Teaching with Contemporary Art

Feeding Our Own Fire

Judy Pfaff at work, Art21 production still, 2007

I was recently blown away after seeing a few of our Art21 Educators in action and thought it would be a good time to talk about the best kept (or ignored) secret in education: visiting our colleagues to learn new strategies, get new ideas, and gain perspective on what’s working when we teach. You see, 95% of the time, maybe more, teachers are busy teaching, preparing to teach, or performing a variety of tasks related to just being an educator in general. Visiting our colleagues in their classrooms is often not very high on the priority list. Having reflective conversations about these visits can be as rare as a lunar eclipse. But some of our best professional development is taking place in the classrooms right next door to us! Sharing best practices is something that takes organization, time, and effort, but over the past nine years I have learned repeatedly that this is time well spent and absolutely worth the extra effort. It’s worth taking the risk to ask that veteran teacher if we can come in to check out the project everyone is talking about. It’s worth opening ourselves up to feedback when we ask a colleague to visit our classroom. Some of the most meaningful learning experiences in my career have occurred in the classrooms of colleagues, or over coffee and conversation after being mesmerized by a lesson I just saw, especially when it comes to teaching about contemporary art. Let’s face it, reading about good teaching, or just daydreaming about it, is one thing. Seeing good teaching in action is quite another. Sort of like feeding our own fire.