I got such a kick out of reading all the replies to my previous post. A big “thank you” to everyone who commented and shared their thoughts and experiences, both as learners and teachers. (And thanks to the perennially fabulous Mosaic Art Now for helping spread the word.) In addition to validating what I had written in my previous post (phewf!), those who weighed in had some great words of wisdom, which I have compiled below.
1. Have FUN
I can’t believe I forgot this one! Several people pointed out that simply relaxing and having fun is essential, and they are completely right. As Christien said, “All learning goes better with connection and play.” And Jacqui put it beautifully when she said “Enjoy the process and do not focus on the result too much […]. The fun part of learning is seeing yourself change. Relax, enjoy the class, and drink in all the new experiences […].” Having fun kind of goes hand in hand with tip #2 from my previous post: Don’t expect to create a masterpiece. Just enjoy.
2. Set a learning objective or two
While most people agreed that it’s better to go in without a set design, one instructor did add the caveat that it’s usually a good idea to go in with an idea of what you’d like to get out of the workshop, and suggested asking yourself: “Why am I here?” Even though you might not always be able to answer that question as concretely as you’d like—knowing what you don’t know is sometimes hard!—it’s a good idea to give it some thought.
3. Remember that what you learn might not be what you expected
Though you might go in with a very good idea of what you’d like to learn / accomplish during the workshop, that might not be what you learn in the end (and likely won’t be the only thing you learn). Sherry wrote: “You will always learn something of value from anything you attend. Maybe it’s not what you expected, [but s]ometimes, it’s that next step you’ve needed but didn’t know you did.” While workshops often help you acquire or improve on various skills, they also often teach you just as much about yourself and your process as they do about technique, which Claire noted in her comment. Finally, in addition to unexpected lessons learned, you may also find that you don’t have that eureka moment until much later. The learning doesn’t stop when the workshop ends; it continues as you digest the experience, assimilate it into your practice, and combine it with other skills and knowledge. I like how Lin put it: “As a student, I have often found that what I learned in a workshop sometimes only emerges as many elements merge in my mind and/or my work. As a professor, I have had students come to me years later and tell me that it was only later that they got what I was talking about in class. So, sometimes it i[s] quick, sometimes it flows through me later.”
4. Be open to feedback
This can be so so tough, but Julia offered some wise words when she said that sometimes it helps if you just think about your instructor as a person (not some wildly talented mosaic artist up on a pedestal of whom you are not worthy): “Realizing that they are not the best and they do not have [all] the answers, and that maybe, just maybe, they look to their students for ideas, energy, and inspiration makes [it] easier.” Feedback can often feel very personal, but Julia cautioned against taking it personally: “Try not to confuse what you make with who you are. The work does not equal your identity. It comes from you, has your maker’s mark, and it can get better/change. [T]eachers really aren’t commenting on you personally, it’s about the work.” (For extra credit, go read the blog post I wrote about vulnerability and criticism.)
5. Take advantage of a good teacher-student fit
Ginny commented on how wonderful it can be when you click with your instructor: “[A fellow mosaic artist] recommended a particular instructor to me, [saying]: ‘He teaches in a way that I learn’. For me, it’s important to have the right instructor. Everyone is different in how they process information. Although one can’t know in advance whether a particular instructor is the right fit, it’s wonderful when the match works. Taking a second workshop from the same instructor can be very enlightening.” Finding an instructor you click with can make for a really fantastic experience and you should treasure those moments. However, even if that perfect match isn’t there, you can still learn a lot (from the instructor, from your peers, and even from yourself by observing and reflecting on how you’re reacting / adapting to the situation, etc.).
6. Don’t beat yourself up for learning the hard way
Even though you might know better in theory, there are times when you are simply destined to learn the hard way. Learning the hard way by making mistakes (sometimes cringe-worthy, embarrassing ones) is sometimes the best way to learn a lesson. These lessons are often the ones we never forget; they are hard-fought and they help us to move forward with intention, as was kindly pointed out to me by an email commenter. I couldn’t agree more. Many of my most valued and deeply internalized lessons are the ones I learned the hard way. So roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and don’t beat yourself up over your mistakes. Instead, as Jacqui said: “[L]et your perceived mistakes take you on another journey.”
Well that’s it! Thanks again to all who commented. This was a lot of fun. Now to start thinking of another topic that could spark a discussion…
A note on attribution: I have added quotes where the comments were left in a public forum (and therefore were, in my opinion, fair game for attribution). Any comments received privately have been paraphrased and kept anonymous.