10 rules for teaching craft

I have spent many years as a craftsman and then the last seven I have systematically developed a range of woodcarving courses. This has been a very interesting process and I thought it may be useful to others that teach to know how my mind works. So here are my 10 rules for teaching craft, they have been developed from teaching carving with axes and knives but I suspect many of the ideas are the same in pottery, basketmaking weaving or whatever.

Robin Wood’s 10 rules for teaching craft

1 Don’t run your first course in anything as a paying course, however good you are that’s not fair. Do one for free for a few mates or neighbours, same length, same venue, exactly the content you plan and everything. Always the first one you learn a lot however good you are at your craft, you may find they get half as much done as you expected or twice as much.

2 If you see blood, more than an odd nick you as a teacher are doing something wrong. Do not accept blood as inevitable it’s not.

3 If someone is struggling and after you have tried to help and given them time to struggle try and find a different way of showing/telling, I always see it as my problem as the teacher if someone is having a hard time not theirs.

4 Look closely at their hand and body positions and look how it differs from yours. Become aware of your own body.

5 Take regular breaks, I have found the structure of the days is equally as important as the content, make sure everyone is warm, dry, comfortable and not too tired only then can they focus on learning.

6 Only touch a persons work as a very last resort or if they ask, as soon as it is in your hands they are not learning. Pick up a similar piece or tool and show them alongside so they can mirror you.

7 Feedback forms, a well designed feedback form is helpful when developing courses. You know the sort that asks questions where you can answer one of 4 options, not 3 or 5 so you can’t go in the middle.  How good was the food? how useful was the sharpening demonstration?
Then open questions like what did you find most helpful? What did you find least helpful? can you think of any way of making the course better? etc be open to suggestions and change.
After a couple of years hopefully you will have ironed out all the glitches and feedback forms just come back all glowing 10/10s at which point I stopped doing them.

8 Most important be sure what you are doing and why. Many people say they are teaching but actually what they are doing is providing holiday experiences. An alternative to pony trekking or adventure holidays, the punters are here to make a basket or chair, enjoy their surroundings, enjoy the feeling that they have made it and could if they wanted to make another but probably never will. If this is the aim then feel free to dive in and help them whenever they struggle and make sure they take something home they can be proud of. If you are aiming at empowering them with skills they will continue to use and grow then do a little and do it well with lots of repetition to embed things in muscle memory.

9 Judge yourself not by the work they do on the course but by the photos they send you of the work they do at home the week after.

10 Have fun. However serious you are about your craft people learn best when relaxed and having fun. You can take things very seriously and have fun at the same time.

There are other things like get first aid training and insurance and if you provide any food get food hygiene certificate but the above is the teaching the craft bit.

If you want to see more details about the courses I run they are here 

4 Responses to 10 rules for teaching craft

  1. Saara December 14, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    Good rules, I agree! :)-Saara, Finland

  2. traditionalskills December 16, 2012 at 4:40 am #

    Good set of guidelines. Thanks for sharing them with us.Dave

  3. Paul O'Toole December 23, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    There is a thing in the martial arts that you learn by teaching.It is true there comes a point when you can deliver but when you pass on the knowledge you have to re-learn it.If you really want to know how to do something teach someone else.

  4. David January 7, 2013 at 6:00 am #

    Great sets of rules!! They make a lot of sense, especially #6. Thank you for taking the time to share those with us, it is very help full as a teacher, as a student!CheersDavid