13 principals of Teaching Artistry, a reference for the LEGOJeep activities

I’m still mulling and seeing how so many of these principals overlap and are integral to  the free play that happens around the LEGOJeep. The concepts of  Teaching Artistry are a valuable additional set of guidelines and support for the positive force that is the LEGOJeep.

The section  below is part of a much longer article from the Teaching Artist Journal.



The Universal Elements of Teaching Artistry By Eric Booth


In reflection on those days, and the reflective conversations that abounded in the evenings, on bathroom and meal breaks, while walking from the hotel to the House of Literature where we worked, common elements began to appear. In the subsequent few weeks, as the jumble of experiences settled, and as I was able to have some hindsight conversations with others who went through the swirl, a set of ideas has clarified. I propose these following elements as the core commonalities of the teaching artist work we saw and heard about from around the world. Consider them as a preliminary set of ideas to be developed over years, as we learn more about our worldwide practice. I encourage others who were in Oslo, and others who have had experience of teaching artistry in other cultures, to add to or challenge this provisional gathering of common practices. This essay is a starting place.

I certainly do not suggest that every teaching artist uses all of these elements on every occasion. Indeed, some of the demonstrations of teaching artistry in Oslo didn’t contain some of the elements below—did this mean that TA practice in that culture didn’t include some of the following? As I reviewed what the partner-presenters from their countries had shared as the context within which the necessarily-truncated 75 minute sliver would occur, I found that in each case the context confirmed that the teaching artist would have included all of the following elements, including those we didn’t experience in the activity they shared.

I propose that good teaching artistry, as it expresses itself in various cultures and for various purposes, relies upon:

•  The TA guides participants to imagine new possibilities: “To imagine the world as if it were otherwise,” as John Dewey states. This goal is universal, quintessential in every culture, even as it is evoked differently and used for a variety of purposes.

•  The TA listens acutely before, during, and after the work. The excellence of the listening, the humble dedication to hearing and respecting the person or people who offer their voices, and the priority on hearing the true artistic voice in everyone, throughout the entire process, is a distinctive element of teaching artistry. TAs have deep interpersonal courage—listening profoundly is one of its key expressions. We can hear one another into consequential artistic expression.

•  The TA seeks to lead participants beyond compliance into activating their intrinsic motivation to “make stuff they care about.” The TA encourages, invites, and magnetically draws participants to engage in two fundamental actions of art—pouring themselves into creating something new and valuable, and creating personal connections inside worlds others have made. With this crucial motivation, people invest themselves, find their way into the flow experience motivated by personal yearning toward that which they value.

•  The TA uses active participation as the main tool for learning, providing information as an extension or expansion of, response to, or follow-up from, experiential learning. The guideline of engagement before information suggests the natural (rather than academically habituated) relationship between the two. Beginning with engagement prompts the discovery of relevance and emergence of curiosity that enhance the taking in of information and the greater retention of it.

•  The TA assumes the innate competence of participants and constructs experiential activities that intentionally tap those competences (often latent capacities that individuals didn’t know they had), to spark and speed the experiential learning process.

•  The TA offers activities that are inherently fun, that launch interesting creative problem solving processes, and that seek to engender pleasure and gratification, hopefully joy, in every participant on every occasion. TAs use many varieties of play as learning tools, not to mention charm and charisma as ways to get people started.

•  The TA scaffolds the sequence of activities to provide satisfaction and success at each step, building courage and investment toward greater challenge and accomplishment. With scaffolding, TAs can eliminate anxiety and lead a group to accomplish things they would never have imagined possible in a short period of time.

•  The TA uses great questions as underpinnings of the work to provoke participants to identify the ways in which this activity is relevant to their lives and cultures, and to deepen the resonance of the process. A great question is one that is innately interesting, has a kind of emotional or intellectual bite, one that lingers and provokes interesting answering processes.

•  The TA engages participants in reflection to ground and expand the learning of doing. As John Dewey says, “If we do not reflect on our experiences, we do not learn from them.” TAs use a variety of reflective invitations to guide participants to consider what actually happened inside and outside them during activities and to grasp key elements of their experiences—a feeling, a thought, a question, a memory, a specific word, an insight, etc. TAs model reflection throughout activities and guide reflective pauses at junctures in the process.

•  The TA has a plan for a given occasion and improvises within it, responding to learning opportunities and challenges that arise within the process itself. This improvisation embodies the bold learning style participants can adopt, and it honors the richness of the occasion by turning it into a unique group creation.

•  The TA takes on a variety of roles in leading a group, including facilitator of group process, as well as the roles of designer, leader, colleague, teacher, and witness. Good TAs are nimble in changing their role relationships to learners, enjoying each role, and modeling the multiplicity of roles that artistry requires.

•  The TA seeks, in the long view, to change cultures. TAs seek to activate the human birthright for a caring, creative, collaborative culture that respects the capacities and contributions of all members, that recognizes and appreciates excellence in all its forms, and that delights in the play of imagination about other ways reality can be. Cultures can be as small as a group of learners or a classroom, or as large as a village, a community, a professional field, or a state or nation. Good teaching artistry is aware of the dynamic balance between the individual’s experience and the larger context within which the work happens and seeks to change both together, recognizing their inseparability.

•  The Law of 80%—80% of what a TA teaches is who she/he is as an artist/person/learner/citizen. Accepting the responsibility that we must be that change we wish to see in the world and embracing a wide view of the role of an artist, the TA is dedicated to living authentically and bringing that self into teaching opportunities, which include more occasions than just dedicated workshop time.