Teaching with Contemporary Art

Building Trust On The Way In

Starting off each new school year, one of my biggest concerns in the first few weeks is getting to know my students better in order to build trust. Without trust students will not take the risks necessary to break free from the habitual and try new things, which teaching with contemporary art will ultimately call for. And while getting kids to explain what they did over the summer is certainly one approach, I enjoy taking other roads that lead to creating community and a sense of possibility. Some suggestions include:

Keep it moving and give students different kinds of experiences in the first few weeks. Educators do themselves no favors by “starting a project” right out of the gate that keeps students in their seats, working alone, and only occasionally talking with the teacher. Create different opportunities in the first few weeks for students to talk with their classmates… and the teacher.

Look at works of art together. Give students the opportunity to see and react to works that will surface in the months ahead. Especially when it comes to teaching with contemporary art, familiarity and a little heads-up goes a long way. Ask students for comments and reactions to the works you share. Ask them what they think the works are about (vs. what they “are”). Take notes on their responses and use this information to help plan future lessons.

Sit with students. I know this seems almost silly to mention but it’s incredible how many teachers stand over their students all year long and never get at eye-level with them at their tables or desks. Building trust starts with having conversations face to face, not with students tilting their heads toward the ceiling waiting for approval.

Share out feedback, quotes and special moments. As we start the year with different kinds of activities and conversations, share out the feedback and ideas that students develop. Beginning a class with great ideas and quotes from the previous day tells students that we are really listening and value their perspective.

Finally, share a little of the power. Last year one of my colleagues, Deirdre Kenna, asked students about the supplies they thought they would need in the coming school year vs. trying to come up with a new supply list all by herself. After students have an idea about the kinds of things they will do in the course, allow them to help shape the course by giving them opportunities to add special materials, suggest steps within certain procedures, or add particular activities to some of the units of study that lie ahead.

Here’s wishing everyone a good start to the new year….



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