We all know Tim Gunn as the Emmy-winning fashion guru extraordinaire from Project
Runway. We all know he is passionate, witty, and firm with his designers on television. However, most of us are unaware of the ways these wonderful traits transpire off-set. Last week, Tim Gunn joined the Smithsonian Associates to give us all a glimpse at the lesser-known side of him: the teacher and mentor. The conversation was moderated by Caroline Payson, the director of Education at the Cooper Hewitt gallery, and Gunn’s close friend. Gunn’s warmth and wit carried the conversation and captivated audience members as he talked about his personal experiences as a mentor, offered advice for fellow teachers, and reflected on his time on Project Runway.
The evening certainly captured the spirit of Gunn’s new book, Tim Gunn: The Natty Professor—A Master Class on Mentoring, Motivating, and Making It Work!, which was available for signing. The Natty Professor was written, Gunn says, as a part of his effort to “join the national conversation about education.” Gunn continued to reveal his true passion for teaching, highlighting the importance of a creative and lively classroom, as the answers to most of life’s questions “cannot be found at the back of a book,” Gunn said. The crowd was inspired by Gunn’s organic and broad-minded views on education, particularly when he articulated that “art is the soul and conscience of education.”
With many teachers both in the room, and following our live Twitter feed (#GunnatSI), Gunn was sure to include many useful and inspiring pieces of advice, including:
- Never size up your classroom immediately, because students will never cease to surprise you.
- As a teacher it is so important to ask questions and to listen to what the students have to say.
- Teachers are also learners.
- Your classroom is your own domain. You are in charge. Think as creatively as you can about new paradigms.
- Young people are fearless.
Gunn’s approach to teaching and mentoring is not limited to the classroom, however. Tim Gunn uses these techniques in many capacities – such as fashion mentoring on Project Runway. Gunn is known for being firm, but kind with the designers on the television show, which Gunn says stems from a true concern for their success and growth. He commented that the designers often ask him what he thinks about their work, and he always replies by asking them the same question: “What do you think?” and “how does it make you feel?” Following the teaching model of asking questions and listening, Gunn is able to guide the designers by responding to their own opinions of their work, which gives the designers an opportunity for critical self-reflection.
As a student, I felt really inspired and encouraged by Tim Gunn’s teaching methodology and how he recognizes that education can (and often does) occur outside of the classroom. I personally find that the most fulfilling and interesting learning environments are those where the process is a team effort – both teachers and students working together. The fact that Gunn reflects on teaching as a learning experience for him fosters the idea of a teacher-student team, and learning together as an educational unit.
By Justice von Maur, Digital Marketing Intern