Category Archives: Faculty

Costa Rica – Final Reflection

By Pacho Gutierrez ‘77

Twenty-three years ago I led the first GS student trip to Costa Rica, a country that inspired me not only for its natural richness, but also for its dedication to conservation, sustainability, peace and social justice, among other things.  This was my 12th time taking students to this magnificent country.  As always, I left it refreshed and inspired.

Almost a quarter of a century will bring great change to any country, but it seems to be magnified in Costa Rica since it used to be so pristine.  Its population has grown by 47 percent between 1994 and 2017.  As Ticos gain in affluence, they buy more vehicles, build more roads, and construct more businesses.  This become greatly apparent as one travels the roads, there is construction everywhere.  The modern world is taking over, even a country where simplicity and unhurried lifestyle has been the way of life.

Costa Rica is doing its best to be a world leader in many fronts.  For example, and as was mentioned in the blogs, it was the first nation to reach 100 percent renewable electricity production in 2015, making it a leader in energy sustainability.  Almost one third of its territory is protected in some form or another from development or exploitation.  Ninety seven percent of its population has access to electricity and potable water. Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America. It enforces conservation laws better than most other Latin American countries.  It provides health services better than most developing countries.  It has low crime and poverty rates.

Progress continues to spread over the planet.  Modern conveniences and amenities are encroaching the Costa Rican countryside.  For example, it used to be there was little or no cell service in rural areas, now it seems like there is WiFi connectivity in every room in every lodge, no matter how remote (Tortuguero).  Those eco-tourists demand their connectivity!

Ticos continue to soldier on with their respect for nature, for wildlife and for each other.  Animals move about unafraid or unconcerned with humans.  It’s like what happens with the GS squirrels, they are emboldened by the way they are left free to roam.

Ticos are humble people with a strong sense of family and solidarity with their neighbors, something that really struck a chord with our students.  The respect and cohesiveness they show with one another is refreshing and awe inspiring.  Sure, they have problems like everyone else, but they have a tranquility about them that is unique.

Ticos say Pura Vida! (literally: Pure Life) for everything: as a greeting, as a response, as an expression, as an invitation to be positive and jovial.  Its contagious, one can’t help to be happy around Ticos.  Pura Vida all around!

I hope they never lose their joy to live their meaningful lives!

 

 

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Costa Rica

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by Kevin

There is always something to be learned.  Isn’t that what we tell our students?  As adults and teachers we can generally anticipate their true needs as well as their desires.  Your children need to eat!  They desire connection to social media.  They need to set daily wake-up alarms.  Their desire is that we rouse them from their slumber in time to make it to breakfast.  Our students have been afforded the luxury of doing service in a country in which evaluating what is needed, verses what is desired, is a repeated thread in the fabric of the Tico’s way of life.

Today, after checking out of our tourist lodge, we visited an organic pineapple farm.  I was surprised to learn that I was woefully deficient in the actual facts involving the cultivation, organic needs, and eventual selection of the pineapples we purchase in the super market.  Four perfect pineapples were sacrificed to sate our desire for knowledge of the MD2 golden pineapple (Ananas Comosus) but the goal was accomplished.  Your children are now experts in how to pick the perfect pineapple and how to eat it!  This was a delicious learning experience.

I had the pleasure of delivering your children to their overnight homestays in San Isidro.  I hope that you will not think me unkind in the concealed joy that I took at observing them make their personal introductions to their families.  Moments later, as the adults were shaking hands with their overnight parents, you could see the uncertainty in their eyes and feel the desire, from most, to be spared this new experience.  For me, this was great theatre!  They will rarely be more present and truthful than in those moments.

