Educators Are Artists, Let's Act Like It!
By Scott Fuller, Next Generation Learning Coordinator for Colorado Springs School District 11
One of my guilty pleasures each weekend is catching up with what all of my friends and acquaintances have been up to during the week by diving into Facebook (don't judge or remind me that Facebook is now for old people). One of the things I see pop up quite often are group painting excursions. You know the ones: a little wine, people working to replicate a piece of art, a little more wine, group photo, and post! Seeing these photos and reading the comments has really gotten me thinking about our approach to next generation learning in Colorado Springs. Through this reflection, I noticed a set of three attributes that serve as connections between how we do our work in teaching and learning and the painting experience that has become so popular of late (hint...none include the wine).
Share the Passion and Fun
Few who go to a painting session are confident painters while those around them lack the expertise to assist them much. Each participant knows this going in and yet still manages to have fun. This is because they understand that while making art is messy, they have the moral support of their friends along the way. The work may not be perfect, but it will have a deep sense of meaning for all involved in the experience. The artists share their work, stories, friendships, and ultimately an outcome that will commemorate their time well beyond that one evening.
District 11 educators who are implementing our model of next gen learning demonstrate this every single day. They realize that much like art, it's going to be messy, and true expertise is hard to come by. They persevere and find fun in the work because the outcomes achieved will be wonderfully meaningful to them and their learners. We support them with networks of educators that provide moral and technical support along the way. For artists and educators alike, it can be uncomfortable to share publicly with critics and other practitioners, but the implementation of District 11's "Seeing Is Believing" tours enables the sharing of promising practice across the district and beyond. It takes guts to be an artist and put yourself out there, likewise for an innovative educator.
Develop an Artist's Mindset
It is a common misnomer that artists are simply gifted creators who have moments of divine inspiration. Although inspiration is key, so is a plan. Artists plan their work and how they want to get there. They choose a subject, a particular media, and the scale in which they will work. All the while knowing that their thinking will need to be agile once into the project. Conditions change, ideas shift, some things work and others don't. Artists adjust early and often to get to the greater vision of their work.
Much like the artist, educators are inspired by others. However, it takes more than just inspiration to create meaningful change. A clear vision and a plan to get there is critical. Knowing that the plan can and will change along the way is also vital to success. Artist don't look at a change in plan as failure and neither do our implementing educators. Teaching and learning is dynamic; educators who accept this and plan accordingly are finding great results.
Apply a Unique Perspective
One thing that always makes me smile when looking at the post-group-painting-excursion photo, is how even though everyone was painting the same picture, their works of art look dramatically different. Some have zoomed in on one area of the original piece, while others took a more whimsical approach. Still others personalized to their own taste in colors or customized with images meaningful to them.
This exemplifies our approach to Next Generation Learning in District 11. We have a common set of learner outcomes and ecosystem characteristics that all next gen schools strive toward. However, we recognize that "cookie cutter" models do not work and that schools are integral parts of their unique communities. Because of this, our schools understand that their perspectives on the common threads will, and should, differ. One school may have a larger focus on personalization, while another explores competency-based systems. Not only is this ok, we encourage it! We work to empower each site to develop its own vision of next gen learning based off the larger common threads.
Ultimately, to make sustainable change occur, you have to do something at the local level to make it happen. We encourage our educators to think like the artists they are. We want them to have fun and a passion for what they are doing, we work with them to develop a plan for where they are going but know it will most likely need to change, and we encourage them to apply their unique perspective toward the implementation of the next generation learning common threads. If teaching is truly an art, it's time we start acting like artists! Happy painting.