Transcript of Episode 7

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Julia Brennan:
Hi, I’m Julia Brennan and I’m Creative Arts Advisor for K-6 with the NSW Department of Education and welcome to another podcast in this series where we’re talking about the Creative Arts and the classroom, the K-6 classroom particularly and lots of different issues and different people that we’re meeting along this journey. So, remember if you’re enjoying this podcast series and you’d like to subscribe, go to soundcloud.com/primarycurriculum all one word and subscribe that way otherwise you can join us through Facebook. Now, today I’m here with the wonderful Cindy Valdez-Adams. Now, Cindy is a Refugee Support Leader and she’s based out at Fairfield Public and she’ll tell us a lot about that shortly. But the reason I’ve invited Cindy here today is because I met her I think it was last year at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the MCA and we were both there for a conference and Cindy and I just got chatting because she was talking about the value and the power that the creative arts has in working with her students. Obviously I agreed with her and then one thing led to another and we kept chatting and I couldn’t wait to find out more about what she did so I’ve invited Cindy along today to share what not only she told me about that day but also about what she does with her students and the power of the arts in general. So, welcome Cindy.

Cindy Valdez-Adams:
Thanks Julia, nice to be here.

Julia:
It’s great to have you. So, Cindy do you want to just fill us in a little bit about how your arts education journey started?

Cindy:
Okay, so personally I did visual arts way back in primary and high school. I actually migrated to Australia in 1989, did visual arts from Year 9 to Year 12. However, at university I decided to do teaching. And one of the reasons because you know I could teach visual arts actually when I looked up what subjects I could pick. And as a teacher I’d say I’ve always really been a huge fan of integrating visual art, drama, music. I ran choir for many years at my school but especially visual arts in terms of using it to develop language with my newly arrived students, so EAL/D background but most importantly my students who are from the refugee student background. Yes, it’s been great, so in that way I suppose it’s such an easy KLA to integrate you know way before STEAM came out that we call it all now. I think art is such, yeah you could really.

Julia:
Absolutely.

Cindy:
Use it anywhere and everywhere.

Julia:
Fantastic. Well, let’s talk a little bit more about that. So, let’s just go back to you a little bit. So, why has the arts meant so much to you in your journey both professionally and personally?

Cindy:
Personally, I’d start with because you know I think the arts I remember doing it, like I said I was a migrant in Year 9. I did visual arts I felt that in that classroom with my visual arts teacher it was such an inclusive classroom like I felt like I really belonged in there and there was no right, wrong answer.

Julia:
So, how old would you be at this stage?

Cindy:
I would have been fifteen.

Julia:
Okay.

Cindy:
Year 9 back in Year 9. So, I knew I always had that sort of to take with me anyhow as an experience. And I guess when I started teaching I found that you know we focus so much on literacy and numeracy I understand are very important however I felt that especially for EAL/D learners they sometimes miss out because it’s such a you know task to be learning English and being able to respond, ask questions, explain, describe. I thought visual arts for example was such a great medium to use to get our students really describing authentically or responding authentically because they’re looking at an artwork. I mean who doesn’t have a response to an artwork? It comes automatically. They’re allowed to use their first language. So, you know we have bilingual support, they’re actually there to support, you know translate what the child is saying and for the most part I feel like it’s just an open ended sort of subject I guess.

Julia:
So, for you the game sort of changed in school when somebody recognised that you had ability or they just fostered that in the classroom as something important.

Cindy:
In high school, yes. I would say my art teachers were very supportive. In the end I ended up doing graphic arts and a course of fashion, textile design actually.

Julia:
Wow.

Cindy:
Because I was actually excelling in that like you know because like I said it was just so open, it’s not yeah. You learnt theory and the practice you know you had the support from your teachers and things. So, even at high school yeah I really, really enjoyed that, university we had a great visual arts lecturer and she was really excited and you know very enthusiastic about the subject and that really helped us I think. And yeah helped us see possibilities. Never in my I would guess I would say I never thought I would use it with the new arrivals program per se and made it the heart of the program.

