Tell us a bit more about yourself…
I am an actress turned writer and educator. As a traveler, reader, and storyteller with a theater maker’s foundation, I consider myself fortunate to have lived and traveled to many different places. This has increased my sense of empathy and understanding that we all value different things and before I knock someone’s opinion, I might want to discover something about their life context and what they value first. This is key to my philosophy of education. I am curious about my students, their interests, and the lives they have lived. This helps me connect to them, which in turn helps me teach them and build trust.
What’s one thing about yourself that you think is important for others to know?
I LOVE stories. Stories are how we understand and expand ourselves. They are an amazing way to share knowledge, create connections and entertain ourselves. Stories encourage curiosity and cultivate empathy, which is something that is sorely lacking in our world today. Everyone has a valuable and important story to tell and I think it’s important that we all build the capacity to listen and validate.
What excites you most about your work?
My mother was a classroom teacher for over 25 years, but really she was a teacher for her whole life. Her goal was to create lifelong learners because of the power and freedom that education provides. Her love for learning rubbed off on me early, but my excitement for teaching developed on its own as a teaching artist. As a teaching artist, I love that I get to engage students with alternative ways to apply academic knowledge, I often get students and teachers to see each other in new ways, and I get students to interrogate themselves and how they fit into the world around them. I look forward to bringing this aesthetic to my work at Maker Ed.
Why do you make?
I make because it is fun! I make because it is liberating! I make to inspire! I make to process life and sustain myself in the world.
What dreams do you have for young people?
My hope is that young people would be empowered to radically accept and challenge themselves to come alive. Theologian Howard Thurman said “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” It’s important to inspire and support people in the things that feed their souls; valuing everyone’s gifts and making room for them will create a better world for us all.
If you could share one word of advice to give to other educators, what would it be?
Breathe, take the time to be good to yourself, and do the things that empower you. Allow that to fuel your work. Be curious and willing to investigate yourselves and your students.
Are there other makers and/or educators in your community whose work you’d like to promote?
Brené Brown is always encouraging to me, her work inspires me personally and professionally to be wholehearted and brave. In particular, The Gifts of Imperfection impacted my life and helped me to live with ferocity.
The Moth and The Theatre Lab are two organizations that I love dearly. The Moth’s stories convinced me that we are more alike than we are different. Their education program focuses on empowering primarily low-income students with the skills and boldness to speak their stories. The Theatre Lab works with students and adults to explore creative expression. In particular, their Life Stories program is empowering to students and adults, encouraging them to use theatrical storytelling tools to share and own their stories.
Chelsea Ritter-Soronen is a Washington DC-based chalk artist and activist who uses her work to bring beauty and awareness to the world!