What I relish in these closing hours of service are their final reflections.  As a group, they have done a marvelous job of bonding.  The overnight homestay visits touched each of your children in unique ways.  They understand now that they needed the visit to their rural families.  Families that have built their humble homes, from foundation to roof, with their own hands.  The pictures that we included in our blogs captured only the surface of a few moments that your child tasted, breathed and prayed their way through.  The changes were subtle.  They happened when they realized they were sleeping comfortably under three walls and an aluminum roof.  It happened as they were served freshly ground coffee dripping from a cloth filter with steamed milk.  It happened as they realized that Tico’s have opened their homes and way of life to the many and varied animals and plants that are native to Costa Rica.  Most noticed the way people in the community flow from house to house and the way Ticos focus on their families. Find the time to really listen to what your children have experienced.  When was the last time you were awakened by Howler monkeys, parrots, or a chorus of roosters on a fine weekday morning?  There have been so many new tastes, sounds and sights to compare and contrast.  In these closing hours before they return home to summer reading, chores, beaches, relatives and college visits, we will task them one last time to share and reflect on what they have lived with the hope that you will be the recipient of their trials and triumphs.

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Bonaire Day 5

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by Chris Odom

The Bonaire Service Trip is going amazingly well, and our group is comprised of a bunch of resilient, hardworking, malleable, and happy people.  The scuba-training portion of the trip concluded two days ago, and already we have conducted one reef clean-up dive, one fish identification survey dive, and two night dives (which is practically unheard of from novice divers.)  The fish ID survey benefits scientific researchers who monitor coral reef health, and our night dive tonight was to observe the rarely seen bioluminescent mating ritual of the ostracod crustaceans.  Amazing dives and amazing students!

Shortly before we arrived on Bonaire, an oil refinery in Trinidad ruptured spilling oil into the Caribbean.  The oil slick traveled over 1000 kilometers and is now washing ashore on the east coast of Bonaire.  Tomorrow our group will wake up early to travel to the eastern side of the island to help with the clean-up efforts.  It has to be early before the heat of the day makes the work unbearable and the oil too soft to handle.  After we return, we will head to Jong Bonaire, a children’s after school program for Bonairian youth, similar to the Boys and Girls Club in the US, to begin our service there.

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John Streetz: Teacher, Mentor, and Friend

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Friends,

I am deeply sorry to share the news that John Streetz, former George School teacher, coach, and a most beloved and devoted friend of the community, passed away on Saturday, March 18, 2017 in Oakland, CA.

George School’s first African-American teacher, John was hired in 1950 by Head of School Dick McFeely to teach Chemistry. Over the next sixteen years, John also coached track and cross-country and lived in Orton Dormitory with his family. He had a profound and lasting effect on his students, his colleagues, and the school; he was a legend in his own time.

In addition to his legacy within each of us who knew him, John’s presence will continue to be felt on campus every day. In 2009, several of John’s former students funded the construction of a new faculty home on campus, Streetz House. John and his late wife Jackie were the class sponsors for the Class of 1961 which, on the occasion of their 50th reunion, presented George School with a wonderful gift to the endowment, The John and Jackie Streetz Scholarship Fund. These generous gifts are fitting tributes to John that will support and nurture George School students and faculty for years to come.

I want to share with you an excerpt from the email sent earlier this week by Dick Brown to his 1961 classmates:

We have lost an exceptional person, a man who inspired us, comforted us, and often made us laugh. John was the heart and soul of our class inspiring us with his own accomplishments, challenging us with his intelligence, delighting us with his humor, and always taking pride in our accomplishments. We encourage all classmates to attend the memorial service when it is scheduled. 

With apologies to Eleanor Hoyle:  Quos valde amas numquam vere moriuntur … those who we love deeply never truly die.

As of this writing, there is not yet a date for a memorial service, but we will post new information on this page as it becomes available.

Please join me in holding John’s daughter Pamela ’70 and their family in the Light. I hope that you will share your remembrances and words of comfort here—in this community space dedicated to John Streetz and his remarkable life.

Karen Hallowell

April 20, 2017 editors note:  News of the death of John Streetz in March has left many in the extended George School family mourning the loss of our beloved teacher, coach, colleague, and friend. We will gather to honor John’s memory and celebrate his life at George School on Sunday, May 21, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. in the meetinghouse. All are welcome.

