Letter to Ardina: November 2011 | Mark Dzula


It feels like we’re finally getting back into the swing of things; the dynamics of our residencies are coming into focus as we settle into the new year with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Learning Through Art program. We are both continuing our work at PS 48 in Staten Island (you in 3rd grade and me in 4th) and it is always a pleasure to “inherit” your former students. Certain students clearly display the traits I believe that you help to cultivate in anyone you work with: critical curiosity, a certain thoughtfulness, and tempered excitement. Admittedly, some students’ excitement is less tempered than others; so many 4th graders crave to be seen and to be known. I have also witnessed this craving in the new LTA residency that I’m starting in the Bronx.

One aspect that I love about our program is that you get 20 sessions to work with the students and teachers in the classroom; you really do get to know them, which is a rarity in our work as freelance educators. Too often in museums my work is over practically as soon as it has begun. There are certain aspects of the Learning Through Art program that you can count on at the beginning, especially the many meetings it takes to launch our efforts. Sure the free bagels, coffee, and Danishes at the museum are great, but with so little work in the classroom at first, it is easy to get caught up in the abstract mechanics of planning. Having had a couple of sessions at the schools I am beginning to feel the transformative energy of engaging with kids in discussion, observation, imagination, and creative play. I love this part of my job. I am also reminded that what we bring the students is completely foreign to the rest of their course of study in the schools.

How do you get to know your students? Of course these things happen naturally and gradually over the course of our residencies, but this year I especially felt the shock of being back in front of more than 180 different individuals after our long and eventful summer in NYC and San Diego. I pride myself as a teacher in my willing attention to all students, so facing such a large crew (how about those class sizes?) I felt the pressure to get to know them, and fast.

The other question I have for you is about the role of planning. Clearly, having a firm sense of what you would like to happen without stultifying the students’ potential for process and discovery is important. What are you planning for this year and how are you going about developing your plans? Being your husband, I have a slight sense of this already but I am sure the nice people reading this blog would love to know more. What inclinations and enthusiasms do we follow as we plan? How do we communicate, include, and negotiate with teachers as we plan? How do our plans relate to our students’ interests and needs?

I look forward to your response (in 500 words or less) and am excited to develop a dialogue together in this space, online, in public. Try not to curse too much.



Ardina’s reply, November 2011

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