Sarafina Fiber Art

Sarafina Fiber Art

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Teaching Workshops Series 3: The People

Teaching workshops is one of the most thrilling, and potentially stressful things that I do.  I can end the the day on a high feeling as if I have shared a spiritual creative experience with a room of people or I can finish the day in the gutter, drained and liquid, wanting to wash away.

In addition to business person, teacher, student of the craft, and host, you may also have to put on another hat, that of understanding people.  When we step into an environment of learning, especially as adults,  we may become uncomfortable, because, without some discomfort, we can not grow.  It is a necessary evil.  But that discomfort manifests itself in different people in a variety of ways.  Some people actually roll around in it ready for a challenge!  Some shrink, some lash out, some quietly digest, and some fight it.

Before I proceed with my amateur psycho analysis, please know that I am not complaining or bashing,  I love what I do as well as the people who spend their time and hard earned money to join me in creativity.  I am also a student and often in unfamiliar territory learning new things, so I know the other side of this coin very well.  Learning and creating are two of the best pursuits for anyone and we must never stop no matter our age.  We can learn about ourselves as students or our students as an instructor.  My goal is only to share what I have learned about handling the various learning personalities.

We all looked at the same still life; I love seeing how different people interpret the same thing.

It's Important to Adopt a Learning Spirit

At the beginning of almost every workshop, unless my group is full of people who have been with me before, I talk about having a "learning spirit" and "enjoying the process."  No matter my teaching skills, a participant is not going to sit down and make a project the first time, as well as they will the fifth, or even second time.  There is no substitute for practice.  There are so many inspirational quotes that I pull from my guru hat on this subject!

Without stretching, we can not reach farther.

It's not about the destination, enjoy the journey.

Failures are not the opposite of success but the reason for success.

Without discomfort we can not grow.

But no matter my well delivered inspirational intentions, participants are going to be frustrated.   In general, we place a heavy expectation of success on ourselves.  Adults especially do not deal well with being incapable.   So, as the instructor, it is our job to remind participants why they are there to learn, have fun, and enjoy the process.  It's also our job to help them feel that they are capable and give them every chance for success.

I loved this group!  While I was drawing on the dry erase board, I turned around to a bunch or red noses.

Understanding Different Attitudes and Personalities 

Each participant brings with them their personality as well as their spirit of the day.  I am generally a positive person; that's my personality.  But some days I feel that I can tackle the world and some days I would like to not get dressed, and honestly, curl up in the arms of my Mother.  Some days are action days and some days are thinking days.  That is my spirit of the day.

Learning something new, experiencing that discomfort, can bring out a part of us that might otherwise lay low beneath our everyday presentation.  The following are some typical Learner Personalities that I have come to recognize.

A person might be attentive, alert, focused, and independent, like a tiger. This is an easy and welcome type because he/she does not drain the instructor.  Don't forget to acknowledge this participant - just because they are independent does not mean they don't love praise and encouragement.

There are some people who cant seem to get out of his/her own way.  There is a negative internal dialogue that can't be helped.  Sometimes the internal dialogue becomes external in the form of heavy sighs or outright exclamations of failure.   But underneath the negativity is a person who just really wants to succeed and is uncomfortable with the idea that he/she might not.
    You will try to help because he/she is calling for it.  However, be aware of your ability to help.  If after, 2 or 3 suggestions, the dark thoughts do not subside,  you have to move on, because otherwise your energy, which should be spread to all in the workshop, will get sapped by one person.  Interestingly, this type, despite their apparent struggle, usually ends up with good stuff!  I do my best to help them see that they should enjoy the process along the way and to keep their negativity from polluting the room.

Some people are fearless.  They will do their own thing are generally happy with results.  They are not afraid to try something new, not afraid to be different, not afraid to fail.  They understand the learning spirit.  (Just an interesting point to me, these types, that I have met along the way, are very strait forward in appearance and personality.  Not pierced, leather wearing, outrageous attention seekers.)  They are a joy in the workshop.  They usually encourage other participants.
Some participants make light of themselves and maybe helps lift the spirit of the workshop with comic relief.  This type usually has a good attitude but make sure the jokes are not covering up distress or problems that can easily be helped and avoided.

Lleona attacks creatively.  She put a heart in her gorilla -- not a step in my instructions!  I love seeing her work because I know she has pushed herself and taken a chance.

Another type feels incapable and wants to be seen as well as helped.  They are not necessarily negative, but just need a lot of reassurance.  As with a negative person, be careful not to let a needy person monopolize your time or get the class off track.

