10 Ways You Can Improve Your Class Culture TODAY

class culture, students printing, typography, linocut
Students printing typography in a class of mine in Brooklyn, NY.


What is class culture?

Classroom Culture is the pitch and timbre of your teaching over time with a group of students. It is the way in which people feel they can fit in. Is your class a place where there is a shared belief that talent can be cultivated? Or is it a place where people assume that you have only what you are born with and that’s that? How do the students know to treat each other? How do they know they will be treated by you? So class culture is the framework upon which all relationships in your class are built: between people and between people and their work.

  • The overall key is to give people a sense of belonging by orienting them to the lay of the land, then let them learn how they explore this new territory.
  • These tips are geared towards a wide swath of ages, but of course, they are necessarily vague. Let me know if you have tips for specific populations in the comments.
  • This is an overview: I will break these out into individual articles over time as each one actually is a goldmine of ideas and thinking.

ONE: Introduce yourself and meet your students as people.

  • What is your connection to your craft?
  • Why is it important to you to teach what you teach?
  • What is the one thing you hope your students learn?
  • Ask your students what their names are and learn them
    • I have students make name tags, take a picture, and flash card them until I learn the whole class.

TWO: Walk your class through the learning ahead of them. Chart the world they are entering and what you plan to teach them.

  • Set up the relationship from the beginning.
    • A syllabus is a wonderful way to create a contract for this relationship.
      • Objectives
      • Lessons
      • Dates
      • Policies

THREE: Encourage your students to form a culture you can guide openly.

  • Ask your students why they are taking your class, then encourage discussion within the group. It will add so much and can give you more ways to guide the group.
  • Suggest some ways other artists measure success so they can start to think about how they will mark progress.
  • Let them grapple with things in front of you, they are learning how to transfer the skills outing the world!

FOUR: Explain your way of teaching fully.

  • If you have a materials list, consider making a video about what you chose the particular items and why.
  • Speak to how you encounter and study your medium. This is a huge help to beginners and creates trust with more experienced art students.
  • Be ready to talk about why you teach what you teach and get.

FIVE: Give your students context of the craft and discipline you teach.

  • What makes an excellent practitioner?
  • What are the struggles in the field today?
  • What is the history of the practice?

SIX: Help students set their own goals.

  • Once you know what a student hopes to achieve, you have a huge teaching opportunity.
  • Parse out the work that would need to be done with the student.
  • Help him/her build those evaluative skills to strategize, critique, and test their own work.

SEVEN: Admit you do not know everything (model life-long learning).

  • Be responsive over time.
  • Leave the ego at home. We are all of us beginners at something at all times!
  • Admit whenever you do not have an answer, then openly learn the answer in front of your class.

EIGHT: Speak to each student every class period.

  • Eye to eye check in each class: are you learning?
  • Learn the way each student learns in front of you over time.

NINE: Recap/reassess goals on a regular basis.

  • Check in and make sure the class is moving in the right direction.
  • Check each student and see how they are progressing and how they are evaluating themselves.

TEN: Become a resource!

  • Answer those emails and calls.
  • Write recommendation letters.
  • Network with your students in mind.

You are an art teacher. You are already someone with a skill set to which most of the population does not have training or exposure. If you can welcome your students into your teaching with care and compassion, you can make art itself more welcoming and accessible. Classroom culture is one way you can build community and extend the arts into communities which might otherwise be less willing or able to meet you halfway.

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