Monday, March 31, 2014

6 Ways to Teach Like an Artist


From now until December 12, 2015, you can get a free copy of my Teaching Like an Artist reflection journal. I'm giving away two free paperback editions too. Click here for information.

Note from 3-31-2014:  I wrote this post at the end of summer in 2013 on my other blog.  

I've been developing the idea both in writing and by trying to live it out.  After three months of that, I wrote a related article here:  Five Benefits of Teaching Like an Artist

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge." -Albert Einstein

"I am an artist....  I am here to live out loud."
 -Emile Zola

We've probably all seen the websites and books that encourage us to teach like different things--pirates, rockstars, champions.  I didn't search long and hard, but I imagine there are probably lists out there already about teaching like an artist.  In one way or another, we're probably saying the same things.

I like the idea of teaching like an artist, though, because it allows for passion, personality and maybe even some insanity.

Artists dream and bring the dreams to life.

It's fun to hang out with artists.  They can straddle the line between deep insight and admiring things that just look, sound, taste or feel good for reasons they don't care to figure out.  They show us another angle we wouldn't have seen on our own.  

Our students would have a great time hanging out with people like that day after day.

To me, art is love expressed freely.  It might involve a lot of other emotions too, but behind it all there is love for something.  Art is something powerful + you, the artist.  And what comes out is unique.  Artists know how to capitalize on that uniqueness and make the world a better, more beautiful place because of their work.

Almost everyone falls in love with another person.  We go through the stages like most people and similar events happen in all the stories.  But artists put those things in words, songs, pictures or other creative works in ways that inspire, connect and encourage those who experience the art.  Artists remind us we're not alone, that there's something worth getting out of bed for and that at times life will demand everything you can possibly give.

School needs more of these people!

I could go on, but for now, here's the list:

6 Ways to Teach Like an Artist

1)  Think of a new way.
Make a habit of putting a new spin on something you always do.  Give it a new name, retype the version you've used for a decade or use some other tool to present it.  Don't change it for change sake, but make it your own.

Artists let personality and talent shine through what they do, but when we have kids showing up at the door every morning we forget to let that happen.  Purposely put your touch--some twist no one else you know would come up with--on something new each week.  If you can sing a little, sing more.  Draw?  Draw more.  Write poems.  It will be worth the extra couple hours on a weekend.

2)  Share your work.
This might be the best way to stay inspired and inspire others. It is certainly easier than ever to share your best work now, yet I'm continually amazed at how few teachers do so.  Artists know it is rewarding to see how far their ideas go.  Whether it's a blog, website or Pinterest, start an account and start sharing.  The joy of finding that someone else, possibly on the other side of the planet, used your work with her students will add significance to your hard work.

3)  Notice what you love and love it out loud.  
Students need to see more adults who are passionate about something.  I go from class to class in my district working with many teachers and too often the only real life examples I hear are related to jobs and making money.  Too often it's in the language of the mass market and commercials.  No wonder the kids are bored.

Life is filled with exciting opportunities to learn, grow personally, meet deep needs and leave a mark.  There are reasons to be so grateful you can't help but tell about it.  Do your students know what you're passionate about and thankful for?  Do they know why you decided to be a teacher?  Are these things expressed in ways that only you can?  

This isn't necessarily to make them love those things too, but it can show them what passion and joy for living look like.

4)  Let yourself feel and express the negative emotions too.
Let's face it, artists can be troubled people.  We know the stories, but chances are if you've made any serious attempt to be an artist of some sort you've felt it yourself.

It is frustrating to care so much and have your hopes dashed.  It might have some benefits to always see what others don't notice, but sometimes it can feel like you're the only one one the planet dealing with reality.

We can either avoid the things that cause the negative emotions or we can accept them as part of the work.  I've dealt with this personally for my entire career in the schools, but I'm trying to be brief.  When it's all said and done, here's what I've got: 

The heart that makes great art is also more sensitive to the pain of real life, so expect it to hurt.  Just keep doing the work because the only alternative is to stop really living. 

5)  Risk failure.
Seth Godin convinced me of the importance of this in The Icarus Deception.  In fact, he said if there isn't risk, it isn't art.  As with #4 above, fear of failure will always come along if you're working like an artist.  Expect it and live with it.

The best teachers I know are the ones who give everything knowing very well it won't always work.  They might look stupid for a few minutes when the new technology isn't coming through.  They might waste hours planning a lesson that is ruined by a snowday and some students in rotten moods.  They might have to reteach another lesson because the video they made didn't really do the trick.

This isn't a suggestion to be completely stupid.  Know the cost and proceed like a professional who does have bills to pay.  

It won't hurt to loosen up though.  Face the fear of failure and press on.  You'll learn some of your best lessons when you realize you survived the awkward moments.

6)  Tell the story in your way.
I know you'll be busy if you're teaching like an artist, but be sure pay attention to what's going on.  Tell that story.  First of all, tell it to yourself in a journal.  Record what you're learning.  I don't care if it's a sticky note or an email to yourself, don't let the moments slip by.  Keep track of them and polish them later if you find a reason to show them off.

But definitely show some of them off.  Tell the stories to colleagues and tell some to the world.  This goes along with sharing your work, because the story itself is art, but by the story I also mean the big picture.

It's not just about the art you made, but it's how it was accepted.  What did the students learn?  What did you learn?  What did you notice that everyone else should pay attention to?

Obviously you could write these things in a blog or maybe you'd even write a book over the summer.  It's all easier than ever.  But don't limit it to written narratives of what happened.  You could also write a poem, a song or a video (or a video with your poem turned into a song) inspired by what you learned.  Find a creative way to present it.  Call it an example for a student project or show it off at parent night.  

Just keep reminding everyone that it's worth doing the work.  


The world needs what only you can do.  

Dream big,

work hard 

and do it with passion.

What would you add to the list?


Note:  I already mentioned Seth Godin's book The Icarus Deception   I also want to point out that his book Poke the Box had a huge impact on me.  Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon also influenced how I view my work, which in turn inspired much of this article.  All the books are pretty quick reads, so check them out at a library or buy a used copy on Amazon.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post - I agree with all of these and enjoyed the refresher!

    ReplyDelete