Liberated Learning Environment Framework




This framework is not about what art skills you are teaching, it is about:


  • How can you create a classroom culture that supports everyone in the room as artists?
  • How can you approach teaching that promotes a liberated learning environment and socially just classroom?
  • How are we acting as abolitionists rather than perpetrators of oppression?



  • Jojo the TA throws his arms open wide while in the middle of a circle of students sitting in a classroom.


    To create a supportive & liberated learning environment so that all students, & educators feel valued and are able to learn in tandem with the essential skills needed for the artform.

    ArtsConnection as an organization is committing to dismantle and interupt systems of oppression. We are putting this into action through this Liberated Learning Environments Framework.

  • a small group of young students - one makes a puzzled face, another purses their lips to the side, and the girl in front puts her finger on her forehead in a thinking position.

    What are we liberating from?

    This framework is challenging ArtsConnection’s staff and artists to examine any assumptions personally, or in programming, practices, and curriculum conscious and unconscious that may actually hinder the growth of public-school students, who are caught in a system rife with racial and socioeconomic inequities. This includes systems & structures of oppression such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, cis-sexism, classism, ableism, nativism, ageism, religious, body type, colonialism, white supremacy and other forms of discrimination and oppression that can negatively affect the young people in our programs.

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    What is a Liberated Learning Environment?

    Our Definition of a Liberated Learning Environment is an learning space that is:

    Student centered & supportive of each individual student’s autonomy. Collaborative, co-generative, & responsive. Culturally sustaining, decolonized, and stigma-free. Intersectional, inclusive, anti-racist, gender inclusive and accessible.




We understand that any curriculum, teaching practice or art form that is not intentionally uplifting historically marginalized communities will continue to perpetuate oppressive systems. This framework is a step towards intentionally interrupting systems of oppression.

  • student holds pencil drawing in front of their face. it appears to be a landscape that includes mountains, flowers, a rainbow, and a castle

    This initiative is challenging ArtsConnection to examine any assumptions in programming that may actually hinder the growth of public-school students, who are caught in a system rife with racial and socioeconomic inequities. TAAB was charged with developing an arts learning framework that validates young people’s identities, solidifies their agency in schools, and supports their place in the world. Through centering youth voice, choice and actively acknowledging the many layers of students’ identities, new instructional practices will work to undo oppressive structures that create barriers to learning.

  • we see a students hands drawing on their paper, many squiggly and zig zagging overlapping lines

    Over a 2 years period, ArtsConnection’s Teaching Artist Advisory Board (TAAB) researched, designed and piloted programs with aligned  observations, then reviewed and refined their new curricular frameworks, to further field test programs and finalize this work in collaboration with additional ArtsConnection Artists.

  • a collage student artwork blue background upper right corner has a rainbow and then several other smaller shapes of pink, blue and green fill the rest of the space

    This framework is built upon the work of many others before us – the idea of Liberated Learning comes from Paulo Freire, and we have learned from and been inspired by many others.

    The resulting curricular frameworks and program models have been collaboratively designed by AC staff and artists, beta tested in community with young people across both in-school & out of school residencies and will continue to be revised and updated as we learn more. Working in this way is a continual ongoing process of learning, reflection, and revision, and will require ongoing maintenance & hygiene.



The essential elements we’ve identified


We’ve identified 4 main components of how you actively and intentionally build socially just, liberated and supportive classrooms:


  • Cultural Humility
  • Student Agency
  • Community Building
  • Responsive Planning
  • Student Agency

    “To alienate human beings from their own decision making is to change them into objects.” – Paulo Freire

  • Cultural Humility Anti-racist, accessible, intersectional and inclusive, and culturally sustaining in practices, and pedogagy. Recognize students are not a monolith. Process of life-long learning & critical self-reflection, including unlearning of own biases and assumptions. Engage with cultural compentency & responsiveness. Recognize & challenge power imbalances. Respect and value everyone’s knowledge and experiences. Approach with curiosity and humility.

    Cultural Humility

    “Cultural humility requires historical awareness – in order to practice true cultural humility, a person must also be aware of, & sensitive to, historic realities like legacies of violence and oppression against certain groups of people. For example, if you are a white person pushing into a classroom of black and brown students, what is the awareness you are bringing into the space with how you see, work with these students…” `Hogg Foundation’s “3 Things to Know”



  • Community Building Collaboratively build a classroom culture of respect, play, joy, and transparency. Invite students and teachers to be their wholeselves & embraces the intersections of these identities. Partner with teachers and students to learn how they work, their perspectives, interests, and identities. Focus on co-generative, and collaborative environment & curriculum.

