Education is completely dependent on relationships. Developing strong connections with students can make authentic learning a more attainable goal. When I was younger and began teaching, I adopted a more authoritarian approach. I was much more rigid and inflexible than I am now. As I have matured and gained meaningful classroom experience, I have realized that, especially in the art room, students do not benefit from that approach as much as alternative methods. I began to understand that these students just want to know that someone cares for them and honestly believes in them. Although I did care and believe in the students, I knew that I wasn’t effective in communicating this to the students. Now I go out of my way to compliment and encourage students. I will send them a brief email, or catch them in the hall and tell them how proud I am of their accomplishments. I took and continue to take the steps to authentically invest in my students.
But my relational approach is not the only thing that has changed. My first few years were much in alignment with the outdated art educational stylings of my own secondary art education. Slowly, at first, I began to evolve my teaching styles and lesson design. Through much research, collaboration with other arts educators, and continuing education, I became more in tune with contemporary methods and goals. My curriculum and the projects within it are constantly evolving to meet the needs of the students in a 21st Century educational model. My lessons build from technical skill building to challenge-based assignments that allow the students to stretch and explore their own creativity while implementing the techniques they have learned. These assignments usually pair the development of artistic techniques with themes expanding on Ernest Boyer’s concepts of “Enduring Ideas.” The idea is that as they students are learning appropriate skill sets. The students gain insight on how to use visual language to communicate. I employ many methods of critique and reflection to help the students gain self-awareness of their artistic and idealistic interests. These notions, combined with insight into art history, help students of all ages realize the Studio Habits of Mind as laid out by Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, et al. To give students the technical prowess to execute a visually successful artwork is an important part of art education, but it is only a piece of a well-rounded learning experience. Students need to know how to use the skills they learn to fully harness the power of art.