(NB: I use the term ‘teacher’ here as a convenient reference, but it might be more accurate to say I was a ‘facilitator of creative learning experiences’. Either way, my central motivation and passion was to share skills, ideas and inspiration with others, through creative play, curiosity and discovery.)
From 1990 to 2017 my main stream of self-employment was teaching, as an independent freelance arts educator and creative mentor.
As with everything I do, in teaching I was self-taught. That is, my work as ‘teacher’ emerged organically as an outgrowth of my personal processes in life, rather than through any formal study or ‘career plan’. Many wonderful mentors and inspirational figures appeared in my life at significant points in my evolution, people who modeled skills for effective teaching / learning in a variety of ways. While I had no academic qualification, I had many years of learning about group facilitation, via direct experience and observation in a range of intensive group trainings, under facilitators who were exceptional in their fields. Some people are better suited to learning experientially, with the body and mind immersed in the doing of it, as distinct from academic study; I’m certainly of that disposition, and this has been my natural learning style since childhood, combined with a naturally analytic, patternmaking intellect – all of which fits within my autistic profile. And by learning about learning in this way, I was able to tap into essential teaching principles directly from the source.
These formative experiences helped me strengthen many ‘teaching’ abilities in myself that seemed innate or instinctive to my nature, and through this I developed my own approach to facilitating processes of creative learning for others. Combined with my other ‘proven’ creative skills, I was able to meet a need within the education system, and also beyond it.
During those 27 years, I taught throughout Melbourne, regional Victoria, and across Tasmania; my work spanned all ages, from toddlers to octogenarians, across all ‘social demographics’, from insular privilege to severely marginalised. Teaching across such a broad range of settings afforded me a profound overview of human experience, allowed me to directly observe some common patterns in how people learn, and strengthened my natural motivation to teach from a foundation of empathy & compassion, as an extension of my most authentic, or natural, self.
The core of my teaching work took the form of innovative workshops and residential programs in Primary & Secondary schools, using the art of cartoon-drawing as a learning tool, a vehicle for exploring self-expression, emotional communication and creative thinking.
As the benefits of my particular approach became recognised by schools and other organisations, I was invited more frequently to work in a variety of other specialised areas, with a focus on well-being, self-awareness and mental health. These included (among others):
- gifted & remedial education
- creative mentoring projects
- youth-at-risk programs
- artist-in-school residencies
- numeracy & literacy programs
- community arts
- publishing projects
- children’s festivals
- private tutoring & afterschool programs
- adult education
- designing / coordinating creative holiday programs
I intend to write a more autobiographical analysis of how I came to teach, my motivations, and how I reflect on this work now in the light of my late diagnosis of autism, in a separate article.
Music being another natural facet of my (self-taught) creative work, and a passion since childhood, I applied my hands-on, non-theoretical teaching approach to it. At various times I offered private lessons in guitar / ukulele / drumming, and for many years I also ran public percussion & drumming group programs with a well-being focus. By deconstructing these musical processes into simple building blocks, and using a mix-and-match approach, seemingly-complex musical patterns became much more accessible to beginners. As much as possible I aimed to make the learning a ‘can’t fail’ experience, so that students could feel an immediate sense of accomplishment – which in turn creates a healthier brain chemistry for learning. At whatever age, the most common learning challenges are often in the form of self-talk – the inner dialogues of doubt, comparison, criticism, expectations – all of which are learned in the first place, and can be unlearned or reframed under the right conditions.
From 2008 – 2011 I was a specialist music teacher at Tarremah Steiner School (TAS), teaching African-style percussion & rhythm to secondary students from Grade 7 – 10.
During these years I also led two community drumming groups in Cygnet – Rhythm Collision (kids group, aged 9 – 15) and The Drummin’ Mummas (adult women) – both of whom performed regularly at local community events and festivals.
Other applications for these drumming workshops included mental health, youth-at-risk, young refugees, and people with disabilities.
Pivotal to my work teaching rhythm were the two life-changing TA KE TI NA trainings I attended in the 90s, led by master percussionist / facilitator Reinhard Flatischler, who developed the TA KE TI NA process. These workshops were personally transformative, and opened up a whole new direction for my work in creative education, performance and musicmaking.
Throughout my teaching practice I also used my skills in illustration and graphic design to develop many creative teaching resources, both for myself and for other educational settings. My ability to break down a process into clear steps of instruction translated visually into ‘how-to’ art and craft resources, technical diagrams, yoga and dance instruction, and more. Quite a bit of my freelance illustration work gravitated towards educational publishing, including a 16-year collaboration with Australian music education publishers Bushfire Press. You can find a comprehensive overview of my Bushfire illustration here.
thINK Draw Connect Learn
Central to effective teaching is a willingness to be always learning alongside, and in relationship with, whoever you are sharing the experience with. My students have always been my greatest teachers, constantly showing me where to correct, refine, expand or discard, in response to their cues. I devised simple structures within which we could journey into the unknown together, experimenting, testing new approaches, cultivating a curious mind and an eye for happy accidents (discovery rather than failure). As my understanding of learning and brain connectivity deepened, I developed a metacognitive drawing-based teaching model or process I called thINK Draw Connect Learn. The thINK process deconstructs linemaking into a framework for students to ‘think about thinking’ – that is, to approach drawing as a mindful learning tool. I designed a suite of thINK teaching resources based on techniques I had tested and refined in workshops during 20+ years in the field, as well as a lifetime’s drawing experience.
These links will take you to pages that illustrate a few specific areas of my past teaching work. It’s impossible to include the full scope, and the task of archiving is ongoing, but these links should offer a sense of the diversity:
CARTOONING WORKSHOPS & PROGRAMS:
- Creative Communication: Cartooning For Emotional Literacy
- Totally Random Stuff
- School Of Cartoon Artistry 2013 – 2016