Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.

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February 09, 2021

Classroom Narratives

By Natalie C. Jones

In 2019, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture created a teacher professional development program, Gantt Teacher Institute, under their Initiative for Equity + Innovation. The two-day arts and professional development institute for classroom teachers focuses on creatively-themed programs featuring leaders in the field of innovation, diversity and inclusion. The institute uses two to three exhibitions as the anchor for workshops and peer sessions.

Professional development pertaining to cultural competency and diversity will help teachers explore social issues and develop creative responses to impact the instructional core. It’s important to develop awareness on issues of opportunity, fairness and justice and the impact these three things have on our students. Sometimes it is difficult to navigate differences in our communities and in our classrooms, however using the arts as a tool for better understanding social capital for action and change can be empowering while simultaneously building and promoting equity in the classroom in order to provide a blueprint for the next generation.

Allowing your students to be able to express racial and ethnic issues openly, will help to deepen relationships and give a voice to the voiceless. Gantt Teacher Institute (GTI) and other cultural responsive programs aim to provide enriching and impactful opportunities for teachers. Equipping teachers with engaging cultural proficiency initiatives will aid in creating teaching tools that foster culturally responsive classroom environments.

Narratives can be changed based on who is telling the story. One of the projects used in GTI is Question Bridge: Black Males. Question Bridge was created by Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayete Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair and it is a platform for Black men from different backgrounds and ages to ask and respond to questions about life in America. The project is structured in a documentary style and after attending this workshop, two high school teachers from vastly different schools decided to partner and facilitate a Question Bridge style project that focuses on race, identity and stereotypes in different communities.

Students who are participating in the Question Bridge project are currently reading Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X Kendi. During the readings, students are drafting questions with their respective teachers to ask students at the other participating school. The teachers have partnered with the Gantt Center to assist and provide support during this project. After the project is recorded and complete, it will be available online for viewing.

I would like to leave you with a few questions to ponder. What is the narrative you are telling in your classroom? Do student know they have a voice and a safe place to express their thoughts and concerns? How are you building and fostering relationships during this difficult time? There is a great deal of emphasis on narratives through art.  Narratives can motivate students, shape identity and meaning and provide a place of belonging to those who feel marginalized or underrepresented.

More information about Gantt Teacher Institute can be found at www.ganttcenter.org

More information about Question Bridge can be found at www.questionbridge.com

-NJ

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