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Authentic Voice in Creative Arts: What Does Leadership Education Have to Say to Art Students?

In the article “Finding Your Voice”, Stephen Covey says,

“One word expresses the pathway to greatness: voice. Those on this path find their voice and inspire others to find theirs. The rest never do.” [Leadership Wired. 2008 Vol 11, Issue 10]

There is a nebulous concept behind the fashionable trend to say that leaders find their “voice.”

The four steps outlined below are based on Covey’s leadership article. Readers can see that similar steps apply when creative arts teachers attempt to facilitate learning for students who are attempting to “find a voice.”

Tap into Talent

Teachers can help students to tap into their talents when they guide them towards understanding where they excel. Teachers can help students identify their weaknesses and strengths by giving them positive, but honest, feedback about their performance. Once students recognise their strengths, they can position themselves in such a way as to leverage them.

Ask quality questions of your students. Ask them to identify what they are good at doing, and as well what they hate doing. Do not encourage students to avoid those things that inspire fear or dread. However, show them how to put their fears into perspective by balancing areas where they excel against those chores they must do – but only need to do to the best of their ability.

By being realistic about what they can achieve, students can focus their energies where they will be of the most benefit whilst at the same time taking the energy out of negative learning challenges that are necessary, but not of any real importance. Encourage the students to aim for a balanced approach at all times.

Fueling Passion

Arrange assessment so that students are fully focused on activities that fill them with positive emotion. Teachers will find that this approach fuels student passion. “Pursuits that spark your passion bring excitement, enthusiasm, joy, and fun,” says Covey.

To fuel student passion, ask them: “What do you love doing?” Better still, facilitate sessions where they brainstorm artistic direction and thus the subject matter of assessment for themselves. A sense of personal control will imbue a feeling of personal mastery and self-direction that will last far into the future. In this way, you will be able to “gift” your students with self-confidence and a sense of pride in their achievements.

An Inquiry Culture

Great Art (sometimes called High Art) is always about something very important. Build a culture of searching inquiry into your creative arts classes. “When a problem in society lodges itself in your heart and won’t let go, then you have been burdened with a need.” Covey explains.

This need does not have to be an injustice that students wish to remedy, or a disease in need of a cure. It can be a heart felt story of gratitude, (the relief of a refugee) a matter of conscience, or a Utopian dream of future nirvana. However, no matter from where the subject matter arises, encourage the students to “live their questions.” [Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters To a Young Poet]. Their artistic expression will mature and come from an authentic burning voice within.

Finding Momentum

Once authentic voice finds focus in the foreground of attention, model action to the students. Show them how to capitalise on their ideas in every possible way. Be caught up in their passions with them! Show them how to transfer from one medium to another. Involve the students in Appreciative Inquiry rather than analyzing work from the sidelines. Scaffold for learning, build on every success until students experience what it is like to align their talents with authentic passion.

Students who have experienced empowerment in their educational experiences are often very generous. Having come through the system with an attitude of gratitude, they feel able to give of the time as well as be generous with praise and emotional support of others. Students will experience success based on realistic self-knowledge permeated by a spirit of self-assurance. Such generous spirit allows for an attitude of openness to the facilitation of the gifts and talents of others, rather than a closure of attitude caused by a spirit of competitiveness and insecurity.