So, you already make and design your own beadwork and you want to teach your designs to others. Or maybe you are a beader and have an interested friend and you want some advice on how to teach beading to that friend. Perhaps you have dreams of making a living from teaching beadwork, but how do you go about it?
I’ve been teaching for several years now and, when I think about it, I must have clocked up several hundred hours’ worth of teaching experience. I also hold a teaching qualification and I absolutely love the opportunity to share my knowledge. When I first started out, nobody told me how to teach beading – I basically took what I knew, what I believed and went from there.
My Philosophy on How to Teach Beading
I think it goes without saying that there are certain basic things you must do if you are teaching a beading class, whether it’s a general technique, or a particular project. These apply to any kind of teaching. Firstly, be professional, so arrive early and leave yourself time to set up the room. Make sure you bring everything you need, including tools and materials for demonstrating as well as tools and materials for students to use or buy from you. You will need to give each student a professionally prepared hand-out, so at minimum this is the project instructions which should be clearly written and illustrated with diagrams or photos. Dress professionally and treat your students with respect. Hopefully this is all common sense, so I am not planning on writing more about any of this here.
A short time after I had started teaching, I studied for a City and Guilds qualification in teaching adults. This was not specifically about how to teach beading, but the general theories that we covered are applicable to all subjects. I’ll come back to that a bit later on.
Firstly, I want to talk about my philosophy on how to teach beading. So this is not something that I have learned (although all my experience has and does feed into it), but rather what I believe about how to teach beading. For me, rule number one is remembering that every student is there voluntarily because they enjoy beading and they want an opportunity to do more of it. Yes, of course they are there to learn something, but this isn’t school. There is no exam at the end of it, nobody is going to be disappointed if they get it wrong and there is no reward for getting it right. The day should be about enjoyment. Invariably I have a class full of people with different levels of previous experience and different abilities. Maybe some will complete the entire project, maybe some will only manage a tiny bit. None of that matters to me. I try to ensure that everybody leaves the class with a basic understanding of all the elements of the project and I’ll happily answer questions via email after the class for anyone who is doing more at home. I believe I should be there to help everyone to achieve something. I want the actual workshop to be a fun experience with no pressure and I want everyone to leave feeling proud of whatever they’ve done and enthused by beading.
When I am teaching my regular group, we don’t even work on the same project: I don’t think it makes sense to compel people to do any particular thing or even to work in any particular order. I like to give everyone the freedom to choose what they want to do and then to do it at their own pace. Sometimes this means someone might be working on a project that, on paper, might seem to be beyond their level of experience, but I believe that nothing is impossible. I have always taught lovely people and when they are keen to learn and do something, there is always a way to achieve it. I enjoy the challenge of trying to be creative and think of alternative ways to show a technique or think up a little exercise that will help someone master the part of the project that they are finding tricky at that point. Beading isn’t like school with a curriculum that has to be covered: I think it should be about the end result. People come along because they want to make something more than learn something. Maybe that’s reverse engineering, but if you start with the project you want to make, then you will inevitably learn the skills to do it as you go along. Rather than starting the other way around and learning a technique then deciding what to make with it.
I have also come to realise that a beading class isn’t just about beading. It is a place where people can meet others and we all spend as much time ‘putting the world to rights’ as we do actually beading. Beading classes also go beyond learning beading skills. The sense of pride and achievement that we all feel when we complete a project often translates into a sense of more general well-being, perhaps a growth in confidence or self-esteem that is carried out into life more generally. I take no credit for any of that, but I do feel hugely privileged to be a part of it.
Teaching Theories…in Brief
I’ll be honest here, I completed my City and Guilds PTTLS qualification not because I felt it was essential for teaching beading, but because I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the theory of teaching, and of course it never does any harm to have a qualification when you are applying to teach somewhere. Certainly, it led to some teaching opportunities that I didn’t perhaps expect and it was a very interesting experience.
This was a six month course, so naturally I’m not going to be covering it here! If you are thinking of teaching and you feel that a qualification would be helpful, then I can recommend the course and your local adult learning centre will very probably be running one. If they don’t then contact City and Guilds to find out how and where you can do the course near you. (Of course, if you’re reading this and you don’t live in the UK, try your own local resources to find something similar).
So, what did I learn? As I mentioned, this course is all about the theory of teaching, including that rather general term ‘respect’ that I mentioned early on. We were encouraged to think about inclusion in class: making sure that the materials we used and the way in which we conducted the class allowed everyone to feel included, whatever age, race or gender they were. Class discipline for adults is not the same as for children. It is (hopefully), not about getting people to sit still and concentrate, but about making sure that the classroom is also a place of safety for everyone, so that respect and inclusion is amongst everyone not just from teacher to student. Then there were the actual theories of learning: the scientific evidence that supports the idea that people learn differently, that by tapping into different parts of the brain, the lesson can be better retained. If you stand and lecture someone for an hour, their concentration is likely to wander and they are less likely to understand or retain all the information. If you add in images to make things more interesting or get people to read things for themselves, learning retention is likely to increase. If you really want people to retain a lesson, then they need to do something practical – doing is better than listening, seeing, or reading. It was also interesting to find out how different people learn in different ways: some are more responsive to written instructions, some to diagrams, for example.
The important question for me was how this relates to teaching beadwork. The advice I would pass on to you, since you are reading this because you want some advice on how to teach beading, is the following: start your lesson by demonstrating part or all of the project you are going to be teaching. Make sure everyone can see and make sure you talk through what you are doing. Don’t take too long over this: if the project is complex, then demonstrate it bit by bit, so do a short demonstration of the first part, then let everyone get started, then call them back to demonstrate the next section later on and so forth. Don’t expect everyone to immediately be brilliant because you’ve just shown them what to do. Hopefully they will learn something from the demonstration, but they’re not going to really start learning until they start beading themselves. At this point, your job is to go and help each person individually – keep walking round the class to make sure everyone is happy with what they are doing. Bear in mind, some people might feel shy about asking if they are struggling, so take it upon yourself to keep an eye on everyone and give each person the help that they need. Finally, remember it is also ok to step back. If you have a class where everyone is happy beading away, then it’s ok to let them enjoy that, be on hand if you are required, but don’t interfere. You can always use this time to talk about beading in general or pass on tips that might be helpful more generally, or just let everyone enjoy the social aspect of a beading class.
Lastly, and very importantly, make sure that all the projects you teach and the instructions you provide are your own. Or, if they are not, make sure you have written permission from the person who created them to allow you to use them. If you do not do this, you will be infringing copyright laws and you could find yourself in a lot of trouble. If you are unsure about copyright, or want to know more, then you can find more information and useful links here.
Every class you teach will be different, but hopefully every single one will be rewarding for both you and the people you are teaching. You can find my teaching schedule here, or email me if you want to book a private class, or join a group.