G.K. Chesterton wrote that there are two ways a person can really know his own home.  One is to never leave it, coming to know every inch of it intimately.  The other is to travel away from it, moving around the entire earth until at last coming upon it and seeing it as a stranger.  I can’t say that I’m all the way back yet, but this program has led me wandering through purposes looking for other thoughts, other positions and other purposes.  Ultimately I come back to what I would have said if you had asked me about my professional life 15 years ago.

I am a teacher.

That doesn’t mean to me what it once did, though.  I see that word as something richer and more meaningful than the image of one standing in front of a classroom of docile recipients of knowledge.  I hold to a constructivist view of knowledge and learning (Schunk, 2008; Efland, 2002; Phillips, 1995).  Not the most extreme internalist view that questions the existence or importance of external reality, but one that holds to a balance between extremes.  I have found that Activity Theory and Situated Cognition provide the best articulation of this balanced view.

“Between the components of an activity system, continuous construction is going on.  The human beings not only use instruments, they also continually renew and develop them, whether consciously or not.  They not only obey rules, they also mold and reformulate them – and so on.” (Engestrom, 1996, p. 67)

A teacher is a change agent (Rogers, 2003), a change agent is a participant in the leadership process.  I work to change individuals and/or groups with whom I work.  I am an active creator of learning experiences a provoker and broker of interactions and collaborations.  There have been teachers much longer than there have been classrooms (Smith, 1998).  I have worked as a teacher in formal, classroom settings for children and adults, but the work that I have been able to do informally has been just as important or more so to the fulfillment of that role.  I choose not to let go of the title “teacher” in favor of change agent, leadership facilitator, or some other term.  These others are equally descriptive, and in fact more specific, given different tasks that may be performed.  I choose “teacher” as a matter of identity.  Teachers are the people with whom I have worked and for whom I have worked for the last ten years with SCEA.  Consistent with Rogers’ principles of effective change agency, I cannot let go of that point of view—that experience—in favor of “academia”, even though my paycheck comes from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Schon (1983) writes:

“In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high, hard ground where practitioners can make effective use of research-based theory and technique, and there is a swampy lowland where situations are confusing ‘messes’ incapable of technical solution.  The difficulty is that the problems of the high ground, however great their technical importance, are often relatively unimportant to clients or to the larger society, while in the swamp are the problems of greatest human concern.” (p. 42)

I have come to see my role as a connecting point between the birds’-eye-view of the high ground and the strugglers in the swampy lowlands, and the focus of my attention must remain on those struggling in practice, whether they be ten year olds learning to draw or veteran teachers struggling with new ways to view their curriculum.

My identity as an artist is consistent with, and at least heavily overlaps this role.  Barrett (2010) identifies an artist as one who creates forms that carry meaning.  If meaning is constructed in a three dimensional (Bresler, 2006) negotiation between artist, viewer, artifact and context, then any work of art becomes one more of what Eisner (2002) calls “noises in the environment”.  Keller & Keller (1996) consider the examination of artifacts a sort of extended social interaction.  My hope for any work that I create is that it will have a lasting impact on the viewer, even if only a small or quiet change.  If my definition of learning can be held, then art teaches.

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