Archive for April, 2010

What Makes a Great Teacher?

April 22, 2010

While quilting is my main passion, I do like to play in other sandboxes, so to speak. Taking a class now and then in embroidery, needlepoint, knitting, gardening or some other area that focuses on design principles and/or new techniques is inspirational and often leads to new ideas for my quilts. Soooo, when a local shop announced they would be hosting a day-long workshop a few blocks from my home with a world-renowned craftsperson, I was one of the first to sign up and pay my $90. I then purchased my supplies ($97.02, excluding tax) and counted down on the calendar. It felt like Christmas in a way and as I thought about the upcoming class, my expectations about what I might make with my newfound skills grew each day. A side note here: The workshop was to focus on teaching about color and two techniques. I had zip experience with the two techniques, but according to the course description, this class required only the basic skills, which I have. I have a fairly good understanding about color, but am primarily self-taught, so I feel there is always room to learn more.

Okay, you know this is not going to turn out the way I envisioned, right?

What I had not anticipated when I walked into the classroom all eager to learn was an instructor who, in my opinion, was far less eager to teach. Teaching is hard whether you are teaching rambunctious first graders or adults with a wide range of experiences and expectations. I have taught many students, colleagues, and clients through the years in my varying roles as a quilter and business consultant; and at the end of a workshop, I am wiped. Teaching in front of large groups does not come naturally to me, but I always give a 110% and make sure the content is on point with participant expectations.

Whether you are teaching a craft or leading a workshop on how to write a business plan, many of the same basic rules apply. Most are common sense, but as I learned several days ago, not always followed. Here are a few I never lose sight of . . .

  1. Write a clear and accurate workshop description that can be communicated to participants beforehand. This is what participants are going to read to decide whether a class is worth their time and money. If this is a workshop where something will be produced (e.g., a quilt top, a sweater), show a picture. Keep this description close at hand as you outline the content since the description and content should match.
  2. Know your content. If you are not comfortable with or don’t have the depth to talk expertly about a topic, it should not be part of the agenda. Content should never be dumbed down because of the instructor’s lack of knowledge/curiosity, and the work of others who do view it seriously should not be discounted.
  3. Refresh your content. Who wants to be teaching the same class year after year. If you are bored with the content, it will not take long for that to become evident to your students.
  4. Think through the supplies list in any crafts class. Would it be more beneficial, from a cost and/or learning standpoint, for participants to buy a kit (possibly choosing from several color options) or to assemble the items themselves? Being mindful of students’ budgets can go a long way in building strong relationships, with the instructor and the local shop sponsoring the event.
  5. Hand out an agenda. Everyone wants to know where they are going throughout the day and what time parameters have been set for each item on the agenda. The course description should be reiterated here.
  6. Start the workshop with introductions, beginning with yourself. Participants should introduce themselves and state what they hope to learn. Write down these learning goals on a flipchart.  As the instructor, this is where you need to manage expectations and amend the content – if everyone wants to learn a particular technique, show them, even if it wasn’t part of the original plan. If you skip the introductions or do them half-way through, you’ve missed an opportunity to manage expectations and it implies that you really don’t care who they are or what they want to learn. Revisit the goals periodically throughout the day to make sure you are working through the list.
  7. Lay out the ground rules about food and beverages during the workshop and apply it to all. As a coffee addict, I love being able to drink and sew, but only in my own studio where there is one cup of coffee and one person’s fabric stash to consider. Participants have invested in their supplies and to risk ruining them with a cup of coffee is simply disrespectful. In the class I took, the instructor’s coffee cup went flying at one point and spilled coffee everywhere. Luckily, it did not hit anyone’s supplies. However, the tone was set for what was allowed. When I moved a fellow student’s “filled to the brim with no top on” coffee cup to an empty table about 20 feet away from where people were working, she was slightly miffed.  It had been sitting on the floor within inches of hundreds of dollars worth of her fellow students’ supplies!
  8. Make use of visual aids, including handouts and slideshows. This will help to reinforce the content and give participants something to take away and look at when they are at home. And, certainly don’t tell them to buy the book to learn the technique that they are supposed to be learning in the workshop.
  9. As an instructor, never be defensive or snappy. We’ve all heard it, “there is no such thing as a bad question,” and as the instructor you have to reinforce this.
  10. Wrap it up at the end of the day. Summarize key techniques and anything else you want to reinforce, check the list of key learning goals to make sure what you set out to accomplish has indeed been accomplished. Share participant’s work with classmates for one final learning opportunity. You may have done this on an ad hoc basis throughout the day, but do it a bit more formally now, giving constructive feedback by pointing out why something really works or does not work in the projects.
  11. Collect feedback on the workshop. When you are teaching, you need this feedback to know where you need to tweak content and make adjustments to your delivery. As a student, there are many times when you want to give feedback about what the instructor is doing right and where they could improve. It is especially frustrating when there is no means of giving this feedback after an experience that did not meet expectations.