Julia:
So, what country had you come from before you came to Australia?

Cindy:
I came from the Philippines.

Julia:
The Philippines and did you do much visual arts in primary school?

Cindy:
No, actually.

Julia:
Or arts in general.

Cindy:
No, probably not. I think arts back then is just, I consider drawing a form of art but it wasn’t such a focus, the focus was always the academic subjects as you know, you know your English, your science, your maths, chemistry, biology, all of those subjects.

Julia:
So, for you it was quite refreshing to come to Australia and see the value placed on the arts.

Cindy:
Yes and I thought oh my gosh I found my you know, I found my calling here, it was really good.

Julia:
Oh, that’s fantastic, gosh that’s a great message. So, what do you see as the power of the arts?

Cindy:
Where do you start the power of the arts? I think it really does give students a voice that sort of not restricted to say being able to speak the English language for example. Because like I said when you’re looking at an artwork, even if you’re doing not just visual arts say even drama activities you know as we know they instantly would bring in their own experiences, whatever they know.

Julia:
It’s a way of unpacking their own experiences.

Cindy:
Absolutely and making connections to others, to their world and we always say let’s teach them how to make connections and I think that’s so powerful with the arts because if like I’m going to say the word again is so inclusive.

Julia:
Yeah and we’re going to come back and talk a lot more about specific experiences you’ve had in the classroom but just getting the idea that that is such, the arts is such a powerful thing for your students and for you personally. Now, I do just want to talk a little bit about primary teachers in general because a lot of primary teachers are really nervous about teaching the arts and they might think a bit like you I didn’t do much art in or arts in primary school and they may not have had your secondary experience. Is it possible for a classroom K-6 teacher to deliver an arts program?

Cindy:
Absolutely, Julia. Even now if you look at the resources now that are created by the DoE you know on the website I always just send them the link, it’s all there and there are so many resources that are out there. I think for teachers what we need to remember is to you know we often teach you know try to teach the kids to take risks and persevere and all of that. And I’m thinking we need to apply it to ourselves actually.

Julia:
Absolutely.

Cindy:
Stop saying things like I can’t draw because when I hear that I just say you know everyone can draw actually if you put a bit of effort into it you can actually draw and it’s so important because I think I’m very mindful when I look out for that especially teachers’ attitudes towards art when I’m mentoring them in an EAL/D classroom. Often the medium I would teach it through is visual arts and often when I hear that yeah it’s worrying but once they’ve worked through the simple skills process they find that ‘Oh, it’s not actually hard at all, I can pick up anything and talk about anything’.

Julia:
Yeah.

Cindy:
It’s about having a go and teaching kids that learning is messy, it’s a messy business, nothing is messier than the arts.

Julia:
Well, you can get around that by having strategies for cleaning up and that sort of stuff.

Cindy:
Yeah, it baffles them when I have thirty you know twenty five kindergartens all doing visual arts because they thought ‘Oh my gosh we just do that in stages’. And I thought no, they’ll cope, they’ll you know like you say we’ll clean up, there’s protocols on how you tidy up the classroom afterwards. But as I said again about what’s important. You know watch them, look at the kids substantively engaged in creating and making and talking, that’s what art is.

Julia:
Absolutely. I think a lot of us have been tarred, I mean I know in high school I had a teacher who said ‘You didn’t draw that accurately so therefore you can’t do this’. And that sunk into me and it’s something I’ve carried with me and it wasn’t until I got older and went back and did art lessons and things that I realised actually I can do this.

Cindy:
Interesting you said that because I think often with teachers I work with I often say you know you just really sometimes just talk about things that you observed a child’s doing. So, you’re not really kind of judging the form or the lines, just making simple comments like you know I like how you’ve drawn this or …

Julia:
Have you thought about …?