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Sunday in the park with Debbie

by Debbie DiMicco 

Actually it was not in the park, but back in Alsace on a particularly lovely Sunday.  On Sundays in Alsace, everything is closed (which is not the case in the rest of France, but Alsace is a bit “particular” in that way).  It is a day off for most people, and, as the stepson of my host Céline explained to me, Sunday is a day when you do not look at your watch.

Nancy and I were invited to a noon meal at Virginie’s house (Virginie is one of the trip leaders, along with my host Céline Peronet who will be accompanying the group when they arrive at the end of March).  It was a delightful reunion of former trip leaders, many of whom were hosted by Nancy or me on past trips.  We met up with Alain Collange, a now retired but long-time leader of the trip, former GS French teacher and trip leader, Claudie Fischer, past trip leaders Christine Garaud and Benedicte Zirnheld.  We caught up with Hélène Wicquart, who accompanied the exchange back in the 70’s when the group visited GS in August…

After a week of rain, wind, clouds and cold, it was finally sunny.  We took advantage of the beau temps on Virginie’s patio basking in some much desired sunshine and meeting up with old friends and veterans of this storied exchange.

After this day of “repos” the students will return tomorrow to their “stages” for the remainder of the week.

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March 3

After our wake-up call at 2:15 a.m., smooth flights at 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. and a warm reception at the Managua airport where the 11th grade class met us with their teachers, we drove to the school accompanied by the students. A late lunch of chicken, salad, rice, and fries was awaiting us. Everyone ate well! Soon after, we were entertained by dancers and a poetry reading as we took in the whole scene. Such excitement! The students in pairs went into the older students’ classrooms and helped the teachers with their lessons. By 6:00 p.m., one by one, families came by to pick up their GS student. It was lovely to see them meet. We hope you like the photos!

Starting tomorrow, the students will write the blog entries. They are doing fine; their Spanish is really quite impressive as they dive into their first evening of immersion. We’re heading to bed now and hope that they are too. Tomorrow, we will visit Managua.

Tom and Cheri

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Nicaragua Service-Learning Trip Blog

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Feb. 28, 2017

Welcome to our Nicaragua Service-Learning Trip Blog! We have a fantastic group of eight juniors, bursting with energy and excitement for all that awaits them in Managua, Nicaragua. They are Niccolo, Alex F. (alias “Alejandro”), Alex C., Phil, Greg, Maia, Tali, and Alyssa. Please come to this site daily to see what we are doing and how we are feeling. Participants will make daily entries along with as many photos as we can take!

Packing Day

This afternoon, as a welcome break from their fourth final exam, our group came together to sort all the incredible donations that they had collected. School supplies, toys, games, personal products, clothes, shoes, dental supplies, and more were spread all over the very classroom where many of them have spent endless hours practicing their Spanish. It was a lovely sight to see our kids get to work. What a challenge fitting everything into the donation suitcases! Many thanks already to them, to you, to your friends and family for all you have helped make happen. The donated suitcases, monetary contributions, luggage donation fees, and most of all, your SUPPORT…

When we post our next blog, we will be in the hotel at the airport, or maybe, we will already be with our host families getting to know everyone. Stay tuned and feel free to sign in and respond to any posts. The kids love it. Soon after we land in Managua, you will be notified of our safe arrival. Thank you again for all the sacrifices you have made to allow your child (children!) to be with us. We are honored to share this experience with them.

Tom and Cheri

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Religion or Religions Department?

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by Tom Hoopes ’83 Head of Religions Department, Assistant Dean, Coach

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked this famous rhetorical question, and school children for generations have used it as a foil for considering the power and meaning of words and names.

