Teacher education in CI: Experimenting with teacher education in Buffalo (part 2 of 2)

This is the second of two parts by Alexia Buono, discussing teacher education in contact improvisation. Her first part, Teacher education in CI: What does teacher education have to do with safer dance spaces?, discussed how justice-oriented pedagogical teacher education might create more safety in CI and help build consent culture in our communities. Part 2 describes how Alexia applied some of those theories in Buffalo, her reflections on the experience, and her thoughts for future applications. Here’s part 2!

Alexia Buono dancing, balancing on a man's shoulders
Alexia Buono. Photo: Gary Kurtz.

Re-introduction

This article will describe how I facilitated the teacher workshops for the Buffalo Jam, which later became the Buffalo Contact Improvisation Collective (BCIC),1 lessons I learned from the experience, and how I will facilitate teacher workshops moving forward. My intention for these workshops was not to tell the teachers how they “should” teach. Rather, my intention was to build the teachers’ critical consciousness and pedagogical proficiency around their current teaching methods and beliefs about teaching, as I wrote in the previous article. To do so, I provided the teachers with definitions common in teacher education, relevant readings, and practical activities during a  two-hour workshop offered twice. This was my first experience working with a contact improvisation teaching collective to build justice-oriented, pedagogically proficient contact teachers, and I am happy to share the successes and the challenges of this experience!

Transparency statement

For transparency, these workshops weren’t sufficiently justice-oriented at the time I facilitated them in early 2019. At that time, I was in the process of gaining the current understanding I now have on antiracism, decolonization, consent, equity, and justice, and I wasn’t able to sufficiently apply the knowledge I did hold at that time to the workshop design. I’d designed these workshops primarily for pedagogical proficiency that leaned towards being justice-oriented, but weren’t explicitly justice-focused. I’ll reflect upon how I now envision designing and facilitating justice-oriented pedagogical teacher education in CI at the end of this article.  

A narrative view

For four hours across two days in March 2019, a total of eight teachers and I sat around my apartment dining table to begin something we had never done together before: teacher education. I began our workshops by naming how the Buffalo jam’s plan for re-launch included these inaugural teacher workshops. The workshops were a requirement for being a teacher in the re-launch, as determined by Nancy Hughes, who’d been the organizer of the Buffalo Jam and was guiding the relaunch at that time. The participants and I talked a bit about the importance of our re-launch, how good it would feel to start dancing again after a 1.5-year pause, and some concerns we hoped to address to make our “new” jam more of what we desired. 

Some teachers just wanted to start dancing again! Some teachers agreed, but wanted to create a solid foundation for our organizing and teaching efforts so that the jam’s organizational workload could be more sustainable this time around, which was a challenge that had led to our pause. Some teachers wanted to ensure a jam space that more of the Buffalo community would trust was safer, as we had dealt with predatory behaviors that also led to our pause. I invited the teachers to hold off on discussing these sentiments further until the end of the workshops, because I had designed an outline that I hoped could give practical ways we could address any lingering concerns. 

I shared my prepared outline for the workshops, which was posted on the wall behind me. As outlined, I would facilitate training and education on teaching philosophy statements and curriculum building. Curriculum building would include designing curricular competencies, learning objectives, lesson plans, and warm ups. Part of this outline was informed by the suggestions of Nancy Hughes. I received the teachers’ consent to continue with this plan, and we transitioned into teaching philosophy statements through a guided meditation.

Teaching philosophy statements

Definition: A teaching philosophy is an intentional statement of a teacher’s values, beliefs, and practices about teaching and learning. It often includes a description of how one teaches (pedagogy) with justifications as to why one teaches that way. It is often 1–2 pages in length.

Explicit sharing of one’s beliefs and practices about teaching are uncommon in CI classes, festivals, or workshops. How we teach is critically important as it completely shapes what will be taught. Writing a teaching philosophy statement is important for both the teacher and the dancers/students. It allows a teacher to frame and clarify why they teach in the ways they do. Dancers can read the teaching philosophy to choose whom they would like to learn from, to assess which teacher best fits their learning/dancing needs, and to better prepare themselves to receive instruction in a particular method.

I led the teachers through a mindfulness meditation in order for us to collectively arrive in the space and ground into the question “Why teach?” This is a meditation I guide my pre-service2 teachers through at university when we begin writing our teaching philosophy statements. I then invited the teachers to write a stream of consciousness about what arose for them while they meditated with the question “Why teach?” Each teacher then circled key phrases or words that had arisen that were central tenets in their own teaching beliefs. This was how I set up an environment for the teachers to feel prepared to write about their teaching philosophies.