Cindy:
Yeah, because it’s not about like I said the beautiful thing about visual arts for example is there is no really right or wrong you know unless you’re teaching the skill and often the teachers would love it when I would just provide the stimulus and the kids can have their own interpretation, all the materials are out. That’s hard for teachers because we know that they like to be organised and every table has the same things and every student is doing the same thing per se, they don’t want to venture out you know, take the clay out because they might want to create a sculpture to represent a particular artwork. That’s the one thing that is hard too.

Julia:
I’ve had this conversation with others before that it’s not about replication and making you know thirty artworks that look exactly the same.

Cindy:
And I understand, I understand because I might get criticised because you know if you’re learning a particular skill yes or a particular you know, I don’t know element, I get that, but however yeah there’s ways of encouraging those students to actually you know what, but unless you provide it for them, they’re not going to know ooh, I can create a collage or I can create you know a sculpture or a film. You know that sort of … So, that’s what I’m kind of pushing for at the moment, seeing teachers to really get out there and really produce different types of art.

Julia:
And realise that they can do it. We’ve had this conversation about music in the past too that so many teachers won’t sing with their class because someone’s told them along the line that they can’t do it. It’s heartbreaking, we can do it, we can sing, we can do visual arts, we can dance, we can do drama.

Cindy:
Yes, we’re not our past.

Julia:
That’s it exactly.

Cindy:
Well, we’ll say you know move forward and then yeah and then do what we can do in a classroom.

Julia:
Well, I’m already inspired by talking to you but I want to hear about some of your inspiring journeys along the way, so some of those incredible stories that you’ve had from some of students that you’ve worked with. I know the first time I met you you told me a few and I was you know just so moved and I’m sure the listeners would love to hear some of them.

Cindy:
We always say you know when you work with students from a refugee background you can’t help but be moved because they’re so inspiring and they’re so resilient, there are such resilient kids out there. We’ve always got in the kids that would say ‘I can’t do this’ at first you know before art for example. And in my classroom I found that they just give it a try because it’s the arts. I’ve never met a child who refused to pick up a pencil, pick up a paintbrush and not have a go at it. Most of them have not had the chance, opportunity to play with those but of course you would model it first and then show them and then they just gladly have a go. Inspiring stories I can’t even name one in particular but I would always say you know for the students that have seen or witnessed traumatic experiences the way they’ve come out of that you know and I find that the classroom has provided them using the arts a way of sort of also healing because they’re allowed to share their stories. So, that always gets us you know when a child draws a picture and you kind of think ‘Ooh, thank you for sharing’. That’s all we could say to them most of the time is thank you for sharing their story with us and how happy we are that they’re here and you know safe in Australia, in our classroom and look at you you’re creating artworks that you’ve, yeah never knew possible.

Julia:
Our listeners will be glad that they’re not here right now because we’ve both got watery eyes. It’s just such a moving, poignant …

Cindy:
They’re really my inspiration anyhow and I think every teacher would probably say that but for the most part the work that I do personally with the arts they’ve inspired me in terms of you know.

Julia:
It’s a way of expressing themselves and getting out that message that maybe they just don’t want to talk about.

Cindy:
Just the talk increases as they get comfortable in the classroom as we know because that’s what we have to do which is true for a refugee background feel safe and the art provides that I think, yeah.

Julia:
That’s wonderful. So, in talking about that though let’s lighten it up a bit, what’s a day in your role look like? What do you do every day?

Cindy:
Where will I start? So, currently the role is a Refugee Support Leader. So, the work has been around EAL/D pedagogy, building the school’s capacity to support refugee issues and their families but also yeah running facilitating courses. Today was planning for the Project that’s a showcase coming up where I had to plan for that. I had phone calls, I got meetings with schools around you know different projects that we started with them. There’s also the Art Gallery of NSW because we’re currently doing a belonging art project with them. So, today was sort of emails.

Julia:
So, tell us a little bit about one of those projects that might involve the arts.