It is a question that we in the Religions Department recently considered in a searching, deliberate process. You may have noticed in the previous sentence that I said “religions,” with an “s” rather than “religion.” If so, good catch. You might be wondering, “what’s the difference?” I am so glad you asked! Allow me to tell a story…

Some years ago I found myself in a hospital bed, having experienced a grave illness which was not diagnosed at first. (They not-so-jokingly called me “the House patient,” referring to Dr. House on TV, who takes the presumably unsolvable cases.) I felt deep, abiding gratitude for the care I was receiving from myriad professionals, including many doctors and nurses as well as the people who took my temperature and blood pressure and changed my IV tubes, the people who brought me food and those who changed my bedding. I was there for two weeks, so people came and went with regularity.

People were consistently friendly to me, and engaged me in light conversation. I decided this was the perfect opportunity for an experiment! Usually the question would come up, “what do you do?” I noticed a pattern emerging. If I said, “I teach religion,” they would politely acknowledge my response, and then gently change the subject or fairly quickly find a way to end the conversation and get on with their work and out the door. By contrast, if I answered with, “I teach world religions,” the response, almost uniformly, sought deeper engagement. People would say, “oh, that sounds interesting, tell me more” or “World Religions was my favorite subject in college” or, “which religions?” The variety of their responses was as diverse as the people.

Given that this was a large, urban hospital, I encountered a full gamut of skin tones and people visibly presenting as members of at least four different religious denominations known to me (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu), and numerous more discovered upon further conversation.

“What is going on here?” I thought to myself. Recognizing my vulnerability to confirmation bias and selection bias, I did my best to control these in the few days I had remaining in the hospital. Upon my discharge, I have continued this experiment in multiple venues for the last several years, with complete strangers at baseball games, weddings, shopping malls, parties, and anywhere else I may go. My results in the hospital have been replicated with extraordinary fidelity.

What I have determined is that the statement, “I teach religion” was consistently getting interpreted as a statement of my efforts to promote one doctrine or dogma at the exclusion of others, and many people find it to be a conversation stopper.

So do I. And so does George School. Our work in the Religions Department is to create a safe, stimulating and open context for students from all backgrounds to try and make sense of the dizzying array of knowledge claims they encounter on a regular basis in their lives. Learning about some of the major religious traditions of the world—including their symbols, practices, rituals and representations of the divine—is a wonderful portal into the discipline of becoming a world citizen. Alongside the rest of a George School education, courses in the Religions Department help our students to learn about their world and themselves, thereby equipping them to let their lives speak in ways that engage other people.

We do not “teach religion”—we do not teach what to believe, nor the right (or wrong) way to think. Rather, we teach the beliefs and practices of many religions, and we invite critical inquiry, so that students learn to appreciate and value the wisdom traditions that have come down to us through the ages, while reconciling them with their own experiences and family traditions. I have yet to have a student in class that did not learn a substantial amount about their own family’s spiritual and religious traditions; and in most cases the experience has deepened their appreciation for those traditions. Indeed, I would claim that most of the students at George School who identify as religiously faithful see me and the other members of the Religions Department as strong allies for their journey. May that continue to be so.

When we gathered to consider possible alternate names for our department, we considered a variety of options which are visible at other high schools that include, Religious Studies; Religious Thought; Contemplative Studies; Religious Life; Quaker Studies; and various combinations of each of these. While each of these has compelling justifications, as a team we were able to reach unity in support of “Religions,” because it had the greatest virtue of accuracy and inclusiveness for almost all of our courses. This includes Theory of Knowledge, which can be taught as a cut-and-dry philosophy course, but at its best it is fundamentally aligned with the Quaker mission of George School, to seek truth and to invite students to let their lives speak. While that may not be “religion,” per se, it is certainly congruent with the overall mission of the Religions Department.

Going forward, the Religions Department looks forward to the Quaker discipline of continuing revelation. In the last several years, we have begun to offer the following courses: Religions of the African Diaspora, Feminist Theology, and Spirituality and Sustainability. I am considering augmenting my current Peace Studies class to create one more explicitly focused on spirit-led non-violent direct action. A fundamental precept of Quakerism is the importance of staying open to new Light, and keeping the dialogue going. If you have ideas for courses that you think might be offered through the Religions Department, or other thoughts about this blog post, I look forward to hearing from you.

