Vermont Arts Council

A Stretch to Connect

The puppeteers in the No Strings Marionette Company are long-time teaching artists listed on the Vermont Arts Council’s teaching artist roster. Educators consistently praise No Strings’ creative use of song and story and are pleased with the artists’ ability to tie puppet theater to classroom concepts. One of the two puppeteers in the company is Barbara Paulson (the other is her partner, Dan Baginski). Barbara prides herself on preparation and attention to detail; she was once satisfied to hear teachers remark, “I don’t have to do anything but show up!”

Teachers can still count on Barbara being organized, creative, and thoughtful. They can still count on meaningful interaction and masterful puppetry. But, since Barbara took the Arts Connect course in 2014, everyone needs to be ready to stretch a little bit. This graduate-level course for teaching artists strengthened her base in arts-integrated learning and brought the Universal Design for Learning framework to her school residencies. Now, Barbara’s ready to stretch, too.

Dan and Barbara working sailor and mermaid puppets

Things Change

Barbara first heard about the course in 2013. She immediately knew she wanted to participate; she had begun to recognize areas of her teaching she wanted to improve. She took the course in 2014. Now she says Arts Connect “got me out of a slump I didn’t know I was in.” A major takeaway for Barbara was the importance of understanding how people learn. With that, she discovered new ways to serve learners with differing abilities.

“This is something I was on the edge of starting to do,” says Barbara. By “this” she means giving up some control. “A puppeteer has to be in control of everything! But now, there are some things that everyone who participates will have to be able to figure out for themselves.” As one small example, she described planning for a weekly after-school program. “I asked them what they wanted to learn. This is something I might not have thought of before.” She still prepares fastidiously. “I still plan. It’s the outcome that can grow and change organically. Now I see many new ways to have the project grow.” Varying outcomes can be influenced by a teacher, the participants, or Barbara herself.

The class renewed her belief in her abilities: “It’s not that I was rigid. I was happy to flex. But now I have a confidence that these changes are meant to happen. Adjustment can be great.”

Rubrics and the Common Core

Every year, Barbara does a residency exploring American history with a certain fifth-grade class. Lessons are planned by a group in advance. Some of the planners wanted to try something new. They wanted to tell a story through the eyes of a marginalized group—specifically, that of The Trail of Tears from the perspective of the Cherokee people. One school administrator was hesitant. Barbara drew on the Arts Connect content and her renewed confidence. “I was able to show in a rubric that the story touched elements from the common core.” Her comfort shines as she goes on to say, “The common core isn’t a big unknown anymore. Now it’s one of the tools in my toolbox, and I know how to use it.”  The planning choice was validated when audience members described that segment of the show as “the most meaningful.”

group of smiling kids and three puppetsWorth the Time

Barbara offers this important piece of advice: make time for the course. “Don’t go into it if you don’t think you have enough time, or enough brain space. It does take a lot of work. You want to allow yourself time to do the work.”

She also values the new relationships and the network she developed. Among many accolades for the instructors, Barbara spoke of the growth she sensed in them. She said, “One thing that was really interesting is that the instructors also evolved.” And, “I can’t say enough about the instructors. They gave us just the right amount of information in comparison to what we had to figure out.”

Make the Connection

Space is still available in the course. Find more information, including where and how to register, in this story.