What I have learnt from my students
The sense of excitement heading into the real world. The uncertainty in finding a job. The project that sparks an unbridled passion and dedication. I’ve lived those moments as a university student and witnessed those moments in my three years teaching and mentoring final year students of a design degree.
In those three years, I’ve never really taken the time to reflect. Working with students on the cusp of graduating and entering the design industry, I continue to be surprised and inspired by how they think and what they’re capable of producing. Young guns with incredible conceptual thinking, adults looking for a career change, technical wizards — these are some the lessons I’ve learnt from students of all walks of life:
Sweat the small stuff
That fleeting conversation with a student after class on a Friday morning before your coffee break might seem inconsequential to you but it can hold much greater significance to a student. Often times I have been struck by a sentence or observation from a student that recalls a small conversation we had several weeks or months ago. In our professional and personal lives, sometimes the words that we remember most are those that are off-the-cuff and in the moment.
Adapt and surprise
Never assume you have a student figured out — they’ll continually adapt, improve and surprise you. You think you’ve seen many students just like him before – the same demeanour and nonchalant attitude. You’re quick to pigeonhole and assume his potential in your class. I’m often surprised how wrong I was. With the right project and motivation, that can nonchalant attitude can unveil one of the most talented and hardworking students in the class.
Don’t be afraid to be a fool
Mistakes make us human. Students can empathise with a teacher who can accept and sometimes laugh at their own mistakes. I’ve learnt to try and lose the fear of making a mistake or standing corrected. Not being afraid to slip up, to stumble, is where valuable lessons can be learnt and understood. Be unafraid to be wrong, challenged and debated.
Guide — don’t tell
Students want to be treated like adults — to be trusted to get the job done. You’ve got to provide them with the platform and the boundaries but give them the opportunity to excel or fail. Give them guidelines but let them interpret and create as they say see fit within these guidelines. Without someone looking over their shoulder and holding their hand every step of the way, you’ll be surprised at both their approach to their work and the outcomes they produce. This has certainly been an important leadership lesson I’ve learnt from mentors and peers over the years.