Of course we all have parts of these tendencies and there are also many more personalities out there.   Most people are not entirely one of these extremes.  The point is to keep in mind what kind of student you are, or if you are an instructor, how personality and attitude can effect your workshop.

Communicate with Humor and Understanding

Whether you are an instructor or participant, we are sharing space and time with other people, and usually people we don't know well.  To add to the difficulties of learning, participants and/or instructor might be nervous!  Mix all of this up with attitudes, personalities, the position of Venus, the weather, and possibly travel, and it's a downright juggling act of your Grandmother's fine china on sticks on a ball.  I am not being dramatic - some days it really feels that way.   Everyone has to get along to have fun.

My personality leans towards humor as a way to relate, disarm, and relax.  I get tired and cranky, especially towards the end of a class.  When I sense that I have snipped at someone, I call myself on it and make fun of myself.  (Of course it's best to avoid being snippy in the first place.)  Likewise, when I have a difficult student, I try to find the common ground and the real problem.  He/ she is there, spending their precious time with me to learn, so I need to return that investment and do my best to diffuse the negative bomb.  Whether you are teaching or learning, remember that you are all in it together and sharing something wonderful.

Remember That You Can Learn Too

Being humble and open, especially when you are there to teach (I like to think of it as sharing), is an important aspect to remember.  In the past, I have caught myself being resistant to a suggestion.  What purpose can that serve?  Why would that be my inclination in the first place?  So I remind myself to learn from the day and the participants.  In the end, I get a lot of a workshop day,  some days, as much a participant.

Every workshop has it's own life.  Every one is a chance to create something special; the actual project, the atmosphere, the experience, and perhaps new friendships.   I hope you enjoy teaching and/or attending a workshop soon. 

Teaching Workshops Series 2: The Process

Everyone has their supplies, their thinking caps on, is on the same step, and their smiles in tact! A good start.

Preparation for your workshop is covered in "Teaching Workshops 1: The Nuts and Bolts."
Understanding the personalities that you will meet  is covered in "teaching Workshops Series 3: The People"

Workshop Components

There are several components in a Workshop; the space, the project, preparation, the supplies, the instructor, the participants.

I am lucky enough to now have a shop and workshop space.  We have plenty of room for up to 18 people, although we rarely do a class that size.  Before I had my shop, I traveled to a local yarn shop with the supplies I needed.  Sometimes, I have taught in a home, mine or others.    No matter your location, you will need adequate table space and chairs, a rest room, perhaps a kitchen or snack area, and possibly some other amenities like a deep sink or additional table.

Setting up is a big key in helping one to feel prepared for the people and the project.  No matter the class, make sure the tables are clean and set with the tools each person will need.  You may need to have a side table with additional materials depending on your project.  It feels best when this is done before people arrive.  If students arrive early, you can ask them to help!  : )

I go into detail about the instructor end of preparing your project in "Teaching Workshop Series 1: Nuts and Bolts."

TIP:  Try to avoid answering questions about the class before class had started.  It will drain your energy.  You can say something like, "That is an excellent question.  I will address it when everyone is here so all can hear the answer." You will most likely need to be working where everyone can see you and able to easily reach everyone when they need help.

The project should suit the time allowed, level, and number participants.

Once everyone has arrived, hopefully on time and ready to roll, you can begin! 

Getting Started

When everyone has arrived, I introduce myself and thank them for coming.  I also might explain the space and where everything is located in the space.  This sounds obvious, but it is an important step in getting everyone's attention and starting the class.  I will also explain without details how the class will progress and the tools that they have available to them.

Sometimes I have a multi-day workshop.  When several people are going to be spending the day together, it's nice to get to know one another. ( I also like to find out what each participant would like to learn and what their experience might be.)  My friend, Lee, uses a game: Each person says their name and describes themselves with an adjective that starts with the first letter or their name.  I might be Sara - Silly Sara.  Each person in turn has to repeat the names of the people before them and then their own.  Sometimes the nicknames would stick!  Just a fun way to break the ice and begin to know one another.

Explain the Materials

Understanding the materials, whether it is wool, paint, ceramics, leather, etc, participants might have better success if they understand the properties of their materials.  For example, in a painting class I explain how oils paints are thinned, how to hold, use, and clean a brush, and how to adjust the easel.  In a needle felting class, I explain how to pull roving, draft, hold the needles, stab into the felting surface, etc.  In a Nuno Felting Class, our instructor explains fiber properties and why some fibers felt and others do not.  General overviews of good practices and familiarity with the tools and materials.

