prepared for what’s to come. We then move into introductions. Us UA artists receive the curriculum a few days in advance, detailing every step of each activity with variables should the participants need an extra challenge. Even the set up and take down of the class is highly organized. We get to the site half an hour early to unpack our gear and go over curriculum. After the class we pack up the gear, which fits ever so snuggly in Tetris-like arrangement in our bins, and give feedback to each other on the activities we lead.

I find that it is this structure and knowing what to expect in the hour we have together that allows our participants to open up and to feel safe taking a risk. Most of our participants have not experienced many of the activities and art forms we explore in our classes. Having that structure and keeping it concise creates the space for safe risks and artistic choices to take place.

Since training and teaching with Upstream Arts, I have without a doubt become a stronger teacher overall. A great deal of this growth in my teaching strengths stems from their structure. Now, when I teach for other arts organizations, I write down the schedule for the students, I go over some guidelines, and I give short, concise instructions. Low and behold, this magic doesn’t just work on our disability population. It turns out that most of my students feel more comfortable being creative when they’re given a structure.

Post by Lindsey Cacich, Upstream Arts Teaching Artist