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Blast From The Past: Gleeson Zooms In

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(Photo by John Gleeson’ 65) One of the many fruits of Coach Gleeson’s new photographic passions: “Kevin Newbert drives by Zach Treadway”

by: Sumanth Maddirala ‘18

“George School was a wonderful place to work and raise my children. I left with many fond memories. I knew, however, that sooner or later I would get restless and need a new avenue of pursuit. I have found just that.” 

During the heart of spring 2009, among the blooming flowers and towering trees surrounding the George School fields, two men walked into the batting cage of the baseball field: an avid athlete and his dedicated coach. The young man stood at the plate, ready to swing at the ball with all the power he had. The coach stood at the other end of the cage and pitched a baseball to his student, who was eager to show his coach the fruits of his efforts. The batter swung at the baseball, which soared through the air and ricocheted off the sturdy walls of the batting cage. However, within moments the ball crashed into the side of the coach’s head, causing his body to collapse onto the hard-packed dirt below. That coach was a man who had dedicated his life to his students and athletes and went by the name of “Gleese.”

Before long, “Gleese” was saved by a passing student skilled in the art of CPR, who happened to be Tyler Campellone, the son of the head grounds man Vince Campellone. With Juana Moody’s assistance, the students were able to get “Gleese” to St. Mary’s hospital, where he discovered his heart was “a ticking time bomb” with five major arteries nearly sealed. Within hours “Gleese” went through bypass surgery and within months he came back to George School. While this may have been a chance for coach “Gleese” to end his career with “a bang,” he chose to keep going and continue his teaching for as long as he could.

Forty Seven years was the number of years that George School was blessed to have the loyal alumnus, athlete, coach, and literary scholar John Gleeson ’65, as a member of its faculty. Between being the head of the English department, serving as the head coach of Varsity Football for thirty years, raising his two children, and nearly dying from a baseball crashing into his head, Gleeson has captured many memories of George School for years to come. However, Gleeson’s eyes, which have watched over the George School community and peer into the heart of its community, have decided to switch focus and look through a different lens.

That summer, John Gleeson decided that it was time to relinquish his title as “the living legend” of George School and pursue other interests. When the leaves of the George School tree turned to red and yellow this fall, Gleeson himself decided to turn a new leaf and pick up the camera. As of now, Gleeson has returned to the sports field but instead of coaching, he is capturing the action and enthusiasm of the game with his camera as full time sports photographer for Suburban One Sports, a website that covers the ins and outs of Bucks County sporting events. In addition, Gleeson also continues to write a column for The Advance of Bucks County, which allows him to continue his passion for writing outside the classroom.

Gleeson had been longing to invest time in photography, a dream he had held for thirty years. Reflecting on his new life Gleeson says, “[I]t is nice not to have classes at eight in the morning and a seemingly endless string of evening meetings.” While Gleeson is not as stretched as he was at George School and is much more independent, Gleeson is still hard at work behind the camera, stating that he is “experimenting with [his] ritzy Nikon camera and discover[ing] its full potential.” Gleeson had been longing to invest time in photography, a dream he had held for thirty years. “With his additional leisure time Gleeson says he has been able to enjoy literature that he had been longing to read, saying, “I just finished the 800-page novel Redemption by Leon Uris, a great book capturing a good deal of Irish history but far too weighty and lengthy to fit into a high school course.”

In the end, having been a member of the George School community for fifty-one years, Gleeson still holds the school in his heart and soul. Gleeson and other retirees have often, “mix[ed] reminiscences about George School with the life [they] are living outside of George School,” reflecting on what has changed in their lives. Gleeson misses his students and their sense of companionship the most saying, “I rarely talk to my subjects but just try to capture them as they perform. George School is a complex place but there is a warmth and sincerity about all the people who make up the school that is hard to find elsewhere.”

