The Craft of Teaching and the Teaching of Craft

My first year as The F. William Harder Chair Professor of Business Administration at Skidmore College has been a bit of a roller coaster. The good kind, thrilling without the sense of impending doom that you get in those “poop your pants” rides that seem to push the limits of engineering.

I went into this gig with some trepidation, not knowing how I’d fare. Not knowing is a good thing in my book. I like not knowing because it means I’m learning and I’ve learned a lot.

The first thing I’ve learned is that being a Professor is real work. From this day forward, if I ever hear anyone say, “those who know do and those who don’t teach,” I’ll offer to have them give it a try. They have obviously never stepped foot in a classroom full time. The occasional rock star visit does not come close to staring down a room full of 20 something’s at 8:30 am on Wednesday & Friday mornings in February when it’s 20 below. It takes real effort to keep them engaged. Effort, planning, follow-up and creativity. Sounds just like any other business.

The second thing I can tell you is the work outside the classroom far exceeds the work inside the classroom. But I’m still new to all this and it has already gotten easier but like any other gig, you get out of it what you put in, so if you’re doing it right, it’s never really easy.

In both courses, I bring in real clients, with real business and brand challenges. My approach is to workshop the challenge in a real-world format. It took some adjusting on my part to make this work for students vs professionals. It’s one thing to do something your entire career surrounded by pros and another entirely to codify it into a syllabus for people who have never done it before.

I can tell you the world is in for a treat when these young people hit the workforce. The other observation I can share is that Skidmore students are smart, with a causal confidence that belies their intelligence and strong work ethic.

It’s a unique experience working with students. Eager to learn and challenge themselves as much as I challenge them; to push their creativity and put it to work within a strategic construct. Working with creativity as a skill, with a business purpose, changes their ideas about creativity and helps them see it as vital and vitally important no matter their career choice.

This semester, my Commercial Production students took on an assignment for Garnet River, an IT Professional Services Firm that is launching an internet security service designed for threat detection and response for small to mid-size business. We spent the majority of the semester discovering all that is involved in the making of a TV spot; perhaps more contemporarily defined as content. Most of these students had never before produced narrative content, so we invested ourselves in the art of the story, the heroes journey. We examined other spots, listened to the words of Directors and Directors of Photography, Casting Agents, Location Scouts, Production Designers and Musicians. We practiced concept development and story boarding our concepts. Then we focused our efforts on building production books to catalogue and manage the production. And finally, with approximately 4 weeks remaining in the semester, these Management and Business student went to work on their final assignment; a 30 sec spot for Garnet Shield. A few examples of which are included here. Their skill levels vary but their creativity is strong.

Cheers.