Saturday, 16 November 2013

how to run a workshop



every so often i get an email asking for advice on how to run dyeing workshops. sometimes people will ask me quite specifically [and i may say, audaciously] for teaching plans or class outlines. often i wonder whether they are writing to the right person, especially if they refer to dying workshops. i do not feel competent to instruct anyone about that.

sometimes they tell me that they've been to a dye class somewhere [not necessarily with me, i might add] and now they want to teach too; or that they "have the book" and are "ready to teach" but are wondering where to begin in terms of running a workshop.


in general i respond as follows :


dear 'X'
 
I have been working on developing my workshops over some thirty or so years and I'm beginning to think they are at last moving in the right direction.

But what works for me may not necessarily work for you. My teaching is founded in my history, informed by research and practice, enriched by continual re-examination, research and further study.

Each of us finds our own way into our own reality. The one sure thing I can tell you is that your work will be a clear reflection of you.  


go well

India


 

today as i was happily bundling away and stitching on my blue cloth while waiting for the billy full of bundles to boil i found myself pondering the subject of teaching in more depth [one of the great benefits of an artist residency is being given the gift of time, not just to DO, but to THINK] and so i made a few notes that i thought might be worth sharing

the first classes i taught were at remote communities out along the East-West railway line that crosses the middle of Australia. at the time i was employed by the Arts Council of South Australia [now a mere shadow of its former self] as their exhibitions officer.

together with South Australian artist Yasmin Grass and R.I.C.E. i travelled out on the Tea and Sugar train with an exhibition of colourful clothing set up in one end of an old railway carriage and a lino-printing workshop at the other. at night we unrolled sleeping bags and slept on the floor of the show. that was back in the 80s. sadly the Tea and Sugar doesn't run any more.

we taught at places like Tarcoola, Cook and Barton. at the first stop, Tarcoola, there was a one-teacher school and as i recall the teacher disappeared off to the pub after unloading all of his 15 students on to us. i guess he didn't get many days off.  it was "seat of the pants" flying and a good learning experience all round.

at the beginning of the day all i really knew was "more about lino printing than any of the students". by the end of the day i was beginning to get a grip on crowd management, had learned to make sure that we would have a first aid kit next time [cellophane tape and toilet tissue aren't the best emergency response for cut fingers] and had developed a mildly ridiculous comedy routine that helped get the clean-up done at the end. nobody bled to death, everyone had a printed T-shirt they were happy with and we had managed to foil the class clown who was busy carving an expletive into a piece of lino with the intent of inking it and placing it underneath fellow students as they were about to sit down. it was a creative idea but he'd forgotten to reverse the letters so it would have looked pretty silly anyways.

but back to the subject...how to run a workshop

know your subject inside out. that means understanding things yourself before you attmept to present them to others. in the case of dyeing with plants it means being able to identify the plants you plan to work with, knowing their properties and understanding the chemistry.
taking a few classes or reading a book does not make you an expert. practice and research and study will help.

prepare. i have a good friend whose motto is "luck is for the unprepared". i find it takes me at least a day of prep for each day of teaching, and a good bit of time spent after class thinking about what went well, what could have been improved and what really needs to change before the next time 

take care of your students and help them to learn how to do things safely and sensibly.

repeat things from time to time [we learn to remember by repetition]

be a student yourself. i take at least two classes each year as a student. they may not necessarily be classes that are obviously related to WHAT i teach, but they help me to learn HOW to teach in a more engaged [and i hope engaging] and effective way

if you want to use something in your teaching that you've learned from someone else's class, ask their permission first. and when you do share it with your students, acknowledge the person you learned the skill from. #

listen to your students. you can learn a lot from them, not only interesting information but about how they understand [or don't understand] things

keep on reading, researching, experimenting and learning in your chosen field.

and keep on asking questions.

the truth is you can never know too much about your subject. and the last word [for now] goes to Bill Shakespeare.

to thine own self be true.  





and while we're talking about workshops...there's a three day class with me near a beach on the Otago coast on new Zealand's beautiful south island at the end of April next year that still has places...in fact, so many places that they're thinking about pulling the plug on it. if enough people sign up in the next few weeks it will go ahead, otherwise i'll be spending more time at home in the studio...polishing up my skills!




# i shall be forever grateful to Nalda Searles [who taught me how to make string] and to Sandra Brownlee [who kindly let me borrow her idea of a "clothesline talk"] ... by combining the two ideas i've derived a useful and amusing means of presenting information to students and keeping it available to them for the duration of the class

41 comments:

  1. How right you are! You need to learn how to teach effectively: all you have mentioned and so much more. Your paragraphs on 'prepare' and 'be a student' are crucial: teaching is one big learning curve that never ends. Oh to attend one of your workshops, India, would mean that I would learn so much.

