Teaching artists play leading role in creative learning for students and teachers

Teaching artist and teachers engage students

Teaching Artist Holly Cannon-Hesse and Head Start teachers get students up and moving. Photo by Mimosa Arts.

In a lively preschool classroom in Nashville, children eagerly pick up their pretend paint buckets and, following the lead of Holly Cannon-Hesse, use imaginary brushes to paint triangles, circles, and squares in the air.

Cannon-Hesse isn’t the children’s teacher. Yet, she adds elements of fun and movement to their active exploration of shapes and early math concepts.

A professional dancer who has taught creative movement to children for more than 15 years, Cannon-Hesse is instead one of dozens of teaching artists who play a leading role in Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s educational outreach each year.

These professional artists in theatre, music, dance, and puppetry are specially trained to bring the arts into classrooms and create unique, engaging learning experiences for students from Head Start centers to high schools.

Teaching artist makes shadow puppets with students

TPAC teaching artists use theater, music, dance, and more to expand classroom learning. Photo by Mimosa Arts.

Cannon-Hesse is one of eight teaching artists working in more than 94 classrooms in Nashville Head Start Centers and Metro Early Learning Centers as part of TPAC’s Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts program.

Reflecting on her activities with the imaginary paint supplies, she said, “I saw so many wow moments while we were painting shapes in the air. I had one student who was swinging her ponytail around when we used our heads as paintbrushes. I loved watching how the kids tried so hard to balance when we were ‘painting’ with our feet. It was clear they understood the concept and were able to count and explain the different attributes of the shapes as they painted.”

By encouraging children to identify, describe, and compose shapes in an exciting way, Cannon-Hesse builds a foundation for learning geometry and spatial reasoning while providing the teachers with arts strategies to benefit future students.

“The collaboration between professional artists and teachers to enhance classroom learning is a powerful combination, and there’s ample evidence of its impact,” said Susan Sanders, TPAC’s senior vice president for institutional advancement operations. “We share the belief that teaching artists are essential to arts education’s effectiveness in complementing curriculum, aiding teachers, and making learning more enjoyable.”

TPAC teaching artists also participate in TPAC’s professional development and training for educators, leading Arts Integration Institutes in the summer and fall that train teachers to develop their own arts-connected activities.

Some other ways in which TPAC teaching artists make a difference include:

  • Working with teachers in TPAC’s ArtSmart program to take students through a focus work of art selected from the live performances of the HOT Season for Young People and explore the creative process in ways that spark critical thinking, collaboration, innovation, and cross-curricular understanding.
  • Collaborating at schools in TPAC’s Disney Musicals in Schools program, helping teachers apply the magic of Disney to building sustainable theatre programs and leading activities that encourage self-confidence, problem-solving, creativity, teamwork, and other learning goals.
  • Using arts-based strategies in programs to engage youth who are part of Metro Nashville Juvenile Court’s intervention and restorative justice programs.

Each year, TPAC serves more than 40,000 students, teachers, and adults through one of the most comprehensive arts education programs in the nation. To learn more, visit our Education & Community section.