In Defense of the Jewels of Concentration

“Mommy- my teacher put a crystal in our hand today and turned on some music and made us stare at the wall!” I can easily see how someone who has not attended the training or even parent hearing a child describe this work might be confused or concerned. I even have teachers question, “Do I really have to use the music and jewels?”

I would like to explain these resources so they may be used to their full extent and reap maximum educational benefit . After all, the more we know about the method behind them- the more comfortable we will feel using them.

In an educational context- I find the use of the “jewels” and the music to be completely aligned with best practice. Let’s start with the jewels. Concentration is an abstract concept. We cannot see it, hear it, or touch it. When teaching an abstract concept- good teachers find a way to make it concrete--something you can see, and feel. The jewels make this intangible concept tangible. Of course you could use a rock, penny, or piece of candy but those would be weak metaphors for concentration. The metaphor of the jewels says your concentration is valuable and precious--something worth holding on to. The students recognize this and appreciate the unique shape and iridescent color of the jewels and want to keep it as something to treasure. What better metaphor for their concentration?

I would like to point out that the jewels are not used for long. They are only used until the students internalize the concept. They are a temporary strategy. It is never said that, “This jewel IS your concentration...without it, you cannot concentrate.” The jewel is given no power, it merely REPRESENTS your concentration--just as the diamond in an engagement ring REPRESENTS your commitment to marriage but is not actually holding your marriage together!

Let’s shift our focus now to the music. For starters I would like to thank singer/songwriter/musician Nancy Krebs for composing and recording the music. Nancy has recorded seven albums of Christian music and tours internationally with her music ministry. ( She is also an accomplished actor/educator and knew immediately what to compose when I explained what I needed.

Music can be a powerful tool that can effect our energy and our mood. There are numerous studies of how music influences and impacts our ability to focus and learn. Music also a strong trigger for memory recall. How many times do you hear a song and have strong memories associated with it? Because music effects us in so many ways, as educators we want to take advantage of this. So the music is used for three purposes:

  1. It serves as an audible cue-a trigger that says to the class- “Stop what you are doing, balance your energy, and walk over to our meeting area and assemble as a group.” Just like the fire alarm is an audible cue, just like the school bell is an audible cue-so is this music. These sounds make procedures happen quickly without a teacher giving verbal commands. The music saves the teacher TIME-their most treasured, and scarce resource.
  1. Once the students are gathered together in a circle the music is a backdrop for the Actor’s Toolbox. While they are agreeing to control their body, voice, and imagination--and agreeing to concentrate and cooperate, the music is playing and balancing the energy of the group.
  2. Deafening silence can be more of a distraction than noise. When students are practicing concentration in the Concentration Challenge, the music helps occupy a certain part of their brain so the silence does not distract them.

Schools are a busy, hustling and bustling place. Students are up and down sharpening pencils, using the restrooms, and asking questions. Visitors, other teachers, and administrators are coming in and out of the room and other classes and people are passing by the doorway all day long. The ability for students to be able to block out that hustle and bustle and focus on their learning is crucial. So many students are prematurely labeled as ADD or ADHD etc... or medicated...or just given up on. What is our education system doing to TEACH concentration, focus, and self regulation?? The use of the jewels and music in combination with my ACTING RIGHT strategies does teach these skills. What I see happen on a daily basis across the country with these strategies is astounding. It works-and it’s intention and creation comes from a place of deep desire to help students.

Every once in a while someone thinks the resources are connected to meditation, new age, hypnosis, yoga, or some type of religion. They are not. I hope this blog entry has helped clarify why and how these resources are used, and the great benefit they bring to the student, the class, and the teacher.

Making the Work Visible

Imagine my surprise and excitement today when I went into the 3rd grade classroom of Judy Schwanbeck at Abingdon Elementary in Arlington, Virginia and see the three qualities we are striving for: Calm, Focused, and Balanced literally plastered on her wall!! Beautiful!

Abingdon Elementary is one of the participating schools in the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts program and Judy is in her second year of arts coaching. At the end of last year we were talking about visual cues for the students and we envisioned the words, Calm, Focused, and Balanced in big letters somewhere in the room where students would constantly be reminded of the qualities. Kudos to Judy for turning talk into action and doing it with such style! The words are not painted on the wall but are actually stickers that can be removed.

She ordered them from a company called:

School T-Shirts

There’s talking about your school integrating the arts-and then there’s putting it on a t-shirt for all to see! I have seen several such t-shirts in the last month or so that I wanted to share with everyone. Hopefully they will give other schools ideas for their next school t-shirt. If your school has an arts-message t-shirt, send me a photo so I can add it to the collection!

Northside Elementary School
Rock Hill, South Carolina

Bailey’s Elementary School
Falls Church, Virginia

Andrew Jackson Middle School
Kershaw, South Carolina

Socialization is Key to Student Growth

Check out this blog entry I came across in the Washington Post about classroom communities. I find the author’s perspective to be so validating and relevant to the Acting Right work.

Artists Bring What Schools Need

“With appropriate and systemic support, TA's joining teachers in classrooms, could represent a serious approach to doing the one thing that will matter most to making schools better places for students to learn -- fully integrating thinking, emotion, and creation. “

Check out this article by Nick Rabkin:

“Artists Bring What Schools Need”

President Obama

March 14, 2011 was an exciting day at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, VA. President Obama came to school and saw what probably was, his first tableau!

Kenmore is part of the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts Program and receives ongoing professional development in arts integrated strategies. President Obama selected Kenmore as the site where he would give a speech about fixing the No Child Left Behind act and encourage schools to use more innovative teaching strategies. Teacher Laura Cuorato has participated in my tableau course and I have arts coached her for several years. She has also participated in Melanie’s Visual Art and Writing course. This year, Laura participated in our Pen, Painting, and Pose course which brought the course work of the two previous courses together. Her class was creating a tableau based on a portrait of Duke Ellington.

Congratulations to Laura, her students, and Kenmore Middle for making the work we do so visible. Next time, we will try to get the president to join in!!!

Focus 5, Inc 2020