Cindy:
Okay, so the vocab project actually might be a bit interesting because when I did the project I actually did it through the arts as well because again I found that the arts provided such a great platform for learning new vocabulary and increasing vocab knowledge and explicitly in you know vocab instructions so easily. Great fit for that. I’ve always called it the developing language through the arts sort of project. When I did the project in 2014 I contacted the Art Gallery of NSW and I started a partnership with them whereas I would take, they have art pathway programs. So, I would take my newly arrived students to the gallery and they’ll have a workshop day and they come out to us and they do art again with us. So, I’ve been doing that since 2014 like I said. And this year the belonging art project came about, they’ve contacted me and said ‘Cindy, we want you involved because you’ve always partnered with us’. And how much they loved having you know my students from Fairfield Public School. And so, yeah it’s been really great. So, the art project right now is in collaboration with an artist, Claudia like a resident artist that came to school with a bunch of other artists and they worked with the kids, three classrooms, seventy odd students in Year 4 and also that project also goes alongside Ben Quilty’s upcoming exhibition in November this year. So, that’s one.

Julia:
So, what things do they do with Claudia?

Cindy:
So, we learnt about mail art for example and how in the past you know artists would create postcard size mail artwork and send it to their …

Julia:
So, mail, m-a-i-l.

Cindy:
Mail art, yeah. So, I learnt something new. I’d love to start that with teachers to get them out of their comfort zones. She did lots of stories like art was again based on stories, their stories. You know so I think stories are so powerful.

Julia:
Are they using any particular mediums or …

Cindy:
They did lots of watercolours this time, pencil, watercolours and ink, collage work, that sort of thing.

Julia:
Pretty open.

Cindy:
Yeah, it’s been really great.

Julia:
And their postcards, what are they about?

Cindy:
So, they want to create a place where they feel they belonged. So, you know they depict you know it could be a place in the classroom or at home, we’re trying to push for the home as well and gender. But also photography actually. So, we gave them these disposable cameras and they had to take them home and yeah take a photo.

Julia:
Oh, that’s a lovely idea isn’t it? Disposable cameras.

Cindy:
Yeah, it’s been a bit full on that project.

Julia:
So, in terms of do you have a favourite activity or a favourite work experience that you’ve had with these students?

Cindy:
I actually integrate visible thinking routines when looking at artworks. And one of the routines which is my favourite it’s so simple it’s called beginning, middle, end. And I could pick an artwork and ask the students to what part of the story might this have happened? You know would this have happened at the beginning, middle, or end? And it’s great because they’re actually inferring that they don’t even realise that I have to now infer what might happen next or what happened before. Things like that and I love that, after that sort of I feel we’ll do a drama like a freeze frame, what’s happening, where they become the participant or the actor or subject in the painting. And depending on a painting, depending on a theme that we’re looking at you have to select those. Yeah, it happens, great because again you tap in and they have to be in that character and say what they’re thinking and why.

Julia:
Oh, look at you, you’re integrating the arts there, that’s fantastic.

Cindy:
And it’s all oral because this is the thing with newly arrived students, oral integration is so important, we have to develop that first.

Julia:
How do they communicate with each other if they have a different language?

Cindy:
Through lots of practices. Fairfield is not a problem because it’s like you know a lot of the kids speak Arabic anyhow and we also have an SLSO, so bilingual support that we get in the class which helps a lot. And if we don’t have her, I would obviously film it on my iPad and record that and then the SLSO would translate that later on. And then from that they can then create an artwork and they can choose how to represent that particular character or something and it could be you know pipe cleaners just comes to mind, paddle pop sticks, glue like just anything that we could find. What I love is the free choice.

Julia:
So, you’re telling that story through free choice, it’s just wonderful.

Cindy:
And they all come up with different versions of what could happen next and yeah it’s great.

Julia:
So, what’s leaping out at me is the critical and creative thinking as well.

Cindy:
And so we do lots of see, think, wonder as well initially and often we use paintings to introduce a concept, a big idea that’s happening in history or geography or science. That’s what was happening in nearly every program but also the classroom teachers take that onboard too.

