Rhonda Willers
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  TEACHING PHILOSOPHY
   
 

Language: How do I learn to speak another’s language in art? As an educator, I aim to learn my students’ languages as visual artists. Through listening, observing, and discussing, I learn what it is that my students’ want to communicate, and I ask questions to investigate how they want to share their ideas. This active inquiry between the students and myself is the heart of our interactions and shared growth.

Whether I spend a day, week, semester, or multiple years with a student, I want to learn their artistic language so that I can offer potential directions, encourage idea development, and provide opportunities that will foster growth and artistic longevity. Within this development, I encourage space for all modes of making within and outside of the material of clay. In ceramics, students explore traditional methods of making and firing: wheel-throwing, handbuilding, sculptural, low fire oxidation through high fire gas and atmospheric kilns. They also experiment with new, innovative approaches through praxis: ceramics-based research, installation, mixed-media, performance, and experimental making methods. When a student demonstrates a propensity for critical thinking, I cultivate a conversation focused on potential research with the intention of developing a student-led or student-faculty focused research project.

Creating an inclusively welcoming, safe environment for risk-taking, experimentation, exploration, and vulnerability forms the foundation of community within my teaching spaces. Rarely in life are we afforded the opportunity to experience failure in a group setting. Often, instead, we fail privately; in academia that kind of failure is only known between the student and the professor. The shared failure experience creates empathy in turn creating an environment in which students trust one another with their failures allowing for greater risk-taking. Failure, in the context of a ceramics studio, might mean trying a new method of making, shifting the scale of work, or experimenting with glaze and surface applications or firing method. Risk-taking and failure, in a large enrollment lecture course, might mean verbally sharing an opinion in front of the group, knowing peers may strongly disagree or agree with the opinion.

Once the trusting environment has been built, this acts as a catalyst for students to actively engage with their own vulnerabilities as a mode of making and communicating in art. They are empowered to try a new piece that might not be fully resolved, but one that could become fully realized with time and commitment. Students willingly critique one another’s work when they trust that what is being shared is with the intention of fostering growth. Through this process, I hope that students also learn to speak each other’s languages and offer feedback that aligns with the maker’s intentions.

Committed to growing my own capabilities and language, I continually expand my teaching pedagogies, technical research and methods, and professional partnerships. Through both institutional opportunities and personal research, I study and implement educational best-practices, community building, and inclusivity research. Within ceramics, incorporating technologies and new methodologies aid in developing well-rounded and prepared student artists. Fostering regional, national, and international partnerships creates critical opportunities for students to engage and grow within, thereby practicing and implementing what they have learned. Self-expression through visual communication is a complex subjective pursuit. It is a multifaceted personal journey, requiring individuals to realize a distinctively personal visual and conceptual language. By demonstrating authentic listening and personal investigative reflection, I encourage students to create space for their own artistic language to emerge.



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