3 SECRETS OF EXCELLENT TEACHING ARTISTS
by Thembi Duncan, Director of Arts Engagement and Education
Even award-winning “Father of Teaching Artistry” Eric Booth acknowledges that there is no universal definition of the term teaching artist. However, there are some general ideas about what teaching artists are (professional visual or performance artists who have learned the strategies of effective teaching), and what they do (help others create and experience art).
So then…what signifies excellence in teaching artistry? How can we tell the difference between a mediocre teaching artist and a spectacular one? Each teaching artist is unique, but there are three key ideas that every great teaching artist includes in their process.
SECRET #1: ENTHUSIASM WINS THE DAY
Positive energy is contagious! When a great teaching artist enters a learning space, they bring with them an infectious love for their artistry and an excitement about sharing their creativity with others. Learners may be trying an art form for the first time, so a positive experience will make participants much more likely to stay engaged with the process. For a great teaching artist, “phoning it in” just isn’t an option. An enthusiastic teaching artist:
- enters the learning space with a big smile and body language that reflects a deep interest in working with the learners in their space.
- uses positive reinforcement strategies to get participants excited, but recognizes when not to push too hard.
- has the same level of high energy at the beginning and the end of a learning session.
SECRET #2: CULTURAL COMPETENCE IS KEY
We live in a dynamic, diverse, and complex world where teaching artists help us use the arts to process what we see, hear, and experience. A great teaching artist has the cultural competence to create safe learning spaces for all types of people. They use inclusive and respectful language in all spaces, and they are aware of their own identities and how important it is to acknowledge how those identities function in different spaces at different times. A culturally competent teaching artist:
- is aware that English is not everyone’s first language and provides thoughtful, consistent support to participants in order to bridge language gaps.
- uses neutral terms such as “friends” or “folks” instead of “guys” to refer to a mixed-gender group.
- avoids sweeping cultural references that presume membership in a particular group. They avoid saying things like: “Remember doing ___ when you were little?” “Everybody knows how to ____.”
- Recognizes that eye contact, hand gestures, and personal space have different meanings to different cultural groups, and they do not treat people differently based on their ways of expressing themselves.
SECRET #3: PREPARE FOR ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING
An excellent artist cannot be dropped into a learning space and magically become an outstanding teaching artist. It’s not enough for an artist to be good at their art form. Excellence in teaching artistry requires a functional understanding of teaching and learning principles. It’s also important to stay updated on the latest educational trends and research. Examples of superb planning include:
- having the phone number of your point of contact, in case of problems finding or entering the learning space.
- bringing a laptop, tablet, portable projector, and several adapters for visual presentations.
- preparing a lesson plan that includes warm-ups, reflections, and clear learning objectives and a variety of ways to communication information.
- sketching out a back-up plan if anything changes (and something always changes).
Learn more secrets of excellent teaching artists at the Teaching Artist Social! Network with emerging, experienced, and seasoned teaching artists at 5:30 on Wednesday, August 7 at Shea’s Smith Theatre. Brought to you by Arts Partners for Learning and Shea’s Performing Arts Center.