A Powerful Learning Community

 Creating and Sustaining A Powerful Learning Community

Professor John (Jack) Fink, Art Department

Nassau Community College,

Imagine your classroom community as a microcosmic model of the kind of wider community

in which you would LIKE to live.

Attitude As a practicing artist and teacher of long standing, I have seen class-after-class of Ceramic and Sculpture students excel as a group when each individual member was asked to pledge to bring the best of himself/herself to the art studio-classroom in the spirit of cooperative learning. It has been my attempt to motivate and enroll you as a student into pledging your “word” toward being extraordinary in every way possible, striving to reach for your “highest self” within the context of the course content and in your relationship with your peers. The focus is on how we are being with ourselves and with one another through the language we use and how we communicate with one another. After a number of weeks into the semester, some become aware that this attitude has translated in postive ways to other aspects of their lives. 

Without sacrificing standards - when students and faculty consciously and mindfully turn ourselves over to this “mission,” intentionally acting from a place of sharing, support, cooperation and a positive attitude, we are elevated into a largely unseen connection; it is a connection that engenders a feeling that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves - part of an unseen Network, a Universal Energy that connects us all. Out of this Network there is a “universal truth,” that when we send positive things out to the world, positive things come back to us, multiplied. Send out negative things and negative things are returned to us, multiplied. 

Being Extraordinary : 

  • People will likely forget what you said, people will likely forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Every moment is an opportunity to make a difference in your relationship with the people you work with. 
  • Make up your mind to have a positive attitude and bring that with you wherever you go.
  • Be aware, mindful, looking for, and being open to “possibility.”
  • Express your own brand of mindful, unique enthusiasm.
  • Acknowledgement – Notice and privately comment to your peers who seem down in the dumps, or seem unusually happy. Acknowledge this and ask them about it. 
  • Be a good listener.
  • When you see a project that, in your opinion, it is especially good, make a point to tell it’s creator what you think about it. (Then do more listening and less talking, especially if they in turn, respond)
  • Know the first names of everyone who sits at your bench and something about them. 
  • If someone is absent, the “head person” at your bench gives that person a call to find out if they are sick, etc. Let them know that they have been missed – that the balance of the “team” has been upset. 
  • Anonymously bring cookies, a magazine article, a photograph, a story of something you heard today, etc to share with others. Call the professor’s attention to it. 

Extraordinary in your class projects

  • Skillful in your art work.
  • Be mindful of the objectives of assignment.
  • Be open to coaching by the instructor. 
  • Be in class on time, along with your artwork when it is due. 
  • Do some “research” on the internet rather than work in a vacuum. Be inspired by images of sculpture and information to support and sustain your sculptural project assignments. Don’t stop with the first thing you do, but create variations on the theme. Creative thinkers consider a range of possibilities, then they choose the best that suits one’s intention. 

Competition and cooperation. While competition may serve us well in many ways, the spirit of sharing and cooperation has an equal value and place in how we think and do. In this class, it should be our intention to encourage one another and, at the very least, to know one another’s names, in the same way that teachers should be expected to eventually know the names of each student. Without question, the effective learning community must be a place where most people do know your name; a place where your presence is valued and your absence is noticed by your peers – your absence diminishes a sense of balance, effectiveness and wholeness of the group. 

It’s natural to make “mistakes” An effective community of learning is a place where it is alright to make mistakes, but to assess and modify any perceived short-comings in your work as a natural way of working and learning. It is a place where every moment is the opportunity for the individual to learn, be extraordinary in his/her own life, as well as the lives of his peers. We want to because it is worthwhile! We do so, because, here in this classroom, it is expected of you! And, we do so, because the world needs such people ! But above all, you owe it to yourself to be all that you can be – to make things happen FOR you, rather than letting things happen TO you.

The classroom that has a sense of purpose and a sense of adventure is a place of value – one that seeks to build a place of skill-building, creative thinking, hospitality; one that entices and invites you in, and by its' very nature, one that draws you out. This kind of classroom is a place worth coming to, because it tends to promote supportive self-initiative, independent learning and a sense of belonging. 

* note (Nassau Community College is made up entirely of commuters who attend classes, leave and go to either fulltime or part-time jobs and then on home to their school work and other responsibilities. Consequently, many feel little connection to the College beyond their classroom experience and some, not even that.( How sad! )

Powerful learning environments are enhanced on the universal understanding that all people want to know that what they do

and who they are mattersand the teacher’s acknowledgement that each comes to the classroom with unique gifts and talents. The classroom structure should be so organized so as to acknowledge and incorporate these gifts. The learning process in your course is more "student centered" rather than "teacher centered." The impact and the effectiveness of learning is in the 

"drawing out" process rather than solely in "the pumping in" of hand skills, information & facts.Therefore,the emphasis is on method rather than content. Once, you the student, have been "drawn out,"- to invest something of yourself in the learning and through the artwork, the work you create is symbolically special, even sacred! 

Your inner life affecting the community.

One of the elements of a cohesive and powerful community is the conviction that the individual, no matter where he is, that his inner life can affect outward events through taking responsibility for acting upon a priority of values and convictions. This kind of understanding leaves you with a sense power, that you have some control over your life and a sense of a place in the world. It is no less important than the one’s quest for knowledge, meaning, and effective communication skills . 

The only environment that is truly important is the one you fashion out of your language, your thoughts, your beliefs, your spirit, your ideals! It is the only space in which you will ever live and work. If you don't acknowledge and prioritize these, if you don't live them - what you want to create - it won't come out of your hands with any depth of passion or substance ! If art is an expression of the self, then what does your "self" represent and how will you express it ? Art starts with an idea and is expressed through design, materials, and skills of the hand. With all of the above in mind, we’ll be stretching and transforming ourselves into new ways of thinking and doing. Welcome!