The majority of the teachers had never written about their teaching before. Prior to the workshops, I had emailed everyone a copy of the article “How to write a philosophy of art teaching.”3 To help the teachers turn their key words and phrases into a teaching philosophy statement, we reviewed this article and began to draft personal teaching philosophy statements, using the article as a reference. 

As many of the Buffalo teachers had no experience writing a teaching philosophy before, and given the time limit of the workshops, many ended up with just one paragraph. I decided that this was a good start for now, and they could continue drafting their statements at a later time.

Collective teaching philosophy

I then invited the teachers to share aloud key words or themes in their statements in order to help us find commonalities for a Buffalo collective teaching philosophy. This was important as all eight teachers would be teaching individual classes within the frame of the Buffalo CI curriculum. This would be the first time the Buffalo teachers would be working from a community curriculum, rather than teaching completely independently from each others’ classes through the year. A collective teaching philosophy statement was a way to bring about a shared vision for the re-launched jam. Some example words from the individual teaching philosophies included:

  • Facilitating
  • Skills
  • Practice
  • Playing
  • Safe container
  • Somatic challenges
  • Emerging
  • Containment of risk
  • Enthusiasm
  • Freedom
  • Experience
  • Recognize what we already know—Sharing what we know
  • We learn together

We reviewed commonalities amongst the words shared (i.e., the words above). Due to the two-hour time limit, this is where we left our teaching philosophy statements. I invited this process to inform how we moved into the next section of the workshop: curricular competencies.

Curriculum building

Definition of curriculum: The complete course of study in an educational process. It is a specifically planned or guided sequence of instruction, including curricular competencies, learning objectives, lessons, and modes of assessment.

Before our workshops, Nancy Hughes, the previous organizer of the Buffalo Jam, asked the Buffalo CI teachers to generate monthly themes for the new curriculum. She collaborated with Sophia Roberts to put the generated ideas in an order that made sense to build on each month. Nancy paired each theme with one or two teachers for that month. The monthly themes were:

  • Listening/Small Dance
  • Weight Share
  • Rolling Point
  • Consent
  • Counterweight/Balance 
  • Keeping feet moving
  • Sloughing/sliding/pivots
  • Contact Care
  • Falling/Spirals
  • Compositional Awareness
  • Trios
  • Underscore

We used this thematic organization as the basis for our curriculum building in the workshops. 

Curricular competencies

Definition of curricular competencies: The goals a teacher has for students to accomplish over the course of the curriculum. They can be broken down into what students will learn to Know (strategies), Understand (processes), and Do (skills), in physical, social, emotional, and cognitive domains.

The majority of the teachers did not know what a curricular competency was. I had posted four domains of competencies on the wall behind me which we reviewed along with a definition of curricular competencies. The four domains were physical, social, emotional, and cognitive. These four domains together create a whole of human experience. They’re the categories educators use in their teaching to address students’ development and learning.

We reviewed basic examples of curricular competencies and domains as they related to CI. I had provided a Google Doc for the teachers to complete during the workshops, which included columns for the following information:

Name of CompetencyDefinition of CompetencyKnow
By the end of our curriculum, CI dancers will know the following strategies, definitions, resources:
Understand
By the end of our curriculum, CI dancers will understand the following “big picture” ideas or processes:
Do
By the end of our curriculum, CI dancers will be able to carry out the following behaviors and skills:
Example:
Physical Safety (physical domain)
Awareness of and ability to respond effectively to the physical care, sensitivity, and safety of one’s own and others bodily selves within a dance*Awareness of bodies in space and relationship
*Resources for dance injury prevention

*How to effectively respond to bodies moving in space
*How to identify a safe physical environment for dancing

*Safely lift and be lifted
*Recognize one’s limits and boundaries in energetic dances

This example shows how a CI teacher might compose curricular competencies with respect to a particular domain. I’ve focused on a year-long goal for dancers within the physical domain: physical safety. I wrote a clear definition of what someone who was competent in physical safety looks like. I then broke it down to strategies, processes, and skills specific to the physical domain that a teacher could teach and assess over a period of time. From this work, I as a teacher could strategically design nuanced weekly lessons from each column over the entire curriculum period (e.g., one year) to better ensure a holistic learning experience for my students. Of course, each competency does not exist in a vacuum, as domains intersect. In this example, the competency of physical safety in the physical domain intersects with the competency of verbal consent in the social domain, which would have its own row in this chart.

