The most satisfying and yes, healing thing I did in my Year of Perspective was volunteer in my children’s primary school classes. I predictably couldn’t content myself with being a teacher’s aide, and ended up running regular sessions on design and visual culture for first- and second-graders, covering topics like superheroes in their historical context of sublimated industrial megadeath, Advanced Michael Jackson Studies, typography, speculative futures via design fiction and TARDIS sound effects, etc.
It worked. Parents reported that their children were excitedly reflecting on our topics at home for days on end, but per my own continual amazement at the children’s curiosity and creativity, I think I got the better deal.
Of course, I also found myself grappling with “chemistry being my default setup” in the classroom. When it’s your role to facilitate curiosity and wonder and you succeed beyond your wildest expectations, it’s easy to fall into the trap of simply rewarding your most responsive and articulate participants in an ever-amplifying loop of enthusiasm. Teachers and their pets. It’s similar to the mutual, people-pleasing mire of codependence that can happen between designers and certain stakeholders. (Believe me, I know! Um. Yeah.) Feedback loops can become ends in themselves, and other people and issues can get neglected.
Rather than just feel guilty about this, I had to come to grips with my setup, sharpen my facilitation skills and really emphasise tools to better democratise the classroom — ones that worked at an angle to the kind of charming Socratic dialogue that I still think we need in a classroom (which necessarily differentiates it from something like a co-design workshop). It really felt like victory to deploy tools like Picture Salsa™, Word Salad™ and Thing Dice™, and see the least confident children respond noticeably to a change in tactics. I don’t think it’s reducible to “learning styles”, but it’s probably related to multi-modality. (And given the kind of balance I’ve managed to strike, I’m not sure how to relate my experience to hipster “flipped classroom” models of teaching and learning.)
In any case, teaching kids in a classroom is one the best things I’ve ever done — up there with running blogging workshops with recently arrived refugees, taking ABC staff on psychogeographical walking tours, collaborating with indigenous elders to make a video game, discovering design patterns to better communicate children’s cancer research, etc.
In fact, the joy of teaching has been such a revelation to me that it’s going to be an ongoing and important part of my core practice. More soon.
I hope this has been an interesting constellation of stuff for you. If you subscribe, it will recur :)
A sustainable portion of all my love,