A Look Inside the Deepen Track

Two participants discuss prompts during the Deepen trackAs attendees descend the aisles of the Paramount Theatre, performing arts students from Emerson College invite them up onto the stage and hand each participant the image of a sea creature stamped on a square of paper — dolphins, sharks, clownfish, and more. Attendees find the circle of chairs beneath the sign matching their image, where more students greet them and get them talking with co-attendees as they arrive by leading them in “sociograms”: an icebreaker where participants form groups of two, then three, then four, shifting and moving within their circle of chairs to introduce themselves to their partners one after another.

When the stage is full (each group with ten participants and two student facilitators), the faculty hosts step up on three cubes at the rear of the stage to introduce themselves and begin the workshop by prompting a variation on the “Boal handshake,” an exercised developed by Brazilian theater director Augusto Boal to form connections and level power hierarchies. Attendees are asked to think of a memory from elementary school while looking down at the floor, then to look up when they have one in mind. Once looking up, each member of the pair shares their memory, then the pair stays together until each member has connected with a new partner, forming new pairs around the circle. 

After a few minutes of sharing and partnering, the hosts ask for a second round of Boal handshakes. This time, participants share a belief they hold about teaching and learning, drawn from any area of life, in or out of the classroom, as parents, as mentors, or anywhere they find their belief.

After participants have time to share their beliefs with several people in the circle, they’re asked to stay with their current partner for the next stage. One partner shares a moment that felt important to them as a teacher or learner — with those terms defined, once again, in the broadest possible ways. Then the other responds with the prompt, “I was intrigued by the part of your story where you talked about ______, because it made me remember _____,” which has been distributed to them on a card by student facilitators in each circle. Then roles reverse, and the partner who shared listens to the other’s important moment and responds with the same prompt.

When each partner has performed both roles, student facilitators hand each person a big, brightly-colored cardstock thought bubble and a marker. They’re invited to derive a teaching and learning belief from the conversation they’ve had and to write it down. With their beliefs recorded, partners hold up their bubbles and pose together for student facilitators to take their picture with instant cameras, and the photos are hung on the walls of the stage to develop.

Once each pair has been photographed, the hosts ask participants to form new pairs. The story share and reaction is performed again, leading to the derivation of another teaching and learning belief and another thought bubble.

Next participants are asked to put their hand on the shoulder of someone in the circle “who looks like they know something you’d like to know” — but they aren’t required to say what that “something” is! With their new partner, each participant reads aloud one of their derived beliefs about teaching and learning, and pairs brainstorm how that belief could be applied in practice or life.

Participants are actively engaged in conversation during the Deepen trackFinally, returning to the full circle of ten participants, each member shares the teaching and learning belief that feels most important or most true to them — it may be one they wrote on their own bubble, or one they heard from someone else. As circle-mates share, anyone who also finds the shared belief valuable shows their agreement by performing jazz hands, which is applause in the Deaf community.

The session ends with each member of the circle offering one word that communicates something memorable about the day. Then the hosts tell the group, “This workshop reflects our belief that, when talking about teaching and learning in any context, we are each other’s best resource for reflection and growth.” Leaving behind a floor strewn with colored cards, thought bubbles, film packaging, and squares of paper stamped with sea creatures — and a room full of ideas — participants descend from the stage and move on to the next event of the day.

Deepen Testimonial

“I opened up without reservation to listen emphatically to my colleagues’ opinions and experiences and shared my own honestly and without reservation. The exchange felt very sincere, caring and human”