Artist. Researcher. Teacher
I was chatting with a colleague earlier this month and expressed disappointment in having a conference proposal rejected. To my credit, there were 15,000 proposals submitted so the likelihood of getting accepted on my first try was slim. But still... Who enjoys being rejected? My colleague carefully listened and then, rather than walking off and wishing me well... he offered to listen to my writing and research interests. We immediately set a date and time for him to begin mentoring me. This generous offer touched my heart and immediately prompted me to engage in several hours of organization and prioritizing. It felt good to have someone at my workplace show interest in my scholarly development and in promoting my scholarly success. You know... in education we work hard to help the novice, but how do we help those of us with 30+ years of experience? If we want to promote lifelong learning then it makes sense that learners need guidance, support, and mentorship at multiple points along the educational career path.
This experience has me wondering: How can leaders in education better work to mentor mid and late career professionals? I don't have the answer, but the question surely seems worth pursuing.
I recently listened to Malcolm Gladwell's audio book, Talking to Strangers thinking that he would give me strategies for improving this skill. Instead, Gladwell gives the reader/listener insight into why we humans get it all wrong when talking to strangers. His work has serious implications for teachers.
Default to Truth: It's easy to say that we will treat all students with dignity and respect, yet when faced with a challenge Gladwell argues that we default to our perception of the truth. If this is so, then teachers need to take a hard look at their perceptions of children. If they think a child cannot perform based upon race, socio-economic status, or gender, then eventually this perceived "truth" will surface.
People's actions and words speak for themselves, right? Gladwell calls this impulse transparency claiming that we believe that the actions and speech of others is transparent to us. This is not the case. Picture the teen who sits back in their chair, legs stretched out, hood pulled up over their head. It's easy to assume that this student is disinterested or disengaged from learning. In actuality, we don't have any idea what this teen is thinking. By assuming the teen to be disengaged it would then be easy for a teacher to default to truth and begin treating the teen in a hostile or confrontational manner.
I encourage teachers to check, and if needed, reset their default beliefs about children. Here are two truths I was taught as a young teacher that have served me well:
Each summer I take time to travel back to my birthplace to reconnect with my roots. While I appreciate the edginess and relevance of most contemporary art, I find myself most soothed and inspired by landscape painting. I’m pretty sure it’s because my DNA is connected to landscapes such as this one photographed while on the scenic highway in Pocahontas County, WV. These trips remind me that while we may educate to expand students’ appreciation and knowledge in the arts, that what brings each individual meaning is going to widely differ.
I look forward to the start of a new semester and hope that all of my art education students and colleagues have an enjoyable, inspiring, and professionally productive school year. May you each find meaning in the work accomplished together.
Summer is the perfect time to sit outside enjoying the sounds of nature while also reading a good book. This week I finished reading Schools on Trial by Nikhil Goyal (2016). The title is a bit misleading suggesting that the author is going to make recommendations on how to improve education. Instead Goyal makes a strong case for why we in education need to stop privileging the wealthy and make innovative educational approaches accessible to all learners, particularly the poor. Claiming that "non-creative behavior is learned" (p. 115) Goyal presents anecdotal evidence to support seeing teaching and learning through a more liberating and democratic lens. Readers focused on education reform will be reminded of the history of compulsory education and will be introduced to school-wide initiatives worthy of 21st Century consideration.
Living as an artist/researcher/teacher affords me the opportunity to work with creative artists, scholars, and teachers residing in the state of Michigan, the United States, and throughout the world. This site is dedicated to cultivating the energies created through these contacts and collaborations.