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Classroom Management

The following rules, more accurately thought of as self-guiding reflection prompts, are designed to help my students monitor and correct themselves as we take part in our daily practices. Each question broadly covers the core studio habits I expect my students to master during our time together. While their content is indeed broad, it provides an opportunity for my students to collaboratively define what each of these questions means in their art room. As we explore what these prompts mean to us at the beginning of the school year, we establish a comprehensive list of expectations that the students and teacher will uphold throughout the year.


Brief descriptions of my expectations can be found below:


I thoroughly appreciate how often teachers have to repeat instructions which were very clearly laid out. It doesn’t matter if it’s written, presented orally, or even written directly by the student’s hand; someone is going to ask, “What do I do now? Is this good enough? I don’t understand…”


For this reason, I first ask my students, “Have you listened?” Have you listened to instructions; are you not only listening, but engaging with the content being presented? If not, clearly we have a problem that needs to be addressed, and this problem may not, in fact, lie with the students. It could be a result of the lesson itself. If this is the case, I need to be able to know so I can amend the lesson to best meet the needs of my students.


This also applies to day-to-day interactions within the class. Have you listened to your peers? Has someone told you repeatedly not to do something, to clean up your area? Are you being respectful, or have you chosen not to listen? My students are upheld to the standards and practices they collectively set for themselves, as well as the basic requirements I lay out for them. If they are not functioning within the established parameters of our community studio environment, than they have not been listening to the voices of their peers.


Imagine if your biggest role model were to walk into this room. What would they see? Are there materials everywhere? Goos and gobs caked into every available surface, worked into the tools until they’re barely usable? Are you engaged, working, challenging yourself further in your artistic process, or are you staring into the void, gossiping about the latest scandal, or otherwise deterred from the task at hand? What kind of studio environment would you wish for your hero to experience as they walk, unannounced, into our room? Is this the environment you’re working to cultivate…?


The beauty of this question is that it encourages the student to not only imagine what they need from my class, but also asks them how they will make this happen. Not every student will have the same aspirations of cleanliness, but we are a community. We have to find ways to work together and compromise. This means we have to communicate, to work together to make these goals achievable for everyone. Of course this is all terribly optimistic, and the actuality will be messy and wrought with complaints of, “but that’s not my mess,” or, “I don’t care if it’s messy!” and the like. Realizing this, I understand that placing the care of room in the hands of my students is certainly not the easiest choice, but I strongly believe it is the right choice and will lend itself towards a better respect and appreciation of our space with the students. Autonomy and choice are, indeed privileges, and privileges can be taken away if abused, but privileges are worth extending.


Finally, an art related prompt. “Would you put it in a museum?” The first misconception this question draws is that every art work must be brilliant, beautiful, and profound; something worthy of exhibition. Let’s put that idea aside for the moment and ask a different question: Who is responsible for choosing works to be exhibited in a museum? The curator, obviously, but who is the curator: a teacher, a person in charge of the museum, an art program, a student? How might we empower the student to become the curator of their own museum?

It goes without saying that every work we create won’t be suitable for exhibition in a museum, this is not the nature of the art process. Some projects will fail, and that’s ok. The wonderful thing about art classrooms is that we can promote failure as a meaningful part of the learning experience. If your work failed (and this discludes failure at the hand of laziness), it’s because a risk was taken. Risk taking is at the heart of art making. If every work were “safe” and resided within the student’s comfort zone, there wouldn’t be room for anything truly extraordinary to happen. Thus, a mistake—a blip in the learning process—it could be argued, is worthy of exhibition in a museum as it is a testament of the lessons learned by that particular process.

Failures aside, what I’m really asking my students here is, “Did you try? Did you earnestly pursue this work to the best of your abilities, or did you phone it in?” Let’s be fair, everyone phones it in every once and awhile. Life happens, priorities get dropped. This too, can be a meaningful learning experience… but it cannot be the norm. Lazy work, sloppy shortcuts not only interfere with our work in the studio, but it promotes problematic behavior that will continue to disrupt the student’s ability to achieve success in many aspects of their life.

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