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?




Ian Sands

This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • don masse

    I LOVE number 7. Find an enemy. It’s so true, and so important to growth on many different levels.

    • iansands

      Thanks! I liked that one too and felt it was important but will be honest, was a little nervous about putting it out there :)

      • Knowing what we don’t like or agree with can shape more firmly what we are passionate about, so I think it’s a solid tip! Thanks, Ian!

  • anonymous

    I’m using ALL these ideas as I prepare for an interview at a district that seems like a great match for me. I’ve been at my current job a while and I’m ready for change. . . PS signing this anonymous to practice the “mystery” one;) Thanks for the insight.

  • hmmm, I’m not sure number 10 is as easy or as common as it sounds… It’s easy to overdo the analysing, theorising, critiquing, philosophising etc! At least students tend to let us know pretty quickly when this is the case (directly or indirectly) : )

  • Debbie Clement

    What a fantastic article! I will pin, tweet, G+ it out to the wider world. Thanks for taking the time to apply your insight to an area near and dear to my heart and the first to get chopped from the budget when times are difficult. As educators and Art educators specifically, knowing and following these insights can build a program with strength (which is exciting) but building the individual students within that program is a contribution to society at large.

  • JennP

    Thank you for that great article!!!!

  • iansands

    Thanks for all the positive feedback!

  • Jane Gravois

    This reminds me of an article I shared recently with my students called “5 Qualities for the Modern Employee”, by Jacob Morgan. I saw how these qualities could easily be developed in art class.

  • Pingback: Top Ten Lessons from Steve Jobs that Every Art Teacher Must Learn – My Reflections | Muse Sans Papyrus()

  • Brandi Martin

    Did you ever see the commencement speech he made? I always showed it to my AP classes. I think he’d agree with your article.

    • Alecia Eggers

      That sounds really cool Brandi! Can you link it here?