Fostering Creative Problem-Solving in Upper School Art

Jared Scott Tesler
On the first day of school, Meredith Turner stands on a table, as her students sketch a series of gesture drawings of the Upper School art teacher and wife of Head of School Michael Turner.

This is just one way—albeit a bit unconventional—in which Turner models creativity—quite literally—in her classroom.

“I’m not teaching drawing, painting, or printmaking. I’m teaching creative problem-solving,” she says. “My students may never draw, paint, or make a print again, but they’ll have to represent themselves both visually and verbally in the workplace. They’ll have to be willing to take risks, try new things, and make mistakes along the way in order to solve problems.”

Since art is purely subjective, Turner emphasizes the creative process—not the finished product. And since she firmly believes that “reflection is the highest order of learning,” students are expected to formally and informally critique one another’s work—from still lifes, to landscapes, to portraits—ultimately teasing out some sort of salient thread. Individual grades reflect not only craftsmanship but also work ethic and adherence to specified criteria.

“When you’re teaching art, you’re teaching a language where students find their voice,” Turner says. “Whether they’re painting a picture or writing a poem, they’re taking that raw material, ingesting the world, and creating something new.”
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.