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Think Big: Shawn LaVoie, AIE'13

Shawn LavoieTo Shawn LaVoie, art is inevitable. And he urges future students in the Arts in Education Program to engage and partner with students in other cohorts to find new and creative ways to educate across disciplines.

“Think big,” he advises. “Arts are wonderful and they influence everything, so find the bridges and the connections that get arts into every child’s educational experience.”

After graduation, LaVoie will bring the ideas and methods learned at the Ed School back to rural Wisconsin where he will be returning to teach humanities and arts at Youth Initiative High School.

“In and out of class, Shawn has generously, though always humbly, shared the undeniable rigor of his thinking, the poetry of his language and images, and his wry sense of humor and pathos with all of us in AIE,” says Lecturer Steve Seidel, director of AIE, citing LaVoie’s past training as a clown as one source of his depth and wisdom. “Many times his questions and insights have significantly changed the direction of our conversations. And at the same time, like the best clowns, he watches and listens with fantastic curiosity and a kind of wise innocence.”

Upon learning that he had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for AIE, LaVoie answered some questions about his time at the Ed School and beyond.

Have your goals changed any since entering the Ed School? Coming in, my goals were to better understand the debates in educational fields and to get a sense of organizations pushing the frontiers of progressive, civic, creative education. My goal now is to forge partnerships and bridges between teachers, researchers, and leaders who are advancing the cause of progressive education, by which I mean education that promotes the development of student intellect, social-emotional capacities, community responsibility, and creative response.

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? That teaching is research, and so the teacher is at the forefront of research: Not dry, repetitive lab studies, but rich and  challenging cognitive, practical, emotional, and, dare I say, spiritual research. As a researcher the teacher is both artist and scientist, analyzing data and testing hypotheses while also working intuitively and holistically to provoke and draw in attention.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? I have a 1 and 1/2 year old son, Julian, and a beautiful, smart wife, so every day I’d start and end with them, which provided a solid, inspiring grounding to the intellectual flight of HGSE.

What will you change in education and why? There is no one panacea, but one big change that would really shake things up would be developing an alternative set of measures for student achievement, measures that capture the importance of deep learning, of making meaningful connections between fields, of problem-solving and problem-finding. I think all too often the narrow focus on what can be easily tested (and what schools are held accountable for) has a retrograde effect on depth of learning in the classroom. We want our students to become young adults who can make meaning in an increasingly complex world, who can find problems worth solving, and who have experience working independently and collaboratively to solve them.

The number one, biggest surprise of the last year was … that, after eight years out of college, I still knew how to write a paper. Read profiles of the other master's students being honored with the 2013 Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award.