Challenge / Satisfaction

Challenging is an interesting word…. I don’t see it as a challenge… how can I put this? It would be challenging if I didn’t enjoy it as much as I do.

It IS a lot of work. That’s what some people don’t realize – it’s definitely very tedious, and it IS a lot of work. But the outcome you get from putting in all that work and effort… the amount that it pays off takes all of that feeling of challenge away. It’s just pure satisfaction.

Joe C.


Mindfulness and Learning

I’m trying to teach my students to just focus on the activity and the process, and not worry about the outcome. Their lives are so hectic right now, and so distracting – with technology, and with so many different subject matters – that they seem to turn on and off, on and off with subject matter – I’ve really been encouraging them to be mindful on the activity. To be aware of the mindfulness of just mindfulness.

Jon T.

Process over product

The ‘after’ really doesn’t matter to me as much as I thought it would. It’s really the process that I’ve come to enjoy. The building is the part that I look forward to… That’s what I think we need to get students to buy into: It’s the process of learning that’s valuable, not what they produce along the way.

Kevin Q.

Coding it up…

Coding it up...

Our first page of QR codes. We’re laying these out in Illustrator. We print the QRs on laser water-slide decal paper, using an older model HP printer. Then we apply them to the cups, and fire them a third time to a cooler temperature than the glaze.

It’s a process.

The Nod

Originally posted at Teaching/Craft

Sometimes a song pulls me through a week, and this week, it’s Radiate, from Jack Johnson’s album From Here to Now to You.

I know that we can attribute just about anything into music, but I’m reading this song as a making song.  One verse:

I see you lost in what you create
All of time in this one single day
You take it in and you

Every time I hear this song – which has admittedly been stuck on repeat – I find myself nodding.  And then laughing.  Because, apparently, the potter’s nod is really a thing – not just a thing in our studio, but a real experience for a many potters.

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That spot.

Real achievement comes by being engaged, by being excited by things, by having your curiosity awakened and stimulated. It’s the heart of good education. And I think good teachers should know that… that if you can find that spot in people’s lives where their passion meets their talent, they’re going to achieve far more than if they are sitting there, disengaged.

Sir Ken R., interviewed by Dan

Red clay and a task

Yesterday afternoon, throwing cups in the studio with Drew and Brian, I was listening to them talk about what every senior I teach is talking about within two minutes of any conversation’s start:  college applications.

I watched them work – these  talented, thoughtful, and generous young potters who can make wondrous things even without full focus.  And I found myself remembering what it felt like to be on the same cliff where they stand.  Not knowing the answers is a hard thing, a creeping thing, the type of distraction that can pull us away from feeling immersed and centered even in the work that we love.

It’s not surprising that every conversation comes back to college.  The type of pressure they face on what is, for many of them, their first really big life decision –  from teachers, parents, counselors, each other, and most of all, themselves –  is nothing short of a mountain.

I’ve been reading lots of interpretations around Csíkszentmihályi’s work on Flow.  In a number of papers and books, Csíkszentmihályi presents that in order to achieve a Flow state, one must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress.  Right now, the task of making 200 cups and doing 200 interviews seems daunting – but we have clear goals and clear progress to make.  Yesterday afternoon, it was 5 PM before any of us realized we had just spent nearly three hours after school throwing cups.

By contrast, the college decisions facing my students have unclear goals (“My top three are __, ___, ___, but I also like ___, but I don’t know if I have the scores for ___…”), sporadic progress (“I have to wait back on my SAT scores… still have to finish my common app…. this one school has like nine extra essays to write…”), and big parts of the process that are far out of their control.

I want to tell them that it’s going to be okay.  With their talent, insight, and generous approach to the world, they will be more-than-fine wherever they choose to spend the next chapter of their lives.  And I also want them to know that it is okay not to know, and that sometimes, not knowing can be its own gift.  From an interview with Chris S., a distinguished artist and teacher:

One of the most profound things I heard when I was a graduate student was when I asked one of the professors what he thought of some of my artwork, and he said, “I don’t know.”  And I had never heard a teacher say, “I don’t know.”  What a remarkable gift that was, for someone to express doubt.  In him doing so, it made me feel okay about myself, because I knew there was so much I didn’t know.  And here’s the teacher who’s supposed to know very willingly saying he didn’t know.  In him doing that, it allowed me to engage more fully in the creative process of allowing me to do my own work, because it told me I was okay, that I didn’t have to know all the answers.

I want to tell them all this.  But I also remember that cliff of not knowing, and how scary these big decisions seemed in my own life.  So instead, I offer red clay and the task of 200 freeform cups, 1-2 pounds each, in a little less than a month, and a progress chart.

Here’s to finding flow where we can.


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