Robert Najlis, Teaching Philosophy

My teaching is focused on diversity of thought, of practice, and of the individual participants. I work hard to get to know each student and I try to teach them from an individual perspective. I encourage them to work hard, and I push them to press their boundaries and discover who they can be. I am encouraged when I meet students that I taught years ago, and they tell me how important my class was to them, and how they still hear my voice as they progress forward with their own work and finding their own voice.

I have studied different disciplines, including artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and, foremost, visual arts. I have lived in both Asia and Latin America, and speak both Chinese and Spanish. This experience has helped me to a establish culturally responsive teaching practice, which allows for a more inclusive environment for students of all backgrounds. Traditional arts practices such as drawing and painting skills are fundamental to my practice and teaching, while at the same time, contemporary thought and technology are equally vital. Teaching foundational skills is essential, however, it is through helping students to cultivate their ability to think, learn and question, that they will become poised to pursue a successful career in the contemporary art world.

Learning visual arts means learning the process of seeing, in both a literal and figurative manner. Students learn how to draw the figure and paint a still life, and at the same time they also learn to understand theoretical constructs and how to apply appropriate theories in their own work. The act of drawing or painting is a practice of thinking and investigating, an emergent process that allows for transcendent discoveries, beginning with the physical process and growing far beyond:

the emergence of new knowledge is held in an image that has a direct relationship to my embodied experience of the place of the research. The image is pre-verbal in the sense that it involves multiple sensory responses in a particular moment. (Somerville, p. 212)

Listening plays a fundamental role in my teaching, critiquing, and mentoring. As students progress and develop their own ideas, it is crucial to approach their work with a lens that is not prejudiced by my own likes and dislikes. One needs to understand where the student is trying to go and to help them get there. As Paulo Freire noted:

Authentic education is not carried on by ‘A’ for ‘B’ or by ‘A’ about ‘B,’ but rather by ‘A’ with ‘B,’ mediated by the world – a world which impresses and challenges both parties, giving rise to views or opinions about it” (Freire, p. 93).

As a teacher, I can help to introduce students to ideas, but it is by assisting them in their investigation through methods such as object-based learning that together we can cultivate their use and understanding of such topics. The art world today is diverse and allows for many approaches to a wide range of questions. As an educator, my goal is to ensure that students develop a strong foundation from which they can continue to grow for a lifetime. As John Dewey noted: “education should derive its materials from present experience and should enable the learner to cope with the problems of the present and future” (Dewey, p. 77). I encourage students to be aware of multiple approaches and concepts to ensure that they will always be able to flourish, grow, and enjoy acts of discovery for themselves.


Dewey, J. (1997). Experience and education.New York, NY. Simon & Schuster.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed.New York: Herder and Herde

Somerville M (2008) “Waiting in the chaotic place of unknowing”: Articulating postmodern emergence. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 21(3): 209–220.