Composing curricular competencies in each of the four domains allows a teacher to make the learning experience more whole for the students’ education and needs. The process allows a teacher to recognize how they are or aren’t addressing different domains of students’ learning.

I believed that guiding the Buffalo teachers into this process would build their pedagogical proficiency and critical consciousness. The teachers paired up and each pair chose one domain in which they would work on drafting competencies for their yearlong community curriculum in the shared Google Doc. We gave more time to this process than originally planned. The pairs of teachers verbally shared their work with the whole group at the end of our time with this topic.

We had limited time, and this was the first time many of the teachers had composed detailed curricular goals, so the Google Doc remained in draft form. It required further energy, clarification, and detail, which I encouraged them to work on outside of the workshops.

Learning objectives and lesson plan design

Definition of learning objectives: The observable and assessable goals a teacher has for students to know or be able to do upon successful participation and completion of one lesson. They are brief sentences that map back to the overarching curricular competencies, e.g., “Students will be able to…”

Definition of lesson plan: A teacher’s detailed outline of what they plan for students to learn and do, and how the students will be taught and assessed, in one session.

Definition of assessment: How a teacher evaluates students’ progress towards the learning objectives and curricular competencies.

Teachers can create appropriate learning objectives in their lesson plans from the competencies they build into their curriculum.  In other words, a curricular competency is the macro (big) goal over time, over the entire curriculum. A learning objective is a micro (small) goal for one class that maps back to the big goals/curricular competencies of the curriculum. Learning objectives are observable and assessable. A teacher can evaluate if their dancers have reached a curricular competency over time by observing and assessing their capacities and abilities to know, understand, and do in each class.

We chose to skip the process of teachers’ creating their own learning objectives for their future lesson plans due to the time we had instead committed to designing curricular competencies. To create learning objectives, similar to the competency design process, teachers would reflect critically about their learning objectives in a comprehensive, systematic, and critical way. The learning objectives would be based on the curricular competencies they designed. Teachers would write brief sentences of outcomes they could observe and assess in their lesson plans. For example, “Students will be able to move through negative space safely using their eyes, limbs, and proximal joints.” This learning objective maps back to the curricular competency of “Physical Safety” used in the example above. 

I gave each teacher a document where they could individually design learning objectives that mapped to their curricular competencies. I encouraged them to work on this after the workshop, as learning objectives would be key in designing their individual lesson plans. We moved on to our final section of the workshop: warm-ups to include in their lesson plans.

Warm-ups

Prior to these workshops, Nancy had requested that I include a section on preparatory exercises in the workshops. Nancy requested that we review what were appropriate “warm-ups” for CI, due to her concerns that some CI warm-ups didn’t sufficiently prepare students for dancing. I had a “warm-up” wall where the teachers gathered to annotate one another’s ideas on a large piece of paper. Based on their previous work with the four domains of competencies, the teachers generated warm-up ideas in the domains of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional. Here are some of their ideas:

  • First half of the Underscore (Bonding with the Earth, Agitate the Mass, Grazing)
  • Mindfulness/awareness of self
  • Full body movement engagement with the space
  • Freedom to be
  • Social warm-up: grazing, eye contact, gesturing, mirroring, games
  • Greetings/introductions/why we are here
  • Honoring the experience of moving at one’s own pace
  • Individual or group warm ups

The teachers then critically discussed these warm-up ideas with one another. A generative discussion emerged from this conversation around how to prepare as teachers to attune to and address the room (i.e., class/jam environment, needs and interests of students), and why this was important for safety, consent, and inclusivity. Here are some major points and questions that were generated:

  • How to invite dancers into community agreements
  • Clearly stating group norms in the beginning of class, verbally and written
  • The need to notice who is/is not talking? Or taking up space?
  • How to notice the physicality of participants?
  • The need to check in energetically/physically
  • How can assistants help?
  • Uphold the reality of people’s experiences
  • Questions are good tools
  • Model using words in dancing as teachers
  • A need and desire for teachers to be educated on common concerning behaviors
  • Teachers need support feeling empowered to appropriately address arising concerns
  • Facilitating responsibility for self and others

This final conversation demonstrated how the pedagogical proficiency and critical consciousness of the Buffalo teachers had developed from their time together in these workshops. The teachers now possessed greater clarity on their teaching beliefs, the complexities of curricular and learning goals, and warm-ups.

We ended by discussing the concerns mentioned at the beginning of the workshops. There was still a lot to clarify about the re-launch (e.g., organizational logistics, start dates, marketing). The teachers also had a lot of pedagogical information they needed to digest, and needed to figure out how they could integrate this work into sustainable teaching habits and practices. As we wrapped up, my friends said goodbye and left my apartment.

