To Andria Zafirakou, the recipient of the Varkey Foundation's 2018 Global Teacher Prize, the power of arts education is clear.
“I see how it transforms my children every single day,” Zafirakou says. “Those magic moments you see — that child having a eureka moment through a piece of artwork.”
For the past 13 years, Zafirakou has worked as an arts and textiles teacher at the Alperton Community School in northwest London, engaging daily with a growing, diverse student body in which over 130 languages are spoken. In order to reach her students, Zafirakou took it upon herself to learn greetings in at least 35 different languages. This building of relationships and trust is of vital importance to her work, she says. But, for Zafirakou, perhaps the most important tool she uses to connect with her students — the most inclusive — is art.
“You don’t need to necessarily be able to communicate with voice or mouth to create a piece of work that’s very much you,” Zafirakou says. “So if you have got special needs, it doesn’t matter. That label doesn’t exist anymore. If you cannot speak English, it doesn’t matter — that label doesn’t exist. If you can’t read or write, it doesn’t matter. So this is why it’s inclusive. You don’t need to be certain color, certain age, or speak a certain language to be included in the arts.”
Considering the diversity among her students, Zafirakou is careful to tailor art lessons around each student’s culture. Showing respect of and valuing their identities from the start entices the students to create. “I call that my hook because then we’ve welcomed each other,” she says.
While visiting HGSE to participate in Art at the Heart: Improving Educational Opportunities for All at the Askwith Forums, Zafirakou spoke with the Harvard EdCast about how the arts can be a powerful, inclusive tool in schools, and details her quest to change the narrative around arts education.
About the Harvard EdCast
The Harvard EdCast is a weekly podcast featuring brief conversations with education leaders and innovative thinkers from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Jill Anderson, the EdCast is a dynamic space for discourse about problems and transformative solutions in education, shining a light on the compelling people, policies, practices, and ideas shaping the field. Find the EdCast on iTunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.