Why Teaching is Art

I found some notes I’d made when two years ago I heard Tim Brighouse (I think Chief Advisor for London schools) speak.  He gave some advice for new teachers in the form of a list.  It is beautiful in its simplicity, humanity and effectiveness.  I thought I would reproduce it here.

Notice, Listen, Create a past, Laugh, Remember, Admire, Praise, Respect, Share, Steal, Promote, Acknowledge, Recognise, ‘I saw this and thought of you…’, Collect, Contribute, Mark, Find, Confess

I have been pondering the importance of humanity/the human element in teaching.  By that I think I mean the extent to which our interactions with our pupils, whilst professional and backed by theory, are essentially, and perhaps most importantly, human relationships.

I want to say something more about this in a future post.  For the moment I want to add something I said as an introduction to a debate with the Institute of Ideas Education Forum.  That is the importance of narrative in teaching.

I believe teaching is like art in that it is revelatory and has transformative potential.

When art moves us, it is often because what we see or hear is something that we recognise or acknowledge in humanity, and perhaps hadn’t noticed before.  Of course a certain kind of loneliness feels just as Hopper painted. Oasis’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Star captures exactly the adrenalined optimism we’ve all felt.  The skill of the Artist is perhaps to reveal what we knew but could not express, or to reveal a part of the world we thought we knew in a completely new light.  This is I think, what we all hope to do as teachers.  To give something that transforms the way our pupils see the world.

One of the ways we do this, which acts as a mechanism for transmitting another force of transformation – pure knowledge, is in constructing a ‘story’.  As teachers we tell a story with our classes.  The story is to be found in the creating of a past; the ‘remember when we did this…’ or the ‘this is how we do things in this class’ dialogues.  Perhaps all human relationships are like this, but it can be particularly useful in teaching to create a past of shared experiences, which, crucially, over time include certain norms of behaviour, methods of enquiry and ways of reacting and treating people.  We hope the shared past created might help our pupils view the world differently; recognise, maybe, that you can finds things frustrating but not give up or admit mistakes without losing face.  Just like art, a teacher’s relationship with his pupils, through this ‘story’, is able to reveal and transform.

The aim of this comparison of teaching with art is only to offer a couple of thoughts for discussion.  1) The importance of the relationships, or the humanity, in teaching.  2) The power of not what you teach, but how you teach it: the strength and utility of  a culture or ethos within a classroom or school.


One thought on “Why Teaching is Art”

  1. Hi Jacob

    You may like to check out this report by my colleague Al Selvin, who is examining ways of framing skilled practice as a form of aesthetic, ethical, and narrative activity. A point of connection is that he is seeking ways to characterise the use of our Compendium software as a facilitative tool in collective sensemaking.

    Aesthetic and Ethical Implications of Participatory Hypermedia Practice

    See you at lunch today!


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