Image courtesy of Zaire McPhearson
On the first day of orientation of my foundation year in London, one of the faculty members said to the students “I am here to render myself superfluous,” paused for a moment, and then continued “I am here to teach you how to learn without me.” That has stayed with me ever since, and it has become the bedrock of my teaching philosophy. Their interests, the skills necessary to succeed, and the students themselves evolve continuously after leaving the classroom. There is no way for us to teach them everything they will need to know in their lives. If we aim to just teach them a skill or two they will fail and, by proxy, we will fail too. If we teach them how to learn independently from us they can retool their skills and knowledge for an ever-changing environment and continue succeeding.
I also articulate my teaching around John Baldassari’s statement to his students: “Art comes out of failure. You have to try things out. You can’t sit around, terrified of being incorrect, saying ‘I won’t do anything until I do a masterpiece.’” I interpret it as pushing what is now known as the growth mindset in students. If they are not making mistakes, taking risks, and, at times failing along the way, they are not pushing themselves out of their comfort zones, and they are not learning. Making mistakes is not to be feared; failure can be a learning tool. Looking back at what worked and what did not allows students to grow. Worrying about making mistakes can and is crippling; by doing only what is safe the student’s growth is stunted. To inspire and nurture students’ potential the classroom must be a place where students can take these risks where they can push boundaries. The role of the faculty is to direct the experimentation and to provide support in understanding what happened. To encourage risk-taking and experimentation, it is fundamental to listen to the students’ concerns and understand where they come from.