With each passing year more of George School’s most dedicated faculty and staff will retire, leaving a hole to fill in the community. However, with each passing year the community is blessed with the presence of new faculty who will go on to succeed their predecessors and ensure that the community will continue to “mind the light” the way they always have. Most importantly, though, the teachers who have dedicated their lives to George School impart a final gift to the community upon their departure: a reason for their students to succeed and become good citizens of the world. Ultimately, though Gleeson himself no longer walks across the George School campus, his legacy lives on through the students he inspired and the athletes he encouraged.

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Filed under Faculty, Faculty and Staff, Life After George School, Students, The Curious George

Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

By Amedeo Salamoni

_dsc8707-2I was asked to give a presentation on how I encourage and teach through failure. My initial reaction was not to do so. When asked what was holding me back, I thought, what if I messed it up… How ironic!

This summer at Maine College of Art, I took a class about working with new technologies and how they can be used as tools in the visual arts. What I came away with was not a vast knowledge of computer-aided design nor a comprehensive understanding of the software programs, but instead a greater empathy for what our students sometimes feel when faced with learning something new or getting outside their comfort zone.

Here I am in a class of ten art teachers from around the country, looking like a deer in headlights. While I had already incorporated 3D printing and other technologies into my classroom I wanted to learn more. But I still had a feeling of inadequacy. My instructor Bennett said something to me one day that I always tell my students. In response to a question I had about the automated CNC router and if it could be used to draw with a brush and ink he said, “I don’t know, let’s try to find a way and figure it out!”

Through a collaboration with Bennett and several other art teachers we figured out that we needed to turn off the spinning function of the router so we wouldn’t get sprayed with ink. When I wanted a variable thickness to the line Bennett suggested we alter the path speed, and so on. This is how new ideas and techniques are generated, through trial and error.

One of the things that students learn early on in my classes is that there are many ways (and techniques) to do something. I believe that the best art, design, and teaching come from people who embrace their ability to be flexible, adaptable, and vulnerable. I approach all of my work with a speculative curiosity and live for problem-solving and empirical learning. This is how I work alongside my students in class.

For those of you who have not visited the arts classes I encourage you to do so at some point, and you will see this collaboration in action, not just in my classroom but others as well.

I believe that to become proficient at making art, or anything for that matter, you need to push yourself to the point of failure to be able to learn from your mistakes. When working with clay a student needs to know and understand the material before they can make something.

I remember one time when I was in my studio in graduate school and I was working on the potter’s wheel making a series of pots. My girlfriend, now my wife, Diane was watching me work on one pot after another. She would say, “that’s good, that’s enough.” Ignoring her advice, and one pot after another, I would push the clay to the point of collapse.

This was my way of understanding the limitations of the material so the next time I made a vase I would know when to stop. It is this type of hands-on approach to a material that I teach to my students.

I incorporate many techniques and styles into my demonstrations. For example, in one of my Advanced Ceramics classes you will regularly see me ask my students questions about their project rather than give them the solution. The solution I might offer up may not be the only way to do something. Instead when a student asked if she should put a handle on her piece, my answer was “Where would you put it?” Because I answered her in this way, it prompted a conversation about balance, which led to discussing options on “how” to attach a handle.

I try to lead my students through a list of educational and artistic questions that they answer for themselves, thus instructing them to revisit and enhance the techniques they have learned. I am also encouraging them to take full ownership of their artistic work, rather than simply telling them how I would create the piece.

In my Advanced Ceramics class, this does not mean that I simply sit back and watch students grasp at straws as they tackle new projects. What it does mean is that I carefully demonstrate the techniques or methods for students to work on — ones that might not have only one possible approach. I then give them the space and the skills to work through the challenge and reflect on their process and struggles as they go. Powerful learning occurs when people have to struggle through challenging material and have the opportunity to fail a few times along the way.

My interest in focusing on this type of productive struggle in my class comes from a strong belief that people learn more when allowed to fail than when provided all the answers.

