Rachel Winchester Teaching Philosophy
I consider teaching in the arts to be both a great privilege, and a dedicated mission. Arts students are special people, who, along with their remarkable individuality, collectively make up the educated future of not only their given field, but the progression of all interconnected arts as a whole. This fact yields, for me, a sense of great responsibility in my teaching.
Because students are each unique, I feel a teacher’s greatest asset is not their memory for facts, albeit important, but rather their ability to recognize and remember those experiential cues within the classroom which reveal insight into individual students’ learning styles, personalities, strengths, and areas of opportunity. My relationship with students in the classroom is clear: I care deeply about the dance art form and its progression, and I want them to care as well.
As a teacher, I am a realist and a communicator, and I seek to engage every student in some way throughout our study. I believe the work that is done in both the technique and theory classroom is vital to students’ perceptual relationship to movement, leaving an impact which has reverberations beyond that of the necessary retention of course material and information. One great truth about learning that I have encountered in my time teaching college students is that people seem to remember best that which they feel they have discovered for themselves.
Facilitating a classroom environment where students can often be guided to draw conclusions for themselves requires careful structuring. I will continue to develop this approach, because I believe it yields valuable experiences for advanced learners. My movement classes are designed to progress with a continuous momentum, with the goal that no body is at rest for very long, while providing suggested engagements and opportunities for reflection along the way.
Within the content of a technique course, I encourage somatic and anatomical investigation on the part of the individual, integrating guided exploration of the relationship between basic internal structures and their functions, the relationship between mind and body, and the relationship between individual awareness and environment. My ideal technique classroom is one that is constantly evolving toward the goal of a balance between traditional standards of excellence and universal design.
I believe it is possible for every student to be a poignant performer and a thorough, self-aware movement technician, regardless of age, size, shape, or mixed abilities within the physical spectrum. I make it a priority to find at least one opportunity in every course, whether it is movement or theory based, for students to utilize and share technology in some way. This could mean the inclusion of a multi-media assignment, postings on an online educational site, or group presentations involving audio-visual accompaniment.
Similarly, I address the imperative of enhancing students’ writing and verbal skills in every single course. As a researcher and a writer, and a movement instructor who also holds an English Minor, I take the time to workshop writing assignments and to consider grammar, punctuation, spelling, content, word choice, and formatting issues with students.
Amidst all the considerations of providing an academically rigorous collegiate dance education, it is a doctrine of my teaching philosophy to constantly reestablish a connection to the performance aspect of the art form. For example, a theory class would periodically involve embodying the concepts and ideas of the text in structured or themed movement explorations, as well as discussing and writing about them, or analyzing footage of a relevant performance through a specific lens. A technique, improvisation, or composition class would offer students opportunities to perform for an audience of peers and to learn through educated observation. The performance aspect is also embedded in the act of teaching. Because I am a performer, I find I am naturally driven to keep students actively engaged, and even periodically entertained, during the length of a given class. It is, perhaps, this innate sense of mine, which yields student evaluations that describe my teaching as “passionate”, “energetic”, “enthusiastic”, and “inspiring”.
I contribute my experience in theatre to the movement classroom, often providing another layer of context to shared movement material in class, by offering cues for expression, creating exercises in characterization, and sometimes, we sing! Gauging the stages at which students encounter these many layers of information and influence is its own kind of art form.
I believe in constantly “taking the temperature” of the unique individuals in my classroom, and making informed decisions based on these subtle measurements. Perhaps one of the most important and complex endeavors I undertake as a teacher is the recognition of individual propensities within a given student body and the reaction to this information through thoughtful incorporation into the course content.