Have a Variety of Way to Demonstrate

People learn in different ways so it is important to have more than one method of conveying an idea.  Demonstration is key of course.  Whether you are working step by step or demonstrating and then letting the participants have at it.

IMPORTANT:  Make sure everyone can see you.

Examples of a step through demonstration or actual finished projects can help people see where they are headed and what the end goal could be.  Be sure that these examples are indicative of the actual project and not some more elaborate or larger piece that will leave them mislead.

Showing all the pieces of the rabbit's head before they are attached

All the pieces come together.  Hopefully!

Following on the heals of demonstration, I might use and analogy.  Your bag of analogies will grow the more you teach.  You never know what analogy might click with what person so lay them on thick and plentiful!

I often have a dry erase board.  Sometimes a large illustration sinks in better than the previous methods.

Reference material is also important and often absolutely necessary.  Photographs of an animal, diagrams of a skeleton, inspirational images for colors or textures, can all help a person envision what they want to make.

Sometimes, no matter if all of these steps have been taken, someone will need me right next to them, one on one, for a certain step.  Perhaps he/she learns better with that kind of proximity and connection.  The instructor needs to find the line between helping that way but not being drained or stolen from the rest of the class.

Learn How to Keep the Class on Track 

The Instructor's job can be very difficult in terms of keeping the class on track.  I can become quite stern when I need everyone's attention.  Nothing exhausts me faster than answering the same question over again, especially right after I have gone to great lengths to explain, demonstrate, illustrate and analogize.   Participants become engrossed in their project, which is a good thing, but sometimes the instructor will need to get everyone's attention.  Do not speak until the tools are put down and eyes are on you.  There is no way a person can work and listen at the same time.

Another difficulty in keeping the class on track, is adjusting the pace to the variety of work speeds.  Some people will be fast and some will be slow.  Neither is a judgement of bad or good, it is just a difference.  The fast people might have to wait for others.  Usually they are okay with that, but I am always keeping an eye that they are not getting too frustrated. If the environment allows it, I might suggest they start a second project, or see if there is some detail they can refine as they wait.

The slow people need to be given time.  However, you can not let the entire workshop fall short because of the pace of one person.   Sometimes people are slow because they are over working.  That is an easy one to remedy.  I just ask them nicely to stop.  Sometimes people are slow for physical reasons; they may need a little more hands on help and I am happy to do that.  If they are slow due to lack of skills, I see that as my problem.  I always try to keep the skill level of the class on par; this sometimes mean telling someone that they are not ready for the workshop.  In the case that someone slipped through, I step in and help to assure that the rest of the class is not waiting.

Sometimes I give a time frame.  I say, "Okay, you have 5 more minutes to work on this step."  Doing this helps people gauge how long they should be spending on something and adjust their own timing.  

Be Aware of Too Many Options

Cater the number of options to the level of the participants.  In a beginner class, I will have everyone work with the same materials and work step by step.  They are generally there to learn something new, so adding a big bunch of choices for them can be overwhelming.

If a workshop if made for or full of intermediate or advances participants, then you can open up the bag of tricks a bit and let them explore their own avenues.

The biggest challenge of running a workshop is not letting it run you.

Another Artist's Input by Lee Charlton

I have been teaching my whole adult life.  First, in raising our three amazing children, second, during my 20 years as a paramedic and now, in my third career, as a fiber artist.  I can say that no matter what the subject matter, my goals has always to bring confidence to each person to pursue what interests them and to demonstrate critical thinking skills so they can succeed.  Yes, there are special skill sets one must learn about the subject matter at hand but without confidence and critical thinking skills, the student will not be successful.
The hard part of teaching is how to inspire confidence in the wide variety of personalities that walk in the door for class.  On my end I try to always be prepared, organized, confident in my outlook, and welcome each person whether it be as they walk in or after we are all seated and ready to start. 
Playing an icebreaker game (I usually play a name game) can put people at ease and create a feeling of community and mutual support for the duration of the class (and hopefully beyond).  Folks like to know what to expect so I also spend just a few moments in the beginning outlining the class and what we hope to accomplish.
The hardest part about teaching is accomplishing your goals while tailoring the material to several personality types and learning styles, letting the slower people have enough time to explore each task but not so much time that the fast ones in the class get bored.     
Calling people by name once in a while to check in on how they are doing, holding their piece (I am talking needle felting here) and taking a critical look see, complimenting and making a few suggestions always seems to make people happy.  Letting "neighbors" help "neighbors" also helps those that need an extra hand up in being successful.
I love the community that teaching a class creates and seeing people work together, compliment each other and be supportive pleases me.  We are all unique and have value and if I accomplish anything during a class it would be, if even only for the 4 hours were in class together, that everyone feels supported, worthy and valued.

