Preparing for the New School Year
"In my view, the classroom situation most provocative of thoughtfulness and critical consciousness is the one in which teachers and learners find themselves conducting a kind of collaborative search, each from his or her lived situation." (p. 23)
~Maxine Greene, Releasing the Imagination (1995)
As we each launch our respective art classrooms and studios for an exciting and creative year ahead, I feel also the urgency to understand and know my incoming and returning students. This leads me into the topic of this post: how we see developing relationships with our students as a key to student success. Each student brings a suitcase full of experiences from which they will draw their creative work. This suitcase, so to speak, will reveal its contents gradually for some, and for others, it is unleashed. We have all met people like this, whose personal lives are so chaotic, that their presence sets a definite tone to the environment. It is a matter of connecting these individuals, removing the chaos, and nurturing caring and respect, and establishing a safe environment. We develop relationships with our students in order to establish a common ground. Students come to know that they are cared for, and in response, become contributors to the creative process of the studio.
Understanding our students and creating that positive environment demands that we work to understand what motivates them, and how we can connect. A great tool for understanding what students need is the Developmental Assets List from the Search Institute (check specific lists for each age group). We can collaborate with colleagues, parents and community to provide a positive learning environment for our students. This collaborative framework emphasizes learning and growing for all participants—teachers and students alike.
In addition, the Lincoln Center Institute has developed a great tool for fostering skills in imagination, creativity and innovation with its Capacities for Imaginative Learning. I appreciate the simplicity and applicability of the framework to any learning environment, and the fact that the framework establishes a shared learning experience between facilitator (student/teacher) and learners.
How do our students know that they are in a caring learning environment? With structure, comes freedom. By establishing norms for interaction, for the sharing of ideas, critique and evaluation, we determine the social behaviors that are accepted and those that are not. In Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What does the research say? “Christenson and Peterson (1998) identified six factors that reflect the complementary nature of family-school-community roles for children’s school success: standards and expectations, structure, opportunity to learn, support, climate/relationships, and modeling.” (p.65)
Here is some food for thought:
* How do you state expectations for student performance, set specific goals and standards for behavior?
* How do you establish norms and routines in your art classroom?
* How do you provide a variety of learning options and communicate the availability of such opportunities for learning?
* How do you model the desired behaviors and the value of learning and of working hard in your daily life? How do you share your goals as a learner?
And perhaps most importantly, for the development of the relationship between learners, students and teacher/facilitator:
* How do you get to know each student? How do you check-in regularly with each one?
* How do you establish warmth and friendliness, approachability and encouragement in your classroom?
Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What does the research say? Edited by Joseph E. Zins, Roger P. Weissber, Margaret C. Wang and Herbert J. Walberg. Teachers College Press, NY, 2004.
P.S. Out of curiosity, after I wrote this post, I googled the phrase “with structure comes freedom” and found this interesting post by Jessica Helfand entitled, an Open Letter to Design Students [http://observatory.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=8547 ]from the Design Observer Group.