December 5th, 2012

I Write to Own | Daniel A. Kelin, II

While driving along the lava framed highway of Kona with a fellow teaching artist, we chatted about a series of just completed sessions. This was our first time working together with children and we had gained great insight into each other’s approaches and processes. During our drive he asked several insightful questions that opened me to describing beliefs and practices that I rarely voice yet significantly inform my work in the classroom. My descriptions surprised me somewhat, in that I had never really owned these beliefs in a tangible form, simply practiced them. As I detailed moment by moment choices, decisions and revisions, I came to a few realizations about how reactive my work is to both the students as well as my own momentary choices. The conversation also solidified that, although I value and espouse thorough planning, I am more conscious than I thought of the needs of the moment when I teach.

Being a teaching artist is, by nature, a solitary endeavor and working in Hawaii intensifies that condition.  Even having a staff and even as one who regularly hosts and conducts teaching artist trainings, I feel that I don’t benefit from enough situations like the one along the lava highway.  I wish to be clear that this is greater than swapping activities, or collaboratively planning learning experiences.  This is about having the time and purposeful focus to dig deeper into the reasons for choices that inform praxis and intentionality of approach, or engage in a sort of roundtable discussion that is meant to probe possibilities, or have the chance to consider beliefs.  Any of these activities are of the kind that can inspire me into new realms or endeavors.

This all leads to why I write for public forums; blogs, articles, and books.  As both a reader and a writer I am less interested in being told or telling someone how to conduct a class or which activity to choose, but more in discovering what beliefs I own, why those beliefs exist, what mistakes and choices led to uncovering those beliefs, the risks that have paid off and those that have not. It gives me the chance to have an internal dialog, but more importantly to tangibly define my understanding of the choices I make and the reasons I made them:  to own my work in a concrete fashion.  I have often encouraged other teaching artists to write publically because, frankly, I want to benefit as well from their internal dialogue, to delve with them into the depth of their reflective thought and discover new inspirations.

When speaking with my newest book’s co-author recently, we discovered that our developing book about reflective practice has been more beneficial to both of us than we anticipated.  We began writing together in 2010 because we believed that we had many common beliefs. However, our still very current (2012) partnership continues because we have discovered so many differences that, honestly, have enriched each of our practices.  Our conversations have not always been easy, not at all. But the challenging debates have led to an ongoing series of discoveries which have forced each of us to be very clear about why we believe in and advocate for the work we do

The great joy of writing is that upon completion, I find success in what I have discovered about my beliefs and practice.  The actual appearance of the work in black and white feels good, but the ownership over my practice is so much more rewarding.

An ardent teaching artist, Daniel A. Kelin II is Honolulu Theatre for Youth Director of Drama Education and President of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE). He is on the Teaching Artist roster of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and was Director of Theatre Training for both Crossroads Theatre for Youth in American Samoa and a Marshall Islands youth organization. A 2009 Fulbright-Nehru Scholar in India, he has also had fellowships with Montalvo Arts Center, TYA/USA and the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America. Dan is co-authoring The Reflective Teaching Artist: Collected Wisdom from the Drama/Theatre Field for Intellect Books. More at

Also by Daniel A. Kelin, II in ALT/space:
Partners in Purpose
Reflexive Ventures
Listening to Learn
Postcard: Shantipur, West Bengal, India

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In this space, Teaching Artist correspondents from around the U.S. and the world bring you stories of their work at the crossroads of art and learning. ALT/space is a project of the Teaching Artist Journal, a peer reviewed print and online quarterly that serves as a voice, forum and resource for teaching artists and all those working at the intersection of art and learning. Individual online subscriptions of the TAJ print journal gives you access to a very useful, easy to access, 55-issue archive--the only such archive of its kind.