Teaching Workshops Series 1: The Nuts and Bolts

A workshop is an intense session of a small group of people to further their skills focused on a particular craft or activity.  It's not just a time to learn, but also a time to escape your world and enter a new one.  We can forget about our responsibilities and focus on one thing.  It's a time to gather with other like minded people.  Also, when we stretch ourselves mentally or physically by learning something new it keeps us young.  Yes, workshops are age defying.
 Lovely faces, clean table, and all the tools, all ready to go.  What are they all looking at me for?  Oh right, I am teaching.

Sharing a creative process in a workshop can be very rewarding for both instructor and participants.  It can also be a train wreck for one or all involved.  Over five years and countless workshops, I have fortunately experienced more of the former but sadly, both.  This series of blog posts about workshops is intended to share some of what I have learned, help instructors prepare, help participants understand what is involved, and hopefully entertain along the way.

You are reading "Teaching Workshops Series 1:  The Nuts and Bolts"

The success of a workshop can hinge on many contingents:  the complexity of the project, the time allowed, the number of people, the preparedness of the instructor, the attitudes of the participants, and, I swear, the alignment of the Planet Venus.

You can swing your chances of ending on a high note by being prepared, limiting your class numbers, having plenty of time, and understanding a few fundamentals about people (See "Teaching Workshop Series 3: The People.")

No matter your medium, whether you are teaching at home, in a rented space, online, or through a local shop, the following information may help you plan and execute, hopefully without a hitch.

Advertising and Collecting Payment

Hare Workshop

Aside from some private and group painting classes years ago, I began teaching needle felting workshops through a local yarn shop (shout out to Vulcan's Rest!), long before Sarafina existed.  The shop had the pool of participants, handled the sign up, money collection, and provided the space. If this is your situation, you are in luck!  You can show up as the teacher, set up, teach, and receive your check in the mail.

If you are teaching on your own, you will need a system.  How are you going to reach your market,  collect money, keep track of who is coming, handle cancellations, illness,  contact participants when needed?

Here is an example of our sign up sheet.  You may also want to record the class size minimum and maximum.

Very first workshop at Sarafina Art House was 5 days long!  July 2014.  We ended up calling it boot camp.  We were ambitious. 

Preparing the Project

This little fox oil took me an hour, but in the workshop it took us four.
When I teach a project, whether it be a workshop or online tutorial, I spend a lot of time preparing.  It is a matter of making the project several times.  First, I am taking a guess at the process, whether it be paint colors, armature length, materials needed, or whatever your craft might involve.  Then, once I have an idea of what I need to do, I make the project several times, taking and revising notes the whole way.

My understanding of the project is not only about how to make it myself, but how to convey each step to the class participants in a clear and step by step manner.  I have become good at this with needle felting.  I am now also teaching painting and realized that I need to hone my ability to convey the process.  What happens when I paint alone can emerge without thought or understanding - being able to explain it to a a group of people so that they might achieve a similar result is another story.

An important aspect of this preparation is gaining an understanding for the time needed.  In general, it takes me twice as long to teach a needle felting class as it does for me to make a project, fairly consistently no matter the size or complexity.  I am still figuring painting out, but I paint quickly.  I need to allow 3 times of class time to my work time for painting.   

I recently taught a painting class.  I adeptly and quickly "prepared," painting a fox in less than and hour.  It was a thrill and a success.  When I was teaching the four hour class, however, I realized that I had no words to explain the middle of the process.  I had a room full of people with very different paintings, waiting to be lead to the end of their masterpiece, and all I could say was, "You just make paint puddles to pull from and start building contrast."  That, clearly, is not a sufficient explanation!  I have since refined my painting teaching ability, but it just goes show that just like learning a new craft, teaching takes practice.

Once you have system and a plan for your project, it's time to organize your space.  Please check out the next blog in the series to see how a workshop unfolds.  Teaching Workshops Series 2: The Process
Three Day Advanced Gorilla Workshop