On Teaching Fashion: Blank Canvas

I was so inspired by Karen Bravo and her post Hello My Name Is…, welcome Karen!

Karen’s post has me envisioning my ideal experience this semester, it all starts with day one. The first day of class sets the stage and cadence of the whole semester. This first session is precious!  I gaze out onto a sea of well rested, healthy and energized students (with their fresh haircuts and crisp new outfits) eager to make something meaningful out of our time together. Day one is a blank canvas, how can I maximize potential in each of my students and to create opportunities for them to excel?  I am going to adopt a few ideas that I will share below,  gleaned from one of my summer reads “What the Best College Teachers Do” by Ken Bain. You might recall that I reviewed this book last August.

1. Mapping Backwards

Prior to the first class I make a road map from Z to A, articulating the tools and competencies I envision my students will have upon leaving my classroom. Working from finish to start, it is possible to embed opportunities for deeper engagement and activities that encourage critical thinking. I also build in exercises to determine grey areas in learning (for example, a midterm survey asking the student “what do you NOT understand, what are grey areas in my teaching”…) with this data I can shape my content and class time accordingly.


Happy Students

2. Getting Down to Business

The way I present myself on the first day shapes the whole semester. Think of this as a mantra “I mean business” not as an intimidation tactic but as an invitation for both you and your students to shine. When you mean business, you nip slacking in the bud…on both sides of the podium. When you mean business, your priorities are shining in front of you and the superfluous falls away. One colleague dresses in suits the first few weeks, another wears glasses and does not smile. I imagine the qualities of each great professor I have ever had, bundle them up and channel them on the first day. While the students are at full capacity I encourage you to show them your very best. If you “mean business” the students might “mean business” back!


This classroom feels productive!


3. Hothouse Environment

When my students walk into my classroom on the first day I want the energy of creativity to feel palpable, engagement is contagious. As Ken Bain suggests in his book “the best teaching creates a sense that everyone is working together” in this spirit, my classroom simulates an authentic design studio wherein my students are my colleagues and partners in design. Our studio classroom is well lit, has lots of colorful resources and wide tables to spread out and tackle design problems. The most important way to spark a hothouse environment is to engage the student from minute one. In my illustration class I pull out large sheets of newsprint and offer a few types of drawing media and we get to work.  We draw our names, we draw each other as these activities loosen the hand, when sassy lines have been “activated” we sketch key runaway or red carpet looks with gesture and line. Hopefully, the students walk away from illustration class exclaiming, “wow, I think I can do this.” On the first day don’t simply hand out the syllabus and call it a day, use the time generate excitement that will spark a semester of great work!

The images of happy, shining students were sourced from my University website.

What are your first day rules and rituals? I would love to hear from you.

Happy teaching!

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