Professional Practice

The Top 10 Lessons From Steve Jobs That Every Art Teacher Must Learn

As an Apple fan, I have always been interested in how Steve Jobs created a billion dollar company from something he started as a kid in his garage. I recently read an article titled 10 Lessons From Steve Jobs That Every Marketer Must Learn by Dan Lyons. Through reading this article, I learned that Jobs’ greatest asset was his marketing ability.

Even though we are teachers and not selling computers, I thought it would be interesting to see how many of the lessons written about in that article could apply to teaching. (If you’d like to read Lyon’s article first, click the link above.)

Here are my Top 10 Lessons From Steve Jobs That Every Art Teacher Must Learn
1. Find Good Mentors
The article states that, “Jobs may have been a genius, but he was also smart enough to find people he could learn from.” No teacher should be an island. Wherever possible, either locally or through an online PLN, seek out other teachers that can challenge your thoughts and help you learn and grow. AOE is a great place to start. Also, search hashtags like #arted on Twitter.

2. Make a Great Product
“What Steve did that few marketers understand is that he first created a great product.” Our curriculum is our product. What we teach and how we teach should be great. A great teacher is always looking to improve his or her lessons.

3. Stand for Something
The article states that we should impute our values across everything we do. As teachers, we do this by standing behind our core beliefs and principles even when it means standing up to administrators or the challenging the status quo.

4. Invest
Big investments have big risks, but they also can pay big dividends. The article addresses these investments as financial, but our investments are the time and effort we give to our students and our programs. Sometimes we feel our efforts are in vain and sometimes things will fail, but in the end, big investments will produce the biggest payoffs.

5. Create Experiences
Your art department is more than a series of individual classes, it should be an entire experience. Think of how students who graduate from your program might answer the question, “What was your experience like in your high school art class?” Their answers should reveal more than a series of products they created, they should encompass entire experiences.

6. Build Mystery 
Jobs was also famous for his “One more thing” gesture, where, just when people thought a press conference was over, he’d say, “Oh, one more thing,” and then pull out something that blew everyone away. Knowing what will happen next is lame. Not knowing the outcome, experimenting and exploring are exciting. If we give everything to the students, then there is no mystery to our lesson. We need to leave some of our lesson open for the students to find out for themselves, even if that means we don’t know the answer ourselves. The best scenario would be for a student to ask, “How do I do this?” and the teacher to respond, “I don’t know. Let’s find out!”

7. Find an Enemy
“The first rule of storytelling is that drama requires conflict. And the first rule of propaganda is that you need to have a bad guy.”

At first, it sounds harsh, but an enemy can be as seemingly insignificant as an ineffective project or a boring way of doing something. It can also be as monumental as taking on a new way of thinking while everyone else wants you to continue doing something the way it has always been done before.

8. Turn Students into Evangelists
“Possibly the biggest thing Jobs did was turn customers into passionate advocates for the Apple brand.”

There is no bigger compliment than to have a student tell his or her friends, “You have got to take art!” The article talks about “loyal customers”. How many of our Art One Students continue on to Art Two or Art Three? We need to be vigilant and create a program where students desire to continue.

9. Don’t Talk About Products
“Apple ads weren’t about products but rather the kind of people who would use the products.”

Sometimes I forget. It’s not about famous works of art or the projects we create or the way we teach. It’s really about the students. It may be cliche but it is true. We must reach the student before we can teach the student. Build relationships.

10. Use Pictures Not Words
Well, that one is easy. We are art teachers!


What lessons would you add to the list?

Which of these do you feel is the most important?




Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Ian Sands

Ian Sands, a high school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. He is a co-author of The Open Art Room and believes art teachers shouldn’t make art—they should make artists.

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