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One Dance Step at a Time: Aysha Upchurch, AIE'15

Aysha UpchurchAysha Upchurch came to the Ed School on a mission: change the world, one dance step at a time. A self-proclaimed “dancing diplomat,” Upchurch knew the Arts in Education (AIE) Program would equip her with the skills to develop a revolutionary arts integration curriculum for urban public schools.

“Arts education is grossly misunderstood in the larger education sector. And I still believe dance breaks would make everyone more sane and happy,” Upchurch says, noting that her year in AIE has shifted her focus from curriculum design to teaching dispositions and collaboration among in-school and out-of-school educators.

Throughout her time in AIE, Program Director Steven Seidel commended Upchurch for pushing the cohort’s thinking with her willingness to ask challenging questions and by offering her deep thought and feelings. “We're very fortunate that her path led to AIE, where she has been teaching us critical lessons in trail-blazing – how to listen to the deep voices in one's head while also really listening to the voices of everyone else in the room, how to keep going even when feeling confused, and how digging into and revealing one's confusions can sometimes be the only way to get to clarity. It is said that some people 'make the road by walking,'” says Seidel. “Aysha makes the road by dancing – literally and metaphorically – and it's hard not to want to just jump in and dance with her.”

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

What are your post-HGSE plans? “Post-HGSE” is broad enough of a time frame where I can confidently say I have plans and a vision of the dream job. Yet, more importantly, I’m hoping to continue learning and enjoying being on the path. Just like I wrote in my admissions essay, I have found peace in being in constant pursuit. Important places for me to stop along my path include: undergraduate professor in a college-based teacher education program, professional development specialist for teacher collaborations, and director of community-based learning center that uses culturally responsive arts for academic support and life skills.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? Steve Seidel. Although I often just want him to give me the answers, what he does is listen and with gentle provocation ask the tough, necessary questions. As I ramble, he keeps listening and directs me to the answers I’ve already provided. He teaches the way he advises. He’s an accessible and honest leader. He’s so supportive of and responsive to his students and creates a respectful learning environment. His blend of poise and humor and expertise has been a great model for the kind of professor I aspire to be.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? Best. Cohort. Ever. Honestly, my peers and teaching team in the Arts in Education Program are the bee’s knees. I am constantly blown away by their experiences, expertise, and talents. They became my family, providing the explicit and implicit pushes I needed all throughout the year.

Any special study spots? The second floor of Gutman Library where it’s actually a library — that study room which I came to call THE SITUATION ROOM (and no, Wolf Blitzer wasn’t ever there). Sometimes, you have a situation — assignment is due, readings need to be read, etc. — and the first floor of Gutman and everywhere else would be too social. Also, the purple couch in the AIE office, Barney, provided me serious, quality nap time. Thanks, Barney; you helped me stay alert in The Situation Room.

What will you change in education and why? I will bring more legitimacy to the teaching artist field — in academia, in K–12, and in community-based teaching settings. While I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience here, often times I found myself realizing that certain teaching and learning frameworks presented in class were the very same ones espoused and developed for teaching artists and community-based educators, especially those using culturally responsive arts in their practice in urban settings. And while my cohort members and I typically shared this realization, we still sensed a sort of marginalization in what we contribute to the fields of teaching and learning and even school leadership. So, I’m hoping to bring more of our work out of the margins and into the curriculum for K–12 teachers in-training.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? I encourage them to keep their eyes open to the people around them — literally right in your cohort you can be surrounded by the greatest resources and support network. And more importantly, make it a priority to continue your arts practice. This nine-month sprint is intense, but your saving grace will be in remembering that you are an artist. So find time to keep using and grooming your craft.

Read about the other recipients of this year's Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award.