During the Spring semester of 2017 MMI’s then In-Schools Director, Lecolion Washington, issued a simple request: Attend a workshop and/or conference that will enhance your work. At this point I had been to a few conferences and although they broadened my perspective of the national arts engagement field I wanted something more focused on the work of arts education. As MMI is an organization that places Music Engagement Fellows into underserved schools to work with existing school programs my brain screamed, “teaching artist workshop!” As luck would have it, soon I received a message from Lecolion with a link to the Lincoln Center Education Summer Forum held in New York City. Eagerly I clicked the link and knew I had found what I was looking for.

After a lengthy application process and some budgeting magic I secured a spot in the Developing Your Practice Lab. Upon arriving I was swept away by the energy of NYC. My excitement grew for what I was sure would be a rigorous two weeks of learning, experiencing, and implementing various skills related to the field of Teaching Artistry. Day one showed me that my excitement was not misplaced.

Across the next two weeks I was surrounded by amazingly talented artists from all disciplines (dance, theater, creative writing, etc.). The forum itself was structured in a uniquely enriching style. As participants we were led through various art workshops, experiencing firsthand what masterful teaching artistry would feel like for students. Directly following those classroom vignettes we were invited to hold an open discussion of our experience and to breakdown the broad and minute aspects of the facilitator’s teaching techniques.

I was introduced to the idea of Purpose Threads. A purpose thread is used to identify the main goal of your class, unit, or workshop. It does not mean that it is the only objective you are concerned with as a great class will be a combination of the various threads. It simply implores you to identify you chief goal in order to maximize the use of your instruction time and activities within a given plan. They are:

  • Work of art: To enhance the encounter with art works
  • Art skills development: To deepen the development of art-making skills
  • Arts integration: To catalyze the learning of non-arts content
  • Community quality of life: To increase the livability of communities
  • Social/personal development: To develop personal or social capacities
  • Other instrumental goals: To achieve non-arts goals important to institutions
  • + Digital: To activate personal artistry in digital media

I fell in love with this framework for Teaching Artists lesson planning and presented this information to our cohort of Music Engagement Fellows. It has since been incorporated into the Lesson Planning Framework for the Memphis Music Initiative.

Broadly I learned that high levels of learner engagement are always possible with meticulous planning. Regardless of skill or setting, a well thought-out approach to classroom teaching will help students achieve their best work. It can make the most mundane topic exciting and the most challenging accessible for all. I am very grateful to have had the experience of attending the Lincoln Center Education Summer Forum.


Victor Sawyer serves as a Fellowship Coach for the Memphis Music Initiative, working with a team of teaching artists to create engaging and impactful arts programming for youth in underserved communities throughout the Greater Memphis Area and as an instrumental instructor at the world famous Stax Music Academy. Victor Sawyer is a freelance trombonist based in Memphis, TN. As a freelance trombonist Sawyer frequently records at legendary studio such as Sun, Royal, and Ardent and performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival, South by Southwest, and Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York City’s Lincoln Center.