Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Summer Institute Presenter: Heather vonOesen Dean

By Shawn Bush, Program Manager

Teacher work together in the Arts Integrated Curriculum Rochelle Lee Teacher Award workshop led by Heather von Oesen Dean.


Heather vonOesen Dean is the President and Owner of Creative Across the Curriculum, LLC and a former Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardee.  Through Creative Across the Curriculum, Heather helps educators  integrate a creative arts curriculum into their content area instruction.  Heather believes that, “arts integration increases rigor by fostering a culture for creative application  and analysis, innovation, divergent and convergent thinking, collaboration, and communication.”  Heather facilitated a workshop entitled, Arts Integrated Curriculum Design (Intro) for Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees during this past summer institute.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career as an educator?

I have wanted to be a teacher since the third grade. In high school, I began teaching toddlers how to swim, and was hooked from there on out.

What was the focus of your workshop: Arts Integrated Curriculum Design (Intro)? 

The focuses of the workshop were to use arts integrated curriculum design to analyze the quality of content curriculum, and to use arts integrated curriculum to increase creativity, rigor, and meaning into the content curriculum.

What is a takeaway(or takeaways) from your RLTA workshop that you would like to share with educators who were unable to attend?

The Kennedy Center’s definition of Arts Integration is “an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form.” Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both. I support content area teachers to design and implement this type of high quality arts integrated curriculum. My work guides teachers and students to plan and create meaningful integrated products, increases rigor in the content area for all students, supports the growth mindset, and develops valuable communication skills.

Why do you feel it is important to develop students’ passion for reading?

I work with many teachers who are bogged down by all of the TO DO’s that seem to be coming down the pipeline, and at times, they forget to focus on the big picture goals. Developing a passion for reading is one of those big picture goals that can very easily be lost in the day to day demands. Students need the knowledge and skills to read a text; they also need the knowledge and skills to invest in the text, which is where I believe the passion for reading is housed. If the curriculum does not guide the teacher and student to develop passion, then it is sufficiently lacking quality, rigor, and sustenance.

What is one book that you would recommend to others?

One of my favorite books to read with my students is The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis. I was first introduced to this book through the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award and have integrated it during our American Civics Unit. It is a rich novel, with two sequels, that tackles important topics such as human rights, systems of government, civil rights, and gender inequality. It also imparts a valuable human voice to the struggles of people around the world, which supports my students in developing habits of empathy, compassion, and understanding. I was also fortunate enough to meet Ms. Ellis when she came to speak to Rochelle Lee Awardees and their students.