Earlier this month, we spent an afternoon at Loom Chicago teaching refugee women basic chainmaille jewelry making skills and what an awesome opportunity it was! Loom Chicago is a nonprofit organization that enables refugee women to learn trade skills and sell handmade goods as a means to earn living wages.
Even though I’ve been teaching crafts for a while, there’s always something new to learn, whether it’s from your mistakes as an instructor or from your students. Gathered around the table were nine women representing seven countries (Afghanistan, Bhutan, Iraq, Mexico, Nepal, Scotland, and Sudan). Here’s a few things you can learn from instructing others:
- Be Flexible - Originally CHC was to teach necklace designs. However during the demos, we also provided a bracelet and earring option. The students decided to stick with earrings because that’s where they felt most comfortable and a good instructor knows when to go with the flow of things.
- Make it Fun - As I mentioned earlier, there were seven countries represented, meaning there were different languages, religious beliefs, cultures, life experiences, and personalities. In spite of all those distinctions, the one common ground was a desire to learn and having fun while doing so.
- Be able to adjust on the fly - Prior to showing up to teach the artisans, I wasn’t notified of language barriers (even though I would suspect so considering the ladies weren’t born in the States). However, once informed, I immediately (in my head) changed the teaching methods from verbal with few visuals to mostly visual with minimum verbal instructions. The women were sharp and caught on pretty quickly.
- Observe - an instructor can effectively assess his or her students through observations. Watch for patterns, trigger points, strengths, weaknesses, interaction among themselves and others. By observing those things, it will help you tailor your communication style to each student.
Encourage within reason - Before walking around and spending one-on-one time with each student, they were allowed ample time to get starting on the project design. Instead of constantly watching them or looking over their shoulder (which makes people nervous actually), they were free to create with the materials available to them. When I
walked around the table, the ladies showed me the pattern. For those who
needed assistance, I showed them the proper way to weave and tighten jump
rings. They were given back the jewelry project to complete. I stood and watched them create the next pattern, which they showed me upon completion. In exchange for a good job, they were given either a smile, a nod, a high-five, or even a hug. Why different responses per individual? Well that’s easy, when you are in a multicultural setting, you want to learn your people’s love language right away and respond accordingly.
- Make the best use of items available - It’s an instructor’s job to be prepared, which is key but no matter how much you plan, something always happens. Even though the organization was given a list of items to order for the tutorial (which they did do), I brought along extras (tools and jump rings) for just in case purposes. Originally there were four women signed up for the class but we ended up with nine total. There were times where the women shared a few pliers but all in all, the women were able to make between 2-4 pairs of earrings.
Do you have any experience teaching people from a different culture than your own? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments below the blog.
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