Julia:
So, what pathways do you think are open to our students if they’ve got an interest or an ability in the arts?

Cindy:
So, at the momentI’ve looked into which we’ve entered operation art every year so far and also …

Julia:
Which is a fabulous …

Cindy:
Yes and one of my students actually he inspired me because he did, the theme is to make someone smile. So, he actually chose to do a collage of a pirate because pirates are brave. You know when you speak to him, he’s from Syria at that time and he said you know pirates are very brave people and then he placed a chicken on his shoulder. And I said ‘What is that?’ And he said ‘Every pirate has a bird, a pet bird’. He said ‘But I like this one to have a chicken’. You know I go okay, great and he’s very good because he’s actually one of those kids that sort of you know comes to school and a bit disengaged in the mainstream classroom but come to my setting in a smaller group, newly arrived art stuff, he’s in there, he’s being very creative.

Julia:
Isn’t that magical, his interpretation with the chicken, I love it.

Cindy:
Right and he actually is one of those kids very proud of his family. You know inspired by his mum and dad, I mean the parents were academics back in Syria. So, it’s one of those things that you think again he didn’t get much art and you’re doing it now and you’re excelling at it. So, his artwork to cut a long story short was chosen to be in the top fifty at Westmead Hospital right now and I’m trying to find it because they never tell you where it is. I’ll spot it one day. But to be in an art gallery and you as teacher and they attend the ceremony and the parents were just like not in their wildest dreams you know.

Julia:
Incredible story.

Cindy:
So, that would probably be my highlight in terms of, well, one of many highlights of success in terms of entering something. Young Archie is a great, great, great, yeah, love you Archie because again is open. So, those are the two that I’ve mainly personally encouraged my students to enter and continue to do so this year even if I’m not at Fairfield.

Julia:
But beyond that just keeping the dialogue open and keeping the experiences going and allowing the students to explore the arts like this, it’s just wonderful.

Cindy:
See, the word explore, so teachers come on, let it go, let it go, like let it go. They just have to explore.

Julia:
I’m not criticising your singing.

Cindy:
No, sorry. I’m just saying just let it go, yes, interesting, so yeah.

Julia:
Well, there’s so many pathways there. Well, look it’s been fantastic talking with you today, Cindy but before we finish up I’m sure that the listeners would be so inspired by hearing your journey and what you do every day. Are there any other incredible, inspiring stories or experiences you’d like to share with us today?

Cindy:
Gosh, where would I start? I just think do art, just do art in a classroom and watch the magic happen because it’s probably the only time you’ll see kids in my experience anyhow, kids are so substantively engaged and when I say substantively, they put their whole body and mind into it, you know not the one task thing that they’re just finishing up, they’re really in the moment and I think like I said before kids are always inspiring, they always come up with some brilliant idea. And I think we have to allow that to happen so we have to be mindful of you know our comments, they’re helpful comments but sometimes it’s …

Julia:
Yeah, that’s right not being critical in that way but encouraging them to think.

Cindy:
Get the kids to actually give each other feedback, I’ve found that that helps. You know like I said and they you know they are very honest about you know what I like about your artwork and like I said I think that would be, yeah kids inspire you to do art.

Julia:
And for your students you know you’ve just expressed how being able to tell their stories and express themselves and get those emotions out through art is so important but there’s students in every classroom everywhere that have got so many experiences that the arts really will enable them to bring out.

Cindy:
Yes, I like that, enablers and enabler KLA.

Julia:
Yes, absolutely.

Cindy:
They have to do it.

Julia:
Alright, well look thank you so much Cindy Valdez-Adams for coming in to work with us today and have a lovely chat. And my name is Julia Brennan, thanks for joining us today. And as I’ve mentioned before if you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast and you’d like to subscribe go to soundcloud.com/primarycurriculum all one word and don’t forget to subscribe. And we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye.

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End of transcript

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