I once participated in a workshop for aspiring artist-educators designed to help them plan lessons for working in schools. Considering my own position, it seemed to be an odd workshop to participate in but my reasons for doing so were quite specific, and quite different from the other participants. I was about to embark on a new training program for artists who wanted to be educators, and I was interested in seeing how other organizations presented similar training and also how the artist-participants engaged with the program. I was very upfront during my registration process and with my fellow participants, and this led to some interesting exchanges. For me it was a way of pre-evaluating my own programming, and in fact I gained some really valuable insights. Fortunately the presenter was also really comfortable with my participation as well. All in all, a great learning experience!
I have been fortunate to have had a number of professional development opportunities during my time in art education, and this has led me into many new areas of interest and inspiration. At the same time, I have spent a lot of time thinking about formal education and its role in my own development and that of my peers. Having a theoretical framework to draw upon in our practices is very important, but lately I find that the practical side – the ‘how to do a thing’ and opportunities to see what someone else has done – is where I am most interested.
It is an interesting conversation; when you speak to people about their backgrounds and training you learn that each arts-educator has arrived at their current practice through a different path. It is that diversity of experience that moves the field forward. I learn new things and get new ideas from everyone I have the chance to spend time with. And, I love it when I meet people who are fully engaged in what they do. This is true of arts-educators, but also all of those professionals in other fields whose work occasionally intersects with ours.
I’ve learned more about research methodology from colleagues in hospitals; I’ve become a better communicator through my work with people in rehabilitation therapies; I have learned about program design from people in the school system. The list continues and my practice grows.
My advice to you: make professional friends, find mentors, join peer learning groups. Visit places that offer the kind of programming you do, or the kind you’d like to do. Visit museums, take tours, take classes. Look for opportunities to learn about non-art things that will add to your portfolio of skills. You’ll be glad you did!