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Meet Rachelle Archer

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachelle Archer.

Rachelle, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
For starters, I had a very unusual childhood. Growing up in a missionary family–where service, community, and creativity were core values–gave me a unique worldview that has served me well in my career. After living in Europe for most of my formative years, I found myself in San Diego at age 19, wondering what to do with my life. Eventually, a call to service led me to the SDSU School of Social Work in the mid-’90s, where an internship at the Storefront shelter for teens introduced me to a population I fell in love with and that I would spend the next 25 years serving: unhoused youth.

I quickly developed a reputation for engaging youth meaningfully through creative expression. I was invited to join a small team of educators and concerned community members to start what is now known as the Monarch School, nationally recognized today as a model for educating youth impacted by homelessness. This powerful public-private partnership brought the non-profit, the Monarch School Project, and the San Diego County Office of Education together to address the academic, social-emotional, and independent living needs of youth and families coping with chronic poverty and homelessness. My task in the early 2000s was to spearhead all of the youth development programming that supplemented the academics offered by the county: after school care, arts enrichment, mentor and volunteer programs, and social-emotional supports.

The arts repeatedly emerged as a potent, transformative force to create safe, healing, and empowering spaces for our students. It gave them a voice, a respite from the dehumanizing experiences of life on the streets, and helped them to redefine themselves as creators with something to contribute rather than victims needing a handout. I pursued a master’s degree in Expressive Arts Therapy, Education & Coaching through the Expressive Arts Institute and the European Graduate School, and started Monarch’s Therapeutic Arts program. For 13 years, I oversaw individual, group, and in-class arts-based therapeutic supports focused on building community and social-emotional wellness, eventually building a team of practitioners and interns that served hundreds of youth and families l each year.

After working in that high-trauma setting for over 15 years, I began to notice the shadows of educator burnout and compassion fatigue hanging heavily over me. My colleagues next to me in the trenches were feeling it, too. Like most, I had also faced a number of personal struggles during my years there. Coping with the stress of a divorce and being a single mom to a young child while confronting tremendous suffering day in and day out in my work life wasn’t easy. I knew something had to give and devoted myself to studying trauma-informed, strength-based, and restorative practices that would help us serve our youth more effectively and more sustainably for our team. I shifted my focus from serving youth to supporting staff and began to offer training as well as personal and professional development to the adults working with youth on campus. It worked! Our teams developed safe places to share their challenges, build relationships with colleagues, and learn best practices. We saw great results from these opportunities to practice self-care, leadership, and many of the social-emotional skills we were teaching our students. Our data showed great results for students as well.

The inspiration that followed that shift in my work led me to start my own business, “Artful Leadership, Coaching & Consulting”, where my experience in education, healing, and the arts now come together to support educators to take good care of themselves and the communities they lead–a skill set that has become particularly relevant in the strange predicament covid-19 has created for our field.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It certainly hasn’t been a smooth road! I left my job at the Monarch School to devote myself fully to this business just before the pandemic hit, so you can imagine it was a wild time to hang up my shingle as an educational consultant, only to discover soon after that all schools and organizations serving youth were shutting down until further notice. Like many of you, it took me a while to get my bearings, pivot to working at home on-line, and to assess the crisis in education and identify where my skills and expertise might be needed.

Shortly thereafter, the social justice uprising erupted and the educational leaders I support were once more rocked by profound and urgent questions about how to meaningfully address the systemic racism and inequities impacting our youth and the adults who serve them all of which were only exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. These back-to-back crises also begged the question, “How do we take good care of educators?” as they now faced, not just one, but two pandemics simultaneously in their virtual classrooms.

These challenges have created an opportunity for me to share my message. As schools and youth development organizations have begun to grapple with the collective trauma that impacts all of us at this time, the importance of building safe and inclusive on-line communities, teaching and modeling social-emotional wellbeing, and practicing radical self-care are emerging as major themes in our field. I’m uniquely poised to help schools and organizations to learn about these things and put them into practice.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
Artful Leadership Coaching & Consulting supports educational leaders, schools, and community-based organizations to build safe and inclusive communities so that students and staff can flourish socially and emotionally and achieve their goals together. I focus on three specific areas:

  • Community building for students and staff
  • Social-emotional learning and wellness for students and staff
  • Staff development: fostering personal and professional growth, shared learning spaces, and leadership

My background in expressive arts therapy with vulnerable youth populations has made me a great fit to support the field of creative youth development: arts-based programming that focuses on racial equity, social justice, youth voice and leadership, and collective action.

As an educational coach and consultant, I am grounded in many years of working in tough educational settings. That lived experience adds to my credibility as well as the sensitivity I bring to the folks I support. I specialize in experiential learning, informed by restorative, strength-based, trauma-informed, and arts-based approaches. My training in using the arts and play to engage the imagination, senses, and creativity in service of growth, healing, learning, and collaboration allows me to connect people in extraordinary ways. I facilitate meaningful experiences that engage the body and enliven the senses, create a sense of optimism, psychological safety, and authentic expression that are often missing from soulless professional development spaces–especially on-line.

The thing I am most proud of right now is that educators leaving my zoom calls–whether they’re focused on self-care, training, or leadership development–regularly report that the meetings I host are their favorite. I help them shift from feeling depleted to nourished, from isolated to connected, and from demoralized to inspired and motivated for the work that matters most to them!

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
One of my favorite childhood memories is spending summers in the beautiful Gothic city of Ghent, Belgium. The Ghent Festival, a music and culture fest, has taken place there every July since the 1800s. The youth ministry my family was involved in had a practice of engaging everyday people through street performances. These shows sparked conversations between the missionaries and audience members about their lives, their needs and connected them to caring communities of faith.

For a few summers, my father’s team decided to do some outreach in the community by participating in the Ghent Festival. We sang, danced, and… performed clown acts! Yep! I was in clown acts on city squares and street corners as a 9-year-old American girl in Belgium! Our charming performances spread positive messages about love, loss, pain, forgiveness, and redemption and gathered a crowd to listen to my father and his team sing and preach.

I vividly recall my brother and I creating our skits, giggling as we put on our goofy costumes and painted our faces, bumped through the colorfully decorated cobblestone streets in our classic mini cooper, jumping out of it as mom slammed on the breaks at the performance spot, while locals eyed us curiously. She swelled with glee as crowds gathered to watch us play. It was a powerful feeling for me as a child to be able to wow the audience and move frowns and smiles across their faces with our silly, heartwarming show! I’m so grateful for those extraordinary experiences that paved the way for me to use the power of the arts to heal, connect, and teach today.

Pricing:

  • Training & Professional Development for CBO’s and schools, starting at $300
  • Leadership Coaching $150/hour; 3 & 6 month packages, starting at $1297
  • Educational Consulting $ 150/hour
  • Empowered Educators Collective: $97/month

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Beto Soto
Wolfgang Hastert
Rachelle Archer

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