Imagine coming into an open art studio and seeing young artists in various states of absorption and focus. In one corner you see a student with headphones on working meticulously on the details of her painting, never even acknowledging your presence. Opposite her are a group of students debating passionately about how to combine their drawings together into a cohesive composition. Across from them are a two best friends giggling at the hilarious diptych they are envisioning. A student darts across your frame to help another student mix the perfect shade of blue for painting sea foam. Another is looking frustrated and turning the page in her sketchbook to start anew. You see me, a patient figure with a paint-splattered apron, squatting to be at eye-level with a student, asking open ended questions to help her along the creative process. After some time, the students are asked to stop what they are doing and to pin their work up on the wall. Some are reluctant at first. “I’m not finished”, one says. “It’s perfectly fine. This is an in-progress critique. Don’t be shy”, I answer. Observations are made, pointers shared, suggestions given, and plans made. The students start to clean but one reverts right back to position, the girl with the headphones. She works through the five minute warning and is cajoled to leave on time for her next class.
What I’ve come to know about teaching and learning is that building and maintaining trust with your students is key. To earn trust one must first know oneself and be authentic. Every year I further my capacity to know myself and to as a result to be compassionate towards myself, my students, and colleagues. I know what my strengths are, where I can improve and I stand strong in what I know—which is the value of making art. I teach art because I believe it can provide joy and solace for every human being. In my own classroom, all students are treated as artists. I meet each individual “where (s)he is” and help her to identify, articulate, and realize her own artistic passions, preferences, and goals. I teach technique by scaffolding exploratory activities; I often find myself encouraging students to slow down. In an ideal studio session, students direct their own learning, whether by working independently, collaborating, supporting peers, or demonstrating leadership. In my classroom, as in the words of artist and educator, Sister Corita Kent, “Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make”. Above all, I seek to inspire young people to savor the rewards inherent in the processes of making art. When my students express gratitude for my patience, openness, supportiveness, and positivity, when they show pride in their work, I know I have achieved my most important goals as a teacher.