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. 


  1. Again Sara a joy to read and learn from..thank you so very much!

  2. Thank you for the thoughtful post. I can say from experience that your workshops are top-notch, and it's great to get a peek into that process!

  3. What a lovely way to acknowledge your students! There's a certain amount of trust necessary for both teacher and student in the classroom, and this post illustrates just why it is that so many of us trust you to lead us in new and wonderful directions. Thanks Sara!

  4. Thank you so much for this glimpse inside your teaching process and challenges. You are a joy to learn from! Such talent!

  5. I enjoyed reading your post which really resonated with me since I teach as well! This was a very thoughtful reflection on teacher-student interactions. Thank you! Willa