Sunday, 4 March 2012

Each one teach one

In the final chapter of Costing Not Less Than Everything (see right) I wrote:
Everyone needs to learn how to grow food, how make, mend and fix things. Between us, as extended families, networks of friends and local groups, we need to take back all the hand-skills that the modern world has ‘outsourced’ to mass production. Also, take care to develop your ‘soft skills’ – facilitation, leadership, conflict-handling, and learning how to build community around you, wherever you are in your life.
This week's gues post comes from Liz Perkins, who elaborates on this for us.

Liz was brought up by a dedicated make-do-and-mender, and enjoys passing on her skills to others. She spent most of her working life involved with research and practice in adult education, often concerned with practical skills; she has also run craft and spirituality workshops for women. She is an Appleseed tutor, and a member of Fritchley meeting in Derbyshire.
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Liz writes:

As climate change progresses, we're all going to have to learn new skills – and learn to share them.

Before organised education became easy to access, most people learnt skills by watching and practising under supervision, often from their parents or through formal or informal apprenticeships. Many Quakers today work in the education system and we are certainly disproportionate consumers of courses! But there are other ways to learn, and teach. If you’ve never taught, or even learnt, by 'sitting next to Nellie’, you may need to get your head around how to be Nellie (or Ned) yourself.

If you have a practical skill, and most of us have at least one, you could usefully start thinking about how you could hand it on. Those of us who are older had the advantage of growing up in a period where fewer things were automatically bought rather than made, and repair rather than replacement was the first option. Are you a reasonable cook? Do you enjoy gardening? Have you craft skills of some kind – woodwork, dressmaking, knitting? Do you have ‘brown fingers’ around the house – a DIY person? You could be really useful to others, and more so if you think a bit about how to pass on your skills informally.

Many adult beginners are nervous
They may think they ought to know already; they may have had a bad start with this skill, with an unsympathetic teacher; they may be very good at other things and have unreasonably high expectations of what they should produce. You need to make things easy for them.

They need to have some early successes to encourage them
This means it would help to have a mental list of useful but easy projects, and know what snags can be lurking in what someone might fancy trying. If you’re a gardener, you need to encourage beginners to pick plants that aren’t fussy, and are suitable for the space and soil they’ve got. If you’re a dressmaker, you can steer novices away from fiddly jobs like set-in sleeves. I doubt if any good cook started by learning how to make a white sauce.

They will need you to show them how – and do it slowly, and explain as you go.
Anyone who has watched in bafflement while a computerised seven year old fixes something will know what not to do.

You will need to give thought to what can go wrong, and warn them about it
Sometimes this is about preplanning, like thinking about seam allowances before you cut out fabric pieces for a garment. Sometimes it is about explaining the habits of the material you work with, like choosing the best glue for the job. You may do this automatically, but beginners won’t even know what questions to ask.

You will need bite-sized chunks
Break the task, and the learning process, down into small bite-sized chunks, and be available for help if needed. This is actually a lot easier if you are Ned, or Nellie – formal teachers on organised courses have much more complicated problems of being accessible.

Hand skills are not the only ones we may be needing to pass around.
Quakers often have ‘soft’ skills too – how to start a group, how to help people work together, how to help people keep an eye on the vulnerable. Those with less experience could benefit from working with you, but they will learn more if you can explain as you go. There are often several reasons why you might do something, and a beginner may only see one. An obvious example is the go-round for introductions in a new or newish group. A beginner may feel that people always forget names anyway, why bother? An experienced group worker knows that there is another reason for doing this – it makes sure that everyone has said something to the whole group, at the start. It makes it easier for hesitant people to say something else later.

We are all going to need each other more as the climate change process accelerates. It is important to take stock of the skills we can offer as well as those we need to learn. Whether we have practised in the workshop, the kitchen, the allotment or the boardroom, there will be skills we can transfer to new circumstances. Identifying them soon and thinking about how to hand them on will make it much easier when the need arises.
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Liz Perkins, Pam Lunn and Alice Yaxley are offering a skills-share summer school at Woodbrooke, 20-24 August this year. We're anticipating a week of fun and learning, a real skills-exchange of both practical and 'soft' skills. Some skills sessions will be pre-planned and offered, but we hope that everyone coming will bring and share a skill as well learning some new ones for themselves.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't realise how much teaching and facilitating I've done until I read this. Very affirming, thank you Liz!