This type of learning forces us to put ourselves and our ideas out there in front of everyone, becoming vulnerable—Just like I felt in that workshop in Maine. One of the things that I do to try and make my students feel more comfortable is to do my own work right along with them in the classroom. This approach to my teaching has enabled my students to see me fail!

I encourage my students to experiment, and not be afraid if they do not succeed at first. I remember so clearly when I was working on one of my pots in the studio and I was trying to lighten the form by carving away some clay, I went too far and carved through the base of the pot, but I noticed the tool that I was using left a neat pattern in the surface of the clay. It was this accidental discovery that led to the texture and surface carving I do in my work today. It started as a mistake that I took one-step further.

I always refer to these as “happy mistakes” to my students. Taking risks can often improve one’s creativity. Taking a risk and going outside your comfort zone knowing that you may fail with your artwork is how new ideas are generated.

I read an article from the Washington Post about a teacher who told her students that failure is not an option, it’s a requirement. Too often teachers are told that all material must be “scaffolded” for students. While in the classroom, it is sometimes taken to mean that all material must be broken down into such small and simple steps or chunks of information that students are all able to be successful every step of the way. If a significant number of students in a class are not able to immediately find the answer, this is often seen as an indication that the teacher did something wrong either in presenting or breaking down the material.

Students, as a result, often get the message from very early on in their education that if they do not immediately grasp how to solve a problem or get the right answer, they must not be very smart or good at that particular subject. With years of training in this way of thinking, it comes as no surprise that students often respond to challenging work by either immediately asking the teacher for help or by giving up.

My main concern with this approach to teaching and learning is that it simply is not authentic to either the practice of art or just about anything else in life. Most real-world problems are complex and do not come with clear steps to follow to reach a solution.

If we are not equipping students with the skills to tackle such problems by supporting them in struggling with challenging work in our classrooms now, then we are simply pushing the issue farther down the road when students will come up against bigger challenges in future classes, in college, or in their careers.

Providing our students with the confidence and skills to approach challenging work without an overwhelming fear of failure, and the mindset to see the failures they will have as opportunities to learn something is far more important and transferable than any set of facts we could teach them.

Another aspect of my teaching has been building my students’ group work and process skills so that they develop their abilities to collaborate, try multiple approaches, and reevaluate an approach that is not working.

In my Sculpture class I usually assign a group project in the last term. I introduced the project to the students and let them run with their ideas. Students are assigned to small groups and allowed to brainstorm their ideas for the sculpture. Each group then has to submit their design proposal, just like a professional artist would when applying for a commission. Selected faculty and staff members serve as jurors on the design committee.

Once the design is selected, the project becomes more challenging. The entire class works together to solve problems of balance, construction, and cost. Working in smaller groups, based on each students particular skillset or talents, the fabrication process begins with delegation of responsibilities. All this is student run, with only gentle nudging or guidelines from me.

This project enables my students to put into action all the skills, techniques and methods that were taught in the first two terms. I provide them with opportunities before and after each significant group work activity to reflect on how their skills are growing.

As they are working, I have to be continuously mindful of my tendency to step in and redirect groups that are taking unexpected approaches. When I step back and allow my students to work through these problem-solving issues the most interesting student learning and work products have usually come from those groups.

While all of us at some point in our lives experienced the discomfort that can come with struggle, we’ve hopefully experienced the investment in solving challenging problems, the “light bulb moments”, and the deep learning that comes with struggle as well.

I have already seen the value in tilting my classroom more towards one focused on the skills of tackling complex questions. That of course does not mean that content does not matter, but simply that it does not exist in a vacuum away from the struggles and challenges that helped people discover it. If I want my students to tackle some of the big questions in art (or science, or math, or history, or anything), they need to be prepared to approach complex and challenging issues and to learn from their failures.

So, in the end I am glad I put myself outside of my comfort zone to tell you how I feel about teaching art.

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Filed under A Day in the Life, art, Faculty, Faculty and Staff