Self Care and the Arts by Michelle Holdt

The following post is adapted from a speech given at the AEABA Curriculum Slam Spring 2016.

I am so honored to share with the Bay Area Arts Education Community. For me, community is the life blood of this work and I hope that something will resonate for you as you read this. As my post includes a piece on mindfulness, I open with an invitation for all of you to take a moment to sit and read.... Absorb this story, and look for opportunities to learn..... Something we all ask our students to do everyday.

I am Michelle Holdt, an arts integration specialist, a  25 year veteran drama teacher, a former teaching artist, a passionate arts education advocate, a parent of 3 in SFUSD schools. I wear many hats as we all do. I also sit on the Executive Board of AEABA, I am adjunct faculty in the teacher credential program at Cal State East Bay, Faculty in the Integrated Learning Specialist Program (ILSP), an elective teacher for ILSP, and the Founding Executive Director of Arts Ed Matters.

Arts Ed Matters is a 5 year old arts education advocacy organization. We do this work through partnering with districts and schools, leading teacher professional development workshops and coaching teacher how to integrate the arts into their curriculum. We also advocate for a strong presence of the visual and performing arts statewide through the sharing of a 12-min documentary film that educates folks as to why the arts are important. The film, Arts is the Root, was designed as a statewide advocacy tool and is available in English and Spanish on our website and on YouTube. It is designed  to share at PTA, School Site Council, and School Board meetings.

One of our board Members, and longtime colleague and Friend, Andrew Nance, former Education director and New Conservatory Theatre Center had recently changed the focus of his career and is now teaching mindfulness in schools. He is the founder of Mindful Arts SF and has recently been struck by the muse and has written 12 children's books on mindfulness. Wowza! One of them. Entitled Puppy Mind, is being released by Penguin Random House and will be released this Fall. Mindful Arts SF trains volunteers to teach mindfulness in SFUSD schools to students  PreK-12.

Last summer Andrew and led a workshop at Inventing our Future, the Alameda County Office of Ed Integrated Learning Summer Institute. This conference is a very dynamic and I encourage you all to attend next summer! It is TRULY an AMAZING "meeting of the minds." Our workshop was entitled "Self Care 101 Art Making, Mindfulness, and Manifesting." This course includes making art journals, an introduction to mindfulness, and simple practices I have learned from immersing myself in the Life Coaching world.

In January 2016, we expanded our offering to a six hour elective for the ILSP program — 24 folks signed up and we spent an amazing Saturday at Intersection for the Arts spread around the floor making books, meditating, and reflecting on our self care practices. The teachers and others that signed up were enthusiastic and committed to learning for both themselves and their students.

I bring an abundance of art supplies ranging from fun paper, rubber stamps, acrylic paints, glue, tape, punches, ribbons, and much much more. Teachers are shown examples and then given a 90 minute period to make the books and every time I teach this process - at the end of the 90 minutes everyone exclaims "What?!" "But I'm not done yet!"

Another beautiful moment is that every book is SO distinctive - even those who tell me "I'm not an artist, or I'm not creative that way." End up making beautiful books! 

Here is a page from a recent book of mine:

One cool technique to try is to "scrim" the acrylic paint with a used credit card. If the paint is laid in tiny dots and then scrimmed with a credit card it dries almost instantly and any pen or marker can write on it. I make those books as my personal place to record professional and personal notes. They typically take me 4-6 hours to make and then I spend 2-3 months writing in them.

Andrew, teaches the mindfulness piece. He has been teaching mindfulness in schools for the past two years and has had great success with all groups — preschoolers in the Bayview are one of his favorite groups — I love that even four year olds can do this work! He has written curriculum and is now training others to share this work. He makes it SO accessible to kids. This work teaches kids to Stop, Breathe, Reflect, Self-Regulate.

The final piece of this class is the life coaching. We start with gratitude, studies show that people who experience gratitude and have a gratitude practice are often happier - one cool technique I have learned is to wake up in the AM.... Before you get out of bed assume child's pose (from Yoga) and spread all ten fingers out on the mattress — tap each one and name something you are grateful for. My kids and I made a gratitude tree on our wall and add leaves with words that describe what we are grateful for.

My mother became a life coach about five years ago, and I have immersed myself in the life coaching world. Taking online and on the phone classes, reading books, and often receiving free or low cost coaching from folks who were working towards a certification. Gratitude was something that grew from that work as well as unlearning the stories I tell myself — you all know "the negative ones." It is very important to notice, be aware, catch yourself and learn to tell a different story. *

When you are getting ready to make a change in your life or desire a change you might borrow a cue from the artists, the dreamers.... & to to borrow a term from the Studio Habits of Mind - we all can "envision" the life we want to be living. We can all make a choice about how we want to see the world.....

In closing, my wish is that everyone finds their "Ikigai" - My experience has taught me that this takes intention, risk, research, reflection, building community, persistence, failure..... Yes Failure!"

And last but not least (Scouts Honor). After such a successful class in January, we will be offering it again. Stay tuned to artsedmatters.org for more info!