I tried out something new recently. Actually it was something old as well. Back in my teens I enthusiastically but inexpertly taught myself to embroider. I enjoyed my efforts but really never got very good at it, and eventually I put it aside.
Over the decades, I’ve continued to appreciate embroidery and other needlework without trying to create any of my own. Then I learned that my friend, fiber artist and founder of Creative + Mindful, Stephanie Dyke, was holding a 4-hour introductory class on making small embroidered patches. “I want to do that!” I thought, and I signed up immediately.
Stephanie is a masterful teacher, as well as an expert in her craft. She made us all feel welcome, respected, understood and supported. Even I felt totally at ease as the least experienced and most inept participant in the room! By the end of the class we had all connected with one another, and had gotten a good start on our projects.
How, I asked myself, did she manage to create an environment in which I felt relaxed, open and excited to finally learn how to embroider? It could well have been otherwise. I could have felt awkward, tense, and self conscious. Each of us who attended the workshop left it having made a good start on the patches we wanted to create.
Later, as I put away my new embroidery supplies and thought about the workshop, it occurred to me that Stephanie strengthened my eagerness to learn by integrating the seven principles of relationship-based practice into her teaching style. I don’t know that she could name those characteristics! Her ability to integrate them into her teaching is very likely based on her own core values, and from her expertise in teaching and learning.
The characteristics of relationship-based, reflective practice are: mutual and shared goals; open communication; respect for individuals; sensitivity to context; commitment to growth and learning; commitment to reflection; and high professional standards. I wrote about relationship-based organizations here, if you’d like to read more about it.
Here’s how Stephanie used these characteristics at our Saturday embroidery workshop:
- Mutual and shared goals: She asked each of us to share what made us want to attend the workshop. She shared what she sees as the importance of fibre arts, and the importance of slow sewing, and how these connect to mindfulness. Stephanie encouraged us to learn about each other, without making the creating of those connections an activity separate from the rest of what we were doing together.
- Open communication: Stephanie encouraged us to ask for clarification if necessary and to let her know if we needed additional help.
- Respect for individuals: Stephanie showed her natural respect for others in a number of ways. She know many of us were at the age where bifocals and progressive lenses are necessities and helped us out by showing us a technique to make needle-threading easier. When I let her know I have some limits to my fine motor skills due to recent surgery, she took that in stride and encouraged me to do what I can and to rest when I needed to. One participant had to leave early due to work. She made sure this woman had all the materials and information she needed before she left, so she would be able to finish her project. She gave us each one on one help as needed.
- Sensitivity to context: Stephanie knew the environment we’re in makes a difference to our learning. She created a context for us that supported our excitement about learning. While we were not in a “perfect space” (and I never have been in a training space or classroom that is absolutely perfect!) she brought in supplies to transform the small room into an embroidery studio. We had a wealth of fabrics, threads, completed sample patches, and other embroidery accoutrements to stir our senses and inspire our creativity. She had made “beginners’ kits” for us in case we didn’t have our own supplies. Stephanie also created an emotional context that supports learning through her accepting attitude, her use of humor and through the sharing of her own experiences.
- Commitment to growth and learning: Stephanie mentioned the embroidery and quilting classes she takes and the conferences she attends, and she talked about and shared products she’s discovered that make embroidering more fun for her. These demonstrated her commitment to her own growth and learning, and inspired our own.
- Commitment to reflection: Stephanie invited us to reflect on what was important to us, as we chose the words or phrases we wanted to embroider onto our patches. She reflected-for-action in the way that she prepared and got organized for the workshop. She reflected-in-action as she positioned herself and her embroidery so we could most easily see what she was demonstrating to us. She showed her intent to reflect-on-action by asking us to get back to her with questions or suggestions. She made clear that she was testing out this class format and was interested in feedback to help her make any needed changes or adjustments.
- High professional standards: Stephanie arrived early and got the room and supplies organized. She varied her teaching methods to accommodate varied learning preferences. She remained attentive to each student throughout the 4-hour class. She paid attention to the time and made sure to cover the important learning points before the class ended.
While it’s possible to separate out each of these seven characteristics, it’s also true that they are so highly related to one another that implementing one of them often implements some or all of the others. Some of Stephanie’s strategies supported more than one characteristic at a time. Encouraging questions supports both open communication and respect for individuals, and shows high professional standards too.
I learned a lot from Stephanie’s workshop. Some of it was about the skills involved in embroidery. Some of it was about discovering how the uses of relationship-based, reflective teaching approaches transcends fields of expertise and content type. Some of it was about what it’s like being a participant in a relationship-based, reflective learning context.
Next time you go to a training, class or workshop, pay attention to the person teaching or facilitating. How are they integrating (or failing to integrate) the characteristics of relationship-based practice into their approach? How does this further (or interfere with) your own motivation to learn? How can you use what you’ve learned through this observation and reflection to strengthen your own practice?
A Personal Process for Theory Building, Joelen Killion & Guy R. Todnem, 1991
Educating the Reflective Practitioner, Donald Schön, 1987
Being in Charge: Reflective Leadership in Infant/Family Programs, Rebecca Parlakian and Nancy L. Seibel, 2001
Look, Listen and Learn, Rebecca Parlakian, 2001
Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: Parent-Provider Partnerships in Child Care, Nancy L. Seibel, Linda Groves Gillespie, Donna Britt, and Rebecca Parlakian, 2006.
Patch embroidered by Stephanie Capps Dyke, 2017