    Community Building

    “Without community, there is no liberation…but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.” Audre Lorde


  • Responsive Planning Collaborative, co-generative, & responsive to students' interests, voices, and goals throughout the residency. Approach planning & teaching with curiosity. Focus is on culturally sustaining, decolonized, and stigma-free curriculums to interrupt systems of oppression. Intentionally accessible & inclusive for each individual student. Focus on the process of artmaking, with space for creativity. Prepare and plan while also holding space for class communty’s input.

    Responsive Planning

    “Traditional pedagogical practices in the United States were developed within systems defined by colonization, including the establishment of educational practices shaped by philosophies that privileged the education of some bodies based on racialized conceptions of an individual’s value.” (Todd, 2018)

    Undoing this work takes both intentionality in your planning and also space to adjust & respond.


What does this look like in action?

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    Class Compenents

    Opening Ritual & Check Ins – top of the class community building, transition & focusing moment with students ( incorporates kinesthetic, physical, auditory) Includes moment when the TA shares the plan/agenda.

    Reflection – moments throughout the class for students to reflect on their learning and provide reflections back to you that could influence where you go next

    Space & Time in the lesson plans – take pressure off of the stress of getting it done – focus on what’s needed in that moment. Time with materials, and time to actually be in artistic flow.

    Closing Ritual & Transition – end of class moment for students to prepare to transition out of class – and have a moment of self-reflection.

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    Residency Overview

    Prior to residency  – Teacher Workshop for the Classroom teachers, Paraprofessionals, and Admin, a Logistics meeting, TA Responsive Planning

    First Third of the Residency – Community Building through art experiences, getting to know each other & the art form, Learning Artistic Toolbox skills, Reflection meeting with collaborating teachers.

    Second Third of Residency – Deepening artistic skills, utilizing them in artistic practice. Collaboratively developing goal/aim final sharing together as a community, Peer feedback, small group work, choicemaking, reflection. Reflection meeting with collaborating teachers

    Final Third of Residency – Hone in, finalizing, continuing to deepen art making. Create towards final collaboratively decided goals/sharing experience


Empowered vs Disempowered

What does a classroom where students feel empowered and liberated look like verses a class where the teacher is the one in the place of power, and holds all the answers?

  • students appear in rows with masks in front of their faces with multiple different expressions collaged onto them


    A classroom where students feel disempowered could look like:

    • Seat in rows facing the teacher.
    • There is only one right way to respond to an assignment.
    • Teacher tells students the topic, focus, and skill they must work on.
    • Students sit still for the duration of class time.
    • Feedback is provided only by the teacher.
    • Students are facing the teacher.
    • Students generally only speak when spoken too.
    • Students are obedient and compliant.
    • Teacher is the expert.
    • The Teachers voice is heard from the most during the class.
      Students are unconfident in making choices, or working in ways they work best.
      There are no supports on hand (visuals, tactile, etc.)
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  • children play with their colorful ripped paper collage puppet heads in the air.


    A classroom where students feel empowered could look like:

    • Students spend lots of time in circles or small groups.
    • There are multiple ways for students to express their knowledge – verbal, visually, kinesthetically, written etc
    • Students choose how they are learning, and have a say in what they are learning.
    • There are conversations, mixed noise levels, and thoughtful check-ins with students about the noise.
    • Students have flexible seating options, desks, floor, wobble stools, and standing.
    • Feedback is provided by peers, teachers and self.
    • Teachers ask lots of questions.
    • There is a sense of community.
    • Lots of reflection is occurring.
    • There are accessible tools, and supports on hand.
    • Students speak up for themselves and others.
    • Class is full of joy!

Creating a Liberated Classroom Resources

This work will require ongoing maintenance & hygiene. So below are some support tools and a checklist for you to use to assess your work & progress.

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    Assest Based Language & Glossaries

    Are there vocabulary terms that are unfamiliar? Do you have questions about what language you should be using. Check out this glossary resource.

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    Ongoing Learning

    This work is built upon the work of many others before us. To deepen your understanding and to continue to learn here are some books and articles we recommend.

    If you have a recommendation share it and we’ll add it!

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    Assest Based Approaches

    ArtsConnection’s asset-based approach focuses teaching and learning through the arts on the strengths of a student as the foundation for growth, defined by their aspirations and contributions.  We should always aim to provide culturally sustaining liberated learning environments.

    5 Guidelines for Conscientious Communication  

    • Talk about policies and solutions in realistic and accurate ways that spur social justice.
    • Lift up unity, participation and cooperation over division, extreme individualism, compliance, and competition.
    • Reinforce prosperity over scarcity.
    • Accurately and respectfully talk about people’s identities, situations, and roles in society.
    • Retire outdated and problematic phrases and metaphors.