Choose Your Own ‘Art’venture in the Minimalist Classroom

To me being a minimalist educator involves meaningful teaching and learning. It’s about eliminating the unnecessary to ensure there is purpose in everything I teach and display. It’s about making sure I remain true to myself as an individual first and foremost – if I don’t know myself how the hell can I know who I am as a teacher? It’s about spending time amongst those wonderful humans who often (sometimes?!) think I’m amazing just as I am, and finding the simple ways  I can engage, excite and encourage them as much as possible.

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Good teachers get to know each child individually and cater to their special needs by developing differentiated tasks through well planned lessons. Great teachers do too but alongside this they attempt to make meaningful connections with students, taking the time to understand the world they live in and giving students an insight into who their teacher really is.

Engage superhero mode… 

I don’t need every fancy, schmancy contraption you can buy for $10 a pop – do you hear me Kmart!? I want to create excitement and wonder by being my authentic self – a little bit wanky but true. Children love knowing the person behind the teacher. Children value honesty. Being a minimalist teacher is taking the time to listen, observing quietly, letting the kids talk for god’s sake and more than anything, to be present.

A minimalist classroom should reflect its teacher and their students’ personalities, displaying the learning that is currently taking place. If the kids love Batman then unleash those comics and use them to explain narrative writing. It needs to include the resources and materials that respect and support the students’ abilities and interests. It is a space with natural light, paired with a warm and inviting feel. Perhaps you might tap into a little grandma decor! Yes it may be free from rainbow coloured displays and bright decor covered in glitter, but it is not stainless steel and stark walls, filled with little more than tables and chairs. It’s about reflecting the individuals that inhabit the space and the learning at hand. 

So what does all of this actually look like? Well as I begin to explore this minimalist idea I continually find myself stumbling upon articles linked to the Montessori method of teaching, and let me tell you, I think I’ve found something just a little bit spesh! In a very small nutshell Montessori education is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. I don’t teach in a Montessori school but I do believe that some of the Montessori principles have a valid place within a traditional classroom setting and this is what I would like to explore further. I have noted the following two principles that I would like to focus on as an educator. These are:

1. Respect for the Child
2. The Prepared Environment

I’d like to think that I already respect my students enough to make them feel valued. We often demand respect and expect our students do to exactly as we say without question…

“Because I said so!” 

Yet surely in order to be respected we need to model it, and if we want these precious minds to be inquisitive we need to give them the space to question and challenge the world around them? Encouraging our students to make choices for themselves shows them that we care about who they are and what they want to know.

I want to respect my students’ special needs, differences and approach to learning (and life!). I want to trust that they will make good decisions on their own and I will support them when it might not work out the way they had hoped.

“Sorry Johnny but sticking glue in your ears isn’t a good strategy to help you find quiet time. What can we do instead?”

I still believe we need to teach them what is appropriate, create boundaries to ensure they are safe (we want them to live!), as well as explain the consequences for their actions. But I am not going to be condescending to a child because I am older and supposedly wiser than they are. The “…because I said so!” response has no place here. There are ways of handling tricky situations and I hope to be mindful of what the best approach may be for each child.

As for the prepared environment, it must be a place where children can do things for themselves and have the freedom to explore on their own. It’s time to let go of the reigns a little my fellow teachers! It’s okay to let them make mistakes. The learning materials that are available to them are organised and serve a purpose, all of which are easily accessible – no clutter, and the learning experiences are tailored to the needs and interests of each student, allowing them to make choices.

This is where my idea for choice based art comes into play (I hope! – cue inspirational music).  I’d like to provide students with a variety of materials and tools that have been chosen just for them. I want to teach the necessary skills and concepts from what I observe them doing. I want to expose students to art history and inspiring artists in the hopes it will encourage them to experiment with different media and techniques they have never attempted before. I want to give them the freedom (it’s happening… I’m loosening the reigns people!) to explore without boundaries. This is where trust and respect is so important. I will trust that my students will make choices that demonstrate their abilities and interests, and I will respect their right to create pieces that are meaningful to them and reflect who they are. I don’t want to see the same piece of artwork replicated 25 times over. It may look ‘perfect’ and ‘pretty’ because students have followed my step-by-step instructions, but to me this type of art isn’t very inspiring. I want them to get messy, make mistakes, experiment and develop their own unique style. I want them to be themselves.

This is what being a minimalist teacher is to me, or perhaps the beginnings of, and it’s what great teachers do. They are respectful and plan meaningful learning experiences, make connections with their students and create a space that inspires learning. If we do not attempt these things in some way then how can we expect academic and personal growth from out students? This is what I’m passionate about and this is where I want my teaching to go. Let the adventure begin!

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