Workshop 1
Principles of Artful Teaching

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Homework (On Your Own)

Read the following passages about five characteristics of art and artists that can be applied to teaching. Then, in your journal, rate yourself twice on each characteristic, once as an artist, and once as a teacher. For example, for the characteristic of creativity, first rate your creativity as an artist — i.e., a practitioner of visual art, dance, music, or theatre — from 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest and 5 the highest). Then rate your creativity as a teacher. When you are done, look over your ratings. Which area would you most like to work on and improve as a teacher? Why?

Teaching As Art

Artists are fully engaged and committed to purpose. In the case of teachers, the engagement and commitment are to learning. ”To facilitate student learning artistically you must be a student yourself, fully engaged and committed to learning, actively seeking new ways to understand your discipline and how your students learn, gaining insights and nuances from the material, from the students’ interpretations, and from connecting students and material.”

Artfulness embodies art and science. For teachers this means drawing on the intrinsic link between art and science to enhance learning outcomes. Painters’, sculptors’, and printmakers’ success depends on a full understanding of the chemical properties of the materials they use. Teaching becomes artistic when we understand in a detailed and scientific way how it affects learning.

Art requires creativity. Artful teaching is not craft; it is more than the skillful application of teaching techniques. The artful teacher is always trying new materials and new approaches to fit the needs and interests of the specific learner at hand, never feeling that the ’perfect material’ or the ’perfect approach’ has been found. The teacher’s world is dynamic, filled with uncertainty and challenge, and teaching strategies are guided by a compass, not a road map. Artful teachers have the ability to be spontaneous and to improvise: to seize the moment and make it into something larger and more compelling.

Artists grow and stay inspired through play, experimentation, and practice. When unexpected things occur they are embraced by artists as valuable opportunities to learn, the specks of irritant or dust that lead to pearls. Likewise, teachers must draw on their ability to always remain learners. In serious and intense academic environments, it’s hard to be "playful," but the notion of having fun is a way of taking ourselves less seriously, and from that perspective we often see and understand things more clearly. This orientation can give us the space we need to experiment and to fail.

Finally, there is between artists and their material a special relationship. With teachers, the materials are our students and the special relationship is the need we have to create communities of learners. We can develop these strong relationships with and between students in the content materials through which we seek to engage them. We can nurture it by setting and keeping a reasonable pace. We can further promote it by setting the tone, which involves everything from the configuration of the classroom space to the way people are included in the unfolding action.

As its core, artful teaching focuses on learning — learning for teachers and learning for our students. It means being involved in a dance in which we may lead in the beginning, but then we let our partners provide movement and energy and direction. Artful teaching is helping self and students become artful learners, and there are as many paths to do this as there are teachers who are trying. Artful teaching lies in liberating the gifts that students and teachers bring to the classroom.

Adapted from Weimer, Maryellen, "Teaching As Art" in The Teaching Professor, Vol. 12, No.3, March 1998. Reference: Bickford, Deborah J., and Van Vleck, James. "Reflections on artful teaching." Journal of Management Education, Vol. 21, No. 4, 448-72 (1997).