Teaching like a Jazz Musician

CTL Faculty Stories: James Woglom

Dr. James Woglom, Art Department
Teaching, crafting significant learning experiences is like jazz. Faculty create structures that guide student learning. They organize content, craft curriculum, and choose engagement methods and tools, yet implementing these choices is much more complex. Dr. James Woglom describes the intersection of structure with its actualization as improvisation is to jazz.

There is a performative act to teaching. We create general structures (i.e. curriculum), but in caring for students we engage those structures in dynamic ways in response to learner needs. We ask questions based on those needs: How can I make this more interesting? How can I make this more beautiful? Dr. Woglom argues that to teach well, we must embrace the humanity in the complexity of our learning environments. We must cultivate trust so that students are willing to be intellectually playful, intellectually flexible and open-minded, within the rigorous structures we have set forth. That is jazz: complex, playful, and demanding.

Dr. Woglom works with Humboldt students who wish to be art educators. He built a learning system that utilizes cohorts of learners who collaborate to develop lessons that they, individually, must implement within local schools and community centers. It is a problem solving approach that challenges students to collectively develop structures and standards that engage others in creative and dynamic ways. It can be messy, as all teaching is, but to teach like a jazz musician we must fail forward.

Another example of the excellence that characterizes educators at Cal Poly Humboldt.

Video transcript