Published: Nov. 12, 2021 By
Students holding hands in a circle laying down

As part of the course I co-teach with Helanius Wilkins-- Performance for Community Engagement-- we created a real-world opportunity for students to design and facilitate an online workshop for CU’s Center for Teaching and Learning. The stated learning objective for this assignment is “students will explore various skills that are useful in creating, facilitating, devising, or supporting performance within communities for public/civic/social issues.” We conceived of this project as being within our own CU community. We designed a class early this semester for them to collectively decide what issues they wanted the workshop to address and to name and describe the workshop. For that class period, the students had read the opening chapter to adrienne maree brown’s book, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds which addresses how humans seek to collectively create positive change within society, themselves, and for their planet. We utilized an arts-based methods to support them in this collective decision making. We drew from a piece of the writing in this book to inspire a moving meditation to center our work together. Helanius and I invited the mostly dance and theatre students to spread out in the studio and slowly move while forming the shapes of ocean waves with their bodies while listening as I read aloud the following words from page 16 of this book, “Together we must move like waves. Have you observed the ocean? The waves are not the same over and over—each one is unique and responsive. The goal is not to repeat each other’s motion, but to respond in whatever way feels right in your body. The waves we create are both continuous and a one-time occurrence. We must notice what it takes to respond well. How it feels to be in a body, in a whole—separate, aligned, cohesive,… connected.” After this, we provided various art making materials, such as colorful rolls of masking tape, plastic geometric shapes, string, colorful sheets of cardstock paper and scissors, and asked them to co-create an art piece in the center of the room collectively without speaking. We instructed that once we all felt that the piece was complete, we would all step away from our creation. After about ten minutes of arranging and cutting, folks augmenting each other’s designs, adding dimension by including the exercise balls stored in the studio, our master piece was complete. All stood outside looking in at what we had created. We reflected on this example of co-creation and examined strategies for working together that emerged, specifically asking students to draw upon the reading to enrich their insights.

Then we applied these insights to the class assignment for co-creating this workshop with our partner, the Center for Teaching and Learning. For the collective process of deciding what we would like to focus on in our workshop, we sat in a circle and each shared ideas, with scribes writing each single idea on a notecard of its own. After we were satisfied with the possible ideas put forth, we categorized them on the floor. Four themes emerged. We identified each of the four corners of the room with one of each of the themes and invited students to go to whatever themed-corner they felt the most affinity with. After each group considered and then articulated ideas for their theme, we came back together as a group and collectively co-created the following name and description for our workshop.

Silly Strategies: Cultivating Communal Wellness in the Classroom: In this session, we will create a participatory environment where educators will gain tools to promote a stronger, more responsive class community. The topics that will be addressed include moving through anxiety, creating authentic relationships, embracing silliness and fun, along with finding diverse ways of learning and demonstrating knowledge.

This process that we used in class to arrive at this workshop exemplified what brown calls “collective full-bodied intelligence towards collaboration.” In the following classes, we utilized class time to flesh out what activities student groups would facilitate in an online format to explore these themes. Students took on the role of organizing an outline for the workshop and assigning approximate amounts of time for each section. They devised solutions for having one section flow into the next.

This workshop was presented on Thursday, November 11 at 2:30pm to 3:45pm for 19 participants from a wide variety of CU departments. Students led the entire workshop and each of the 13 students in the class did some aspect of facilitation. One student led everyone in doing Body Tapping to relive anxiety, which consists of using two fingers to tap different points on the face and body while taking deep breaths. Another student led a scavenger hunt in which he gave one minute for everyone to find as many items that start with the letter “b” as we could. Students shared strategies for using diverse ways to engage with the material to demonstrate their engagement with class material.

The reception for the workshop by participants was extremely positive. Only two people had their Zoom screens turned off. “I am impressed with the level of supportive collaboration that the presenters are modeling for us!” Another chat message noted, “So impressed with the smooth flow and heartfelt collaboration.” Another asked in the chat, “Is your team available to run this workshop for others,” and offered to pay! Receiving advice and guidance for student wellness and engagement from students themselves truly made a difference, as each student brings lived knowledge of being on the receiving end of the teaching. In our discussion after the workshop, the students expressed great joy and a strong feeling of accomplishment.