being a teacher

Since 1984 I have taught art; to children, adults & families  as a Councellor, Art Director, Facilitator,  and Artist in Residence at Unicamp (1983- 2014), as a tutor Georgian College (colour theory, art history , drafting 1986-1988) Tutorial Leader (theatre history 1994-5) and Studio Technician (Sculpture & Print Studios 1993-4) at McMaster , and  Instructor at Ryerson, (technical drafting 1995-1997). Since 1996 I have taught in art institutions; Art Gallery of Hamilton (1996-2000), Art Works Art School (2001- June 2015) & the Art Gallery of Ontario (2002- to present), Art For Cancer Foundation ( 2014-present),  LucSculpture Gallery and School (January 2015-present) and ARTiculations (November 2015- present).

I enjoy explaining, demonstrating and discussion; creating a safe, caring, enthusiastic environment. I come by this ability honestly as the daughter of Furniture Guru- Donald Lloyd McKinley. I find joy in the exploration by others, especially when they do not know what is possible or more importantly what should be impossible. Art making is all about saying YES!

Academic Teaching Philosophy by Lauren McKinley Renzetti

From a young age I lived entirely in the academic world on the Sheridan College Campus of Craft and Design with parents who were master craftsmen and teachers. I would sit in on their lectures, demonstrations and final critiques. The dinner table was not much different than a classroom with ideas and problem solving for the best method of making and design being the norm.  I was always welcomed into the discussion and thusly always engaged in the process. I am a lifelong learner and wish to impart my knowledge, expertise and instill that passion into anyone who will listen.

I personally learn best with having objectives that are; clear, straightforward, methodical and organized. I need to know what is expected, when and how it will be covered in a class. I also need to understand the language being used. Then I can begin physically doing the work. I teach with this style of learning in mind.

I will have; syllabi and sheets for the students to take, language lists, written overviews and steps to a procedure on walls, examples on tables and the materials needed for demo and students already set up. This grounds me and gives the students something to get their mind into the moment.

At the start of term or when introducing a new project I will briefly go over the plan, listing the main points we will cover, introduce historical examples, personal samples, and then jump into the demonstration and main techniques to be covered. I find “talking at“ people creates a wall of boredom and apathy so while I demonstrate I  ask students to do the same techniques I am, at the time of demonstration. I invite them to question and enquire. I appreciate their questions and need for clarification. They watch me and then I watch while they do .  It makes for a longer demonstration but the ideas and concepts are rooted immediately in the student. The student is actively thinking about how they will achieve their goal with this, possibly new found, knowledge.

I encourage  questions. By observing the students body language, actively listening and engaging with what they are doing I can help answer questions that may not have previously surfaced, and give direction when someone has lost a step. I multitask with this and circulate, commenting to individuals and to the group if questions are asked that all can benefit from. I want to be accessible to them.

I find this method of teaching works well for me.  As a student I sat through many disorganized, dry lectures and demonstrations that gave me too much, or not enough information, and then when it was my turn to get to work I would not understand what I was meant to do.

As a maker, instructor and printmaker, I enjoy a high level of control. Often external factors will annoyingly change those variables, so planning, research and order are something I spend a great deal of time doing for myself. I make the project to broaden my own thought process and also to ensure it can be done by others.

I appreciate and empathize with my students having their own; issues, challenges, disabilities and baggage. These are often amplified by working in a group studio setting.  To me this means that all styles of learning  (visual, verbal, aural, kinetic, physical and logical) are critical to ensure everyone is getting what they need from me.  I make a great effort to ensure that my students have the tools they need to succeed and feel comfortable. I want them to succeed and thrive in a positive environment so being approachable is critical.

With regards to accountability and assessment, I think the students and myself need to be able to remove ego and look at the work for what it is. A known Rubric and frequent check in during the process are critical. Group critique should be no surprise with good communication throughout the course. Students that are not engaged or willing to do the work are the biggest challenge. I will call them on this behavior with kindness and consideration but my time is best spent engaging with students who ask for help, or need my help and are fully engaged. I do believe in second and third chances.

I feel that students should critique each other, themselves and take my assessment at the value of being one of several.  I believe one of the best ways to become a better teacher is to get reviewed by the students. I ask for anonymous and group feedback throughout- especially when it is a new group of students or project, to ensure when I teach again I do a better job. This puts both parties at ease, and helps to encourage mutual respect, as they have a say in how the atmosphere of their environment is honed to suit them.

The last component about teaching for me is allowing the group environment to nurture experimentation. I want my students to explore their own boundaries and ideas. If the project I give them sparks an idea that is outside of the bounds of the project I will always try and say YES. This is where my role as a negotiator, technician, administrator ,facilitator, cheerleader, and safety net really comes into play. Above all else this is why I teach. To witness the new horizons of another mind, to brainstorm and create a whole new way of thinking and making. That “Eureka Moment” is the best moment in making and I strive for it in my own work. The next best thing is to foster it happening in others. 

~February 12, 2016.