Post-workshop

Here’s what happened after the workshops. The Buffalo teachers desired to participate in future teacher education workshops every 5-7 months upon re-launch of the jam. The teachers also desired guidance about how to proceed with the documents that had been generated, such as the teaching philosophy statements and the curricular competencies. The teachers agreed to

  • Write lesson plans,
  • Share their class plans to a shared Google Drive,
  • Read one another’s plans,
  • Receive feedback from me (their teacher consultant) on their written plans,
  • Write and share a teacher reflection on their implemented lesson

As a result of the workshops, the Buffalo teachers who attended the workshops formed the BCIC, a collective from the Buffalo CI community who agreed upon various responsibilities for facilitating the new jam and classes. The BCIC wrote a “teacher guidelines” section into their new Community Agreements, which included the following subsections:

  • Teacher commitments
  • Teacher expectations
  • Lesson plan guidelines
  • Teacher reflection guidelines

Upon re-launch, the BCIC had two new co-organizers and a teaching force made up of folx who had attended the teacher workshops and agreed upon the teacher and community agreements. During re-launch of the Buffalo jam, teachers wrote and submitted lesson plans which received my critical and constructive feedback prior to their classes. However, only some teachers wrote reflections which they submitted to the collective. Also, further teacher workshops did not happen before COVID-19 ended BCIC classes and jams, seven months after starting. To my knowledge nothing further came of the teaching philosophies and curricular competencies that had been created in the teacher workshops. Re-visiting and editing those documents would be of benefit for the BCIC, especially after having had a few months’ experience writing and teaching in the new organization.

Lessons learned

I haven’t figured everything out about teacher education in CI from this one-time experience! What I do know is that there were both successes and challenges that I and the BCIC experienced from these inaugural teaching workshops. What became clear to me and some members of the BCIC from this process was that CI teacher education holds many benefits, and challenges to reaching those benefits. 

Community-centered teacher education feels like “belonging to a collaborative”

Some teachers reflected that going into the workshops, they had been uncertain what to expect. If anything, some said they had expected that they would be told what to do and not have a say. Some teachers shared that in actuality, they had felt like they were part of a collaborative group, that they weren’t just told to do “X Y and Z,” which they appreciated. They had agency in designing their own philosophy statements and working with one another, informed by the information I shared, to design curricular competencies and warm ups that were relevant for their community.

This experience helped the Buffalo jam “rebrand” as the Buffalo Contact Improv Collective, a group of teachers who agreed to continue their learning and practice of contact teaching through teacher education workshops, teacher agreements, collective meetings, and practicing pedagogical proficiency.

Pedagogical teacher education can lead to critical consciousness and pedagogical proficiency

The BCIC teachers developed their critical consciousness and pedagogical proficiency within the teacher education workshops and in the actions they took upon jam re-launch. They acknowledged that they didn’t know how to appropriately prevent and respond to concerning behaviors in a jam, or how to feel empowered to build consent culture in a teacher role. They collectively workshopped how to better support the needs of their students, especially their safety, and wrote better guidelines. They sought more information to better equip them to appropriately set students up for success, by requesting more teacher workshops, calling for further working group meetings, and requiring peer feedback on their work. After the workshops, the BCIC sought to create a land acknowledgement and diversity and inclusivity statement that could help center justice in their lesson plans and curriculum. The Buffalo jam had never written either of these statements before.

As per my transparency statement, these workshops weren’t sufficiently justice-oriented. Although there was some critical consciousness building, further and more explicit justice-oriented work could have led to deeper critical consciousness of the BCIC. Examples of what this could look like include:

  • Learning about and practicing antiracist and anti-oppressive pedagogies 
  • Writing positionality statements that acknowledge a teacher’s power, privileges, and oppressions
  • Researching how to work with the Indigenous nation(s) that a teacher’s class/jam is held on, and writing land acknowledgements
  • Researching and practicing asking communities about their needs and interests for contact improv, particularly those who feel excluded or experience barriers to access. 
  • Dialoguing about how societal oppressions (like racism, ableism, or heteronormativity) affect a teacher’s pedagogy and how to practice accountability as a teacher and community
  • Role playing enacting and honoring boundaries between students and teachers

From these workshops, I learned that it’s my responsibility as the workshop facilitator to intentionally and explicitly design workshops that focus on justice, equity, and consent culture, and that I myself had more learning to do.

