Sara Gothard’s Words of Wisdom: Working with Marwen’s Young People- Read Before Each Term!

Fall term starts next week! YEAY! It is also Sara’s last week! BOO!

We are heartbroken that she will no longer be at Marwen. Congratulations and best of luck dearest SG!

Each of us has gone to Sara for guidance and advice… Below You will find important reminders, guidelines and best practices written by Sara- that all teachers at Marwen and beyond should hold close to their hearts.

IMPORTANT Reminders for Every Term

  • Marwen’s mission is to educate and inspire under-served young people through the visual arts. The art-making is just the vehicle.
  • Engage with and care for each and every one of your students – regardless of skill level, personality, or affect.
  • Treat all our young people with respect, kindness, and warmth. All of the time.
  • Get to know your students. When you do, you will be able to:
    • Accept all young people for who they are.
    • Meet them where they are and support them with greater understanding.
  • Favoritism has no place in the studio or anywhere at Marwen – ever.
  • Foster inclusivity and group experience. Be on the look out for cliques and when cliques happen, address them through creative repositioning.
  • Learn students’ preferred names – all of their preferred names and/or nicknames. Right away. (Name tags can really help!)
  • Set clear boundaries and expectations with your students and uphold those with consistency and fairness.
  • Remember, it’s easy to teach easy students or those that have had the most experience and access to resources. We want to reach all our youth – not just the one’s who are most comfortable, eager, outspoken, or those that might not be the most under-served.
  • Take particular care with those that are the most under-served – Marwen belongs to them – and not surprisingly they face the greatest obstacles to making it here, to feeling comfortable here, and succeeding in programs.
  •  Pay special attention to our new students – those who are walking through our doors for the first time (they have an asterisk next to their names on your roster).
  • Many young people have little to no experience making art or even relating to it. They have taken a big risk in coming here.
  • It is our responsibility to provide the most positive and welcoming environment we possibly can.
  • Their trust is built and earned over time, through actions.
  • We can’t jump to conclusions, presumptions or assumptions when working with students or one another – let’s start by asking questions.
  • Stay positive. Stay open. Stay calm.
  • Stay flexible and nimble – if something’s not working – be willing to let go, regroup and move on.
  • When in doubt, SLOW DOWN. BACK UP, ZOOM OUT – and try to put yourself in your students’ shoes.
  •  If a student does not react to you or your instruction in a way you expect, please do not think about it in terms of what that student is doing wrong. Rather ask yourself what you are doing, and if there is another, better approach.
  • Always keep in mind we are professionals working in a professional environment. Let’s work together and communicate with one another.
  • Above all, remember we are here to serve our students – it’s all about the young people.


Teaching Artists & Studio Facilitators Roles & Responsibilities

  •  Teaching Artists are solely responsible for the content of the course (syllabus) and for all aspects of student engagement and classroom management!
  •  Studio Facilitators act in a supporting role as a partner instructor. While they are responsible for taking attendance, facilitating positive student experience and providing one-on-one support, they are not responsible for the over-all class environment (that is the role of the teaching artist).
  •  Both parties should arrive at least one half hour prior to class.
  •  Studio Facilitators are NOT required to arrive MORE than one half hour beforehand and are not paid to do so – please do not expect them to.
  •  Similarly, they are not paid to stay late if the teaching artist has not managed time properly.

Classroom Management Guidelines

be fair – be consistent

  •   We’re not “school” – but we are a structured environment
  •   Facilitate an environment that is open but structured
    • There can be comfort in constraints: there is a difference between chaos and choice
  • When necessary: Enforce discipline that is fair and consistent while still maintaining the most positive and nurturing environment for learning and making
  •  Learn their names – ALL OF THEIR NAMES – right away
    • We have nametags or have them make their own with masking tape
  •  Young people benefit from a structured environment in which they know what to expect and where they are headed
  •  Establish beginning, middle and end rituals
    • These will also help you break up the time and keep their focus and attention

Set Expectations and Consequences

  • We want to be trustworthy adults in the lives of our youth
  •  Part of establishing consistency and fairness is following through with clear, set expectations and consequences
  •  Consequences also provide you an opportunity to generate trust with your students (demonstrating you follow through with what you say you’ll do)
  •  Devise a warning system with clear action steps to be enforced daily. For example:
    • First behavioral instance: verbal warning (let them know what the next step is)
    • Second behavioral instance: create and enforce an in-class consequence
    • Third instance: Call Marwen staff

Have your own system in mind and have it clear to yourself **Enforce it with consistency and fairness**

Instances when the warning system is null:

  • When there is a threat to physical safety: call us immediately
  • When there is an extreme inappropriate comment or threat to emotional safety: call us immediately

Use the “everyday is a new day” approach

it IS cool, we promise

These preparatory measures may feel draconian or extreme to you but you have to think through your strategies ahead of time so you are prepared to react appropriately.

Remember, we are not here to be students’ friends. We are here to be their mentors and teachers, and act as responsible, caring adults who are worthy of their trust.

When to Involve Marwen Staff

  •   After three warnings and the in-studio consequences have been exhausted
  •   After any extreme comments or behavioral instances
  •   Any time you sense a student may be facing difficult circumstances in or outside of Marwen
  • Remember: we ARE here to help you and you MUST let us know when there are issues with students.

This is not optional.

  • Ultimately, we are all responsible for our students’ well-being.
  • Their safety requires us all working together to ensure they have the best possible experience.
  • When in doubt – come to us.

Less Talking!  More doing!

Students come to Marwen expecting to MAKE and DO!

  •   Keep students active and activated right from the start
  •   Limit lecture time and when you are “lecturing” – keep it engaging and interactive

Tools for Downtime in the Studio

Create a set of smaller, extra, back-pocket projects to have on-hand in the event a student is:

  • unengaged with the current project
  • finished too quickly and is not ready to refine what they have
  •  When you need to work with smaller groups of students to best facilitate a demo etc. – make sure you have activated other areas of the studio to keep the rest of the class active, busy, productive
  •  Incorporating aspects of the Studio Habits of Mind to create an alternate station (or alternate stations, plural)
    • This station can be:
      •   Action-orientated (a place/space to utilize physical energy)
      •   Experimental in nature
      •   Inspiration-driven (direct a student here when they feel stuck)

just try it

Many of these things may feel like silly extras or a burden to plan ahead for in the midst of all your other curricular plans BUT we promise that if you take the time to make these contingency plans – you will be very happy you did.

The Final Project

  • Facilitating Student Choice in Final Project Selection
  • We want to minimize student anxiety (and your anxiety!) over the “FINAL PROJECT” and maximize learning/making
  • Think about ALL the work created over the arc of the course – not just what is cranked out in the last two days
  • Be open and responsive to how work develops over the 10 days
  • Note: because of the quantity of courses, PLEASE remember to limit the exhibition work to ONE per student
    • Even though we know they make lots of great work!!
  • Don’t forget to take advantage of the Portfolio Documentation Lab



Verve About Verve
Verve aims to instigate reflection via a dialogue on arts education, art, and teaching practices. Developed by Marwen Fellows, Verve is an online collective and resource that bridges the distance between our schedules and locations to generate a timely, active dialog within our community. This collaboratively authored publication includes all factions of Marwen as well as peers and experts in the field of education.

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