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  2. I do love that blue piece on your wall.

    And your advice about how to run a workshop is right on. Especially like the reminder to continue to be a student.

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  3. Hats off! Very well substantiated synopsis of the Teaching Practice. Thanks for sharing!

    Elena

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  4. It must be hard sometime asking for so many question of different arts , your teaching described are what you are doing , great for mee, you learn all the time if you are open for new things , for some of us it takes more time !!!! I love the tea and sugar train , nostalgia the little girl on the swing have the same shoe on i think , as i still have here in my house funny!!!!

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  5. I've just done my very first "bundle"- you'd be proud of me. Not even sure I knew what I was doing, but happy with the results. Now, I'm wiping the tea that just ran out my nose after spraying the rest on Bruce - that letter is GOLD. Still laughing. The nicest way of saying it yet.

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    1. well i hope you wiped the tea up WITH the bundle! warm greetings to Bruce. and you.

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  6. Oh, you've burst my bubble . . . and I thought it was all too easy and anyone could do it!
    You certainly are your father's daughter, he too was constantly learning how to better present his material until the day he retired.

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    2. Pa's first year 'introduction to Atmospheric Science' lecture became a legend in its own lunchtime at Flinders University. students from all areas of study would crowd into the theatre to watch as Prof, spiffily [as ever] attired in a suit and bow-tie, would tell stories about various aspects of the subject while a 44 gallon drum [with water in it] would be boiling over a bunsen burner. at some point he'd casually turn off the gas and put the bung in the drum. and then at the precise moment when he was explaining about atmospheric pressure, the drum would implode and all the newbie students would jump out of their skins, to a round of applause from the more seasoned members of the audience.

      i'm still working out how i can introduce that routine to my colourstories....

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    3. GRAND story! I might have learned something in science classes if I'd had an entertaining teacher like that ;>]]

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  7. Your comments about teaching are spot on. Part of my job is mentoring people to become tutors for our tiny local charity. Your comments are teaching/learning in a nutshell. I sometimes despair of myself that I'm always learning about different art techniques...why can't I concentrate on painting, and try to become good at THAT? I came to plant dyeing through your book; and am aware that my textile work is informing my paper/canvas work now. It all feeds; the work, and the soul. You express what I've been doing as a 'learner'; becoming a student again, and learning to learn; to feed my teaching. Thanks for articulating that India.

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  8. Thank you for this post India. I was so identified with your words! At this time what you say happens so often (read a book and feel ready to teach) and so little walking a path of learner and teacher, experiencing and living the art. It helps me on my way ... It's a wish to invite you to teach here in South America,,, I hope to realize this. Love. Andrea

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    1. and it would indeed be splendid to venture to South America!

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  9. Priceless. While I just cannot imagine the audacity or extreme naivety that would allow/prompt anyone to ask for advice on teaching a class now that they've taken a class or read the book (which is so utterly laughable), I love your letter back and your history and thoughts that follow. Thank you for sharing it all. And thank you for advocating asking permission and giving credit when employing another's skill. Too many times, credit is not given...and likely permission not asked. A most excellent post.

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    1. Third Jennifer's words. Right on.

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    2. thank you for your kind words, me dear.

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  10. excellent words india. there is an added bonus, the teacher learns as much from teaching as the students. might be different learning, though--
    your blue piece shouted at me…i looked up and out the east windows and saw its reflection…and now, a few words later that color is gone. you captured this november dawn.

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    1. it's very true about the learning from students... a workshop is a fine example of "the whole being greater than the sum of the parts" in terms of the cocktail of information that's available if we keep our ears open
      i should also mention here that i very much enjoyed being a student in your shifu class some while ago...but although i weave for myself, i will not be trying to teach shifu, or any other kind of weaving for that matter.

      i shall leave that to the experts.

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  11. well said. sometimes I think of quitting the arena of teaching because of all the pre work and post work. even when you know your subject well, it is quite another thing to break down what you find easily done into steps that can be followed and understood by newbies. Afterwards, I always go over each workshop changing forms of presentation and when each step should be introduced. and as you said, you cannot repeat enough! that is always a surprise to me. thank you for your spirit!

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  12. Excellent notes, India. Hopefully some of those who are audacious will read this and learn a bit. Listening to students is not only valuable but a learning tool
    Thank you for sharing.

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    1. listening = indispensable.

      in fact the more i think about it, the more i see teaching as being similar to sailing...keeping a hand on the tiller, the other on the mainsheet, watching the telltales on the mains'l and keeping a weather eye out for cats paws on the water ahead, not to mention other shipping. and no matter how careful you are, you can still be knocked out by the boom when there's a sudden and unexpected jibe!