These are just a few ideas of what makes a great teacher – student experience in a workshop setting. What do you think makes for a great workshop? What makes a great teacher?

A New Purpose for a Well-Worn Pair of Blue Jeans

April 6, 2010

My son is a collector, especially of rocks, pins, and coins. Most of his collections have been assembled by scouring creek beds (rocks and coins), looking through my old jewelry box from when I was a kid (pins), and sorting through the change jar (coins). To help rein in these collections, we have been going through each one to sort out duplicates or ones that no longer capture his attention. We have also been working on how to display each collection so that he – and others – can enjoy.

His collection of pins has been taking up precious real estate on his shelves and collecting MAJOR dust. The answer: Repurpose a pair of his old blues jeans with holes in the knees to make a wall hanging that can be expanded as the collection grows. (My theory is that a collection displayed vertically will gather a wee bit less dust – the dust will just magically blow off when we walk past or, if that fails, can be brushed off with a feather duster.)

For this project, I used just the lower leg portions of a pair of worn out jeans. The length of the pieces I cut off was determined by a big hole in one pant leg; I just measured up from the hem to that hole and then cut off the same amount from each leg. Then, I cut along the outside seam of each pant leg very close to the seam. Next, I turned under the raw edge created by that cut and topstitched in gold thread to match the original thread as much as possible. Last, I seamed the two legs together (using a 5/8-inch seam allowance) with the hem of one leg on the bottom of the wall hanging and the hem of the other leg on the top edge of the wall hanging.

Now for the fun part: Arranging the pins on the wall hanging! This took a bit of time, especially as the quilter in me took over and I wanted to dominate the process to make sure colors, sizes, and motifs were laid out in a way that was interesting and kept the eye moving. I have to admit arranging the pins took far longer than sewing the wall hanging.

For the first few days, the hanging was slung over an old steamer trunk in his bedroom and it looked pretty cool.  However, soon a pair of blue jeans and t-shirt were layered on top, so we decided to actually hang the wall hanging up sooner (this week), rather than later (in a year or two).  I handstitched a “sleeve” on the back (measuring about 1-1/2 inches x the width of the wall hanging less 3/4 inch on each side) and slid a 1/2 inch dowel through the sleeve.  The dowel had been cut to measure about 1/4 inch less than the width of the wall hanging. The ends of the dowel rest on two nails on the wall and are hidden by the wall hanging itself, so the wall hanging appears to float on the wall. The wall hanging is fairly heavy given its size, so the intention is to just make another one to hang alongside the original as the pin collection expands.

This project will not win any sewing awards – it is pretty rustic looking – but it fits great with the room decor of a 14-year old boy.

Truckers and Quilting

April 2, 2010

If you have not seen the article, “Idle Pastime: In Off Hours, Truckers Pick Up Stitching,” in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, it is a great read. In short, as the trucking industry is hit by fewer and smaller hauls, truckers often have down time between when they deliver one load and pick up the next, sometimes as much as a couple of days. They are filling this time with hobbies such as quilting and knitting. One of my favorite quotes in the article: “When he’s [Dave White] not sewing, he’s daydreaming about it, he said as he ran a square of yellow cotton with little violets through his machine. ‘Oh, there’s many a time you’re just going down the road at 0-dark-thirty in the morning and you just start thinking about a particular pattern.'”  How many of us quilters (knitters, etc.) can relate to this, whether we are driving a truck in the middle of the night or lying awake at the end of the day, unable to sleep as we plan our next quilt in our head?