Teaching with Contemporary Art

The Changing Shape of Teamwork


Allan McCollum, “The Visible Markers,” 1997-2000, Produced in collaboration with I.C. Editions, New York © Allan McCollum, Courtesy the Susan Inglett Gallery, New York

Back in October, 2009 I wrote a post called Teamwork which focused on the fact that, as educators, we often have to work creatively with others in order to construct meaningful, age-appropriate and fun lessons. The best lessons and units of study are often the product of people working together, including educators, community members, parents, and of course students.

When I look back just four years ago I realize that my experience with collaboration has changed and evolved into other forms. Collaboration today often involves taking steps on the front end of ideas to gain perspective instead of asking for assistance when I am up to my neck. Sometimes when I am excited about an idea for a particular lesson I need my colleagues to help me straighten out the initial planning before I get too involved in what I was originally excited about. Logistics need to be considered first.

Another path to collaboration these days involves getting more information from (and about) my students before planning all of the steps necessary to work through a project or series of lessons. Giving students a larger role in the planning phase, not just in the product phase, has produced significant changes to what I thought were solid ideas. For example, students recently suggested that we expand a unit involving a variety of approaches to printmaking. Instead of stopping at the approaches that were going to be introduced, students suggested adding a layer that involved pushing the definition of what printmaking can actually be. Students wound up printing on a variety of surfaces, not just paper, and realized that the “art” is not just the design itself. The surface that holds the ink completes the picture and can make or break the overall quality and success of the work.

Looking back at the Teamwork post, I realize that collaboration for me today is larger, more nuanced, and involves a broader range of those I work with.