Re-launching a jam requires a lot of energy and commitment

Because of the challenges of managing the logistics of restarting the jam, reorganizing into a collective, getting attendance numbers up, and balancing everyone’s lives, the BCIC and I found it difficult to continue with a focused emphasis on teacher education. My role in the BCIC was limited due to my external role as a teacher consultant rather than as an “official” member of the BCIC. I held some advisory responsibilities regarding the teacher agreements and teacher responsibilities, but did not participate in further decision-making. This was partly by choice, as I was in the process of transitioning out of Buffalo. I did not witness the actual implementation of the lesson plans the BCIC sent me, which is something I desire to do in other consulting capacities. And all of the BCIC teachers had limited time and attention for the BCIC. Within those limitations, other aspects of the re-launch made it difficult to center further teacher education workshops. 

How I envision moving forward with justice-oriented pedagogical teacher education

I witnessed a snapshot of the possible outcomes of a CI community committed to building consent culture and social justice through teacher education, and I am excited to develop this initiative further!

Based on my experience working with the BCIC, teacher workshops can inform CI teachers on how to facilitate classes that are safe enough, challenging enough, rigorous enough, and interesting enough for their students. By developing justice-oriented pedagogical proficiency, teachers can better state and clarify their teaching beliefs and practices, which offers opportunities for students to more consensually agree to enter into CI learning spaces. 

This work seems to require teachers and CI communities who are committed to centering teacher education. Resources such as time, emotional capacity, willingness for critical inquiry, open mindedness, and financial stability might be helpful in making teacher education be a lasting initiative for building social justice and consent culture in CI.

From my experience with the BCIC, teachers will continue to land in different places along the spectrum of teaching approaches. However, they can be more informed about the consequences those methods bring in relation to their students and communities. CI teacher education can help bring about more intentionality, consent, and justly diverse teaching and learning in CI. 

In conclusion, I am not proposing codified teacher training certifications, such as those now popularized in yoga in Eurocentric countries. I am not proposing a codified curriculum for CI, such as the Common Core found in US public schools. I am not proposing that teachers should be told “how they should teach” and to disregard their personal teaching interests. I am proposing teacher training in the form of community-oriented workshops and teaching resource libraries to build pedagogically proficient and justice-oriented CI teachers. I am proposing that CI teachers practice building explicit curricula and lesson plans that address the interests and needs of the communities they teach. I am proposing that CI teachers receive guidance for how to navigate consent, justice, and equity in their teaching. The work that has begun in the BCIC heartens me that such a world can be built. I am here to help support that construction.


Alexia Buono, PhD, is a dancer, teacher, and teacher educator, currently based in Vermont. If you have feedback or comments, please feel free to share below. Also, if you’d like to contact Alexia to discuss further or to hire her for consulting, you can reach out to her at https://www.alexiabuono.com/.

Footnotes

  1. The Buffalo Contact Improvisation Collective is a group of CI teachers and organizers in Buffalo, New York. Members of the BCIC hold responsibilities for teaching and service to the collective and follow Community and Teaching agreements. The BCIC organizes CI classes and jams in Buffalo.
  2. “Pre-service” refers to teachers who have not yet started teaching—teachers-in-training.
  3. Pam Stephens, Writing a philosophy of art teaching (Feb. 2007), https://www.scribd.com/doc/157295848/writing-a-philosophy-of-teaching-art.

2 comments for “Teacher education in CI: Experimenting with teacher education in Buffalo (part 2 of 2)

  1. Zach Pine
    2021/01/28 at 16:57

    Thanks for this work. As a teacher and student of CI (I’ve had more than three dozen different teachers), I’m grateful to you for delving into this very deep topic. So many teachers, so many philosophies! (And rarely stated!) Currently, since I’m not teaching now, but rather I’m facilitating, you’ve given me food for thought about the commonalities and differences in these two roles, and how the concepts you discuss would apply. I’m glad you addressed “warm-up,” as I have a lot of curiosity about this. To the extent that “warm-up” for CI class, jam, or performance is a distinct thing (to me, it is not always so clear), I think a good curricular theme might be “how to warm-up” itself. In gatherings I host, I often invite a fixed period for personal self-guided warmup, and then list some things that, in my experience, people do and some things that people seek to accomplish through “warm-up.” On Zoom, I have the option of telling people to turn off their speakers if they want to have a self-guided warmup, and then offer a guided warmup through audio. In classes, I have also offered those options, but of course the “audio” can’t be turned off in person!

    • 2021/02/01 at 10:46

      Hi Zach, thanks for your comment and feedback! I’m glad to hear the connection you’ve named between teaching and facilitating. And yes, what a rich place for exploring curiosities for warming up in CI! Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.