Harvard Project Zero’s 8 Artist Habits of Mind (aka Studio Thinking) provides a great framework for planning your personal growth as an educator. If you haven’t had the opportunity to reboot, retool and renew your own plans, there is still time to be intentional and take steps toward a productive and fulfilling year. Here are some sample questions for each category to jump start your reflection. Grab a journal and write!
In your educational practice, what is your strongest area? Is it instruction, preparation, student engagement, technology, arts integration? How can you leverage this successful area of your craft and make it more effective? What’s next for you in developing your craft and how are you going to get there? What does the “next level” look like and how will you turn your craft into an art?
Engage and Persist
What projects have you been delaying? Why? Is it an arts integration class? Networking for new opportunities? For step two of studio thinking, make a list of what you’d like to accomplish this year – personally and professionally. What opportunity would provide the greatest reward – financially or in terms of professional satisfaction – if you engaged and persisted in its accomplishment?
Look ahead to the end of the year. On December 31, at a wonderful New Year’s Eve party, you find yourself looking back on the past year as a fantastic one. Why was it fantastic? What did you accomplish? What do you want your work/life balance to look like? This looking ahead can become your vision for a masterpiece of a year. Write down that vision and keep it close, review it. It’s OK if it doesn’t all happen in the way you think it should but at the very minimum you have something grand, noble, inspirational and exciting to drive you.
What will be your healthy outlets for self-expression this year? Hanging out with friends and family? Yoga? Walking? A new painting or creative writing class? Singing in the community or church choir? Being an educator is stressful work. Studio thinking habit number four: Be sure to build in some time to express yourself, as it’s crucial to your mental and emotional health.
How do you feel at the end of your best day? For step five of studio thinking, write down your observations. How do you feel at the end of a bad day? Write down your observations. Compare and contrast your self-study. What’s the difference maker between a great day and a bad one? Learn by observation your patterns for success and failure. Build structures of support around what makes you feel good – a brisk morning walk, five minute meditations, healthy meals and snacks, feeling prepared for the day, etc. – and keep track of them. Gain personal power over your life by being an objective observer of your habits and patterns and making positive use of those observations.
Of all the artist habits of mind, I believe reflection is the most key. Without some solitude and silence to really listen to our deepest needs and desires for our life and career, we run the risk of being on autopilot with one day bleeding into the next as we gasp for air on the weekend, holidays and summer vacation. Reflection – whether through meditation, personal time, being in nature, etc. – is crucial to renewal. It’s a time where we don’t have to think analytically but can just be and feel things in a deeper way and attune to the larger patterns of life. I often take my reflection time on Saturday morning before my family is awake or on Sunday evening as a way of calming down and becoming present for the week ahead. What is your reflective practice?
Stretch and Explore
As an educator, choose a content area to stretch and explore. We all know the limitations and constraints of the curriculum and yet there are some wonderful opportunities to become more of an expert in a particular area. I love poetry and haiku and have lots of arts integration activities in those areas. I am a collector of poems, art and music based on poetry and simple techniques for creating meaningful works of creative writing. If you had unlimited time to spend on a particular topic, which one would you choose? Great! Now that you have chosen it, read up on it and start stretching and exploring what’s possible!
Rob Levit, an acclaimed musician and artist and 2013 Innovator of the Year from the Maryland Daily Record, has created award-winning innovative “Life-Skills Through The Arts” programs for adults with mental illness, the homeless, adults in drug and alcohol recovery, youth in domestic/sexual abuse counseling, foster children, hospital patients, veterans and many more. He is currently Executive Director of Creating Communities and was the first Artist-In-Residence at Hospice of the Chesapeake, where he created and infused healing activities for the well-being of staff, families and patients. Email Rob.