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 :
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.
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