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  13. Excellent notes, India. Hopefully some of those who are audacious will read this and learn a bit. Listening to students is not only valuable but a learning tool
    Thank you for sharing.

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  14. Excellent notes, India. Hopefully some of those who are audacious will read this and learn a bit. Listening to students is not only valuable but a learning tool
    Thank you for sharing.

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  15. I read EcoColour 3 yrs ago and started the adventure of foraging for field offerings and using cauldrons and cloth. Recently I attended a Fiesta of Cultures, (I now live in New Mexico). At this event, I knew from the fiesta info that there would be weavers who used local plants to dye their wool. I had been dyeing with some of the local windfall, desert willow, chamisa, wild walnut, Chinese pistache leaves, even chile peppers so I gathered some cloth strips to take so that I could share and ask questions of the weavers. A few members of an old weavers guild kindly looked at my strips of cloth that I had dyed and asked if I gave workshops...I choked, stuttered and replied that No, after 3 yrs and newly moved to New Mexico, I had so much to learn still about dyeing and especially about the local plants of the desert.

    It is so easy for an experience like that to go to one's head and I will admit that for a moment, I was hugely flattered and my head was bouncing in the clouds. Truth is it has taken me 3 yrs just to get comfortable with even asking questions to those with many years of experience and I consider myself a neophyte in this world of natural dyeing. Gathering windfall and knowing what I have gathered is a huge part of the joy; a joy that requires study in recognizing what it is that I hold in my hands and it will take me years of continuous learning, to even come close to absorbing the alchemy of natural dyeing. And I do understand that there is science in the world of natural dyeing but I will continue to use the word alchemy to describe the true gift of the process for me, the never knowing what will appear when a bundle is unwrapped and the everlasting learning that comes with each new unveiling...

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  16. Agree with all of the above, India. I am always amazed at people in my area (Colorado) who have decided they know enough to teach this subject. it's all about money. Makes me sad.

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  17. As a beginning dyer, I am surprised by the look of exasperation I receive when I respond to a request of teaching a workshop that I am not qualified.

    I recommend your book and your brilliant workshops. There is no substitute for the "India experience".

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  18. I remain your biggest fan, this post is long overdue.

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  19. Thoughtful and informative response to inquire about your teaching methods.

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  20. Nalda Seales is a national treasure & so are you India!!

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    1. actually i think Nalda should be nominated as Living Treasure. and having thought that i googled to see if i could do that but it seems the nominations for 2014 closed in 2011. good grief.

      http://www.craftaustralia.org.au/livingtreasures/series3/nominations.php

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  21. Great advice! I always detested the quote I would hear when in art classes in my youth - "Those who can't do, teach". It missed the point that each is a different set of skills. The teacher requires multiple skills sets. I am descended from a long line of teachers, yet couldn't have succeeded as a high school teacher until I had raised some of the brood up to teenagers. I understood my subject but needed to learn how to reach the students of that age group (I like how you called it crowd management!). I went on to teach high school for 8 years until funding cuts led to layoff. Sometimes these days, people in my fiber world who know that I have taught knitting for many years ask if I will teach a dye class; I decline, though occasionally will invite someone to spend the day with me while I work. The prep time and the post time are elusive right now and therefore so is the teaching time. I am grateful to be willing to acknowledge that, and simply keep making room for my own work time. Your words have helped me feel less selfish about that!

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  22. I'm crushing on this blog post..... and suppressing the desire to fist-pump the air and holler 'oh yeah baby'.... I remember vividly being gobsmacked when a valued calligraphic colleague of mine told me once how in her early teaching days she managed to stay just one step ahead of her students ('I'd quickly learn what I had to teach for the following class') ..... I've always had the opposite tendency.... (I think of myself as a mycelium-type teacher .... small, under the ground, connective, symbiotic, spore-like and fungal ;) )

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  23. Your response is perfect. I take lessons from you on how you turn a situation that would make me indignant to say the least and turn it into a gentle learning opportunity. Bless you India!
    I have shared information that you give in class with interested souls, saying all the while that I am just learning myself. The first thing I share is the name of your book and the second are the safety procedures. For m there on its an experiment we will perform together and see what comes of it... Like marti says, we will be amazed at the alchemy of it all.

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  24. Once again, this was so good posting. Teaching is first of all to know your subject, it is amazing how many people feel they can teach or write a book about something they have just scratched the surface themselves. All those things you wrote are so right.

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  25. thank you, all of you, for your thoughtful contributions above. and for bothering to swing by.

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  26. Thank you. Such an excellent response.

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  27. This post will get a special bookmark. It reaches much farther afield than workshops, I think!

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