Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Storytelling coaching with Skype

In 1992 or so, I went to a workshop on storytelling coaching with Doug Lipman. After that, I drove monthly from Connecticut to Massachusetts for one-on-one coaching. In the process, I learned Doug's supportive coaching methods, which I still use (and which I mentioned in an earlier blog post). His book, The storytelling coach: how to listen, praise and bring out people's best sits prominently on my reference shelf. It's a gem.

I haven't coached much lately. In the past, I've worked with storytellers in person and over the phone. Coaching over the phone works but is limited. I can't see gestures, posture and facial expressions, all of which add to--or detract from--the storytelling experience.

I'm looking forward to overcoming that limitation: I just bought a webcam and set up Skype. With coaching clients who also have webcams, I expect we can have some productive sessions.

Here I am at my desk today. I wonder if I'd feel compelled to iron my shirt before a coaching session. This picture also reminds me that it's time to take new publicity photos, as my hair is longer than it has been in at least 25 years.

P.S. If you're interested in my coaching services, e-mail me and we'll see what we can set up!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

And the third little pig built a house made of brick

(This one taken from upstairs at my neighbor's house--thanks, M!)

I love my house. I do. I suspect I've written that before. It was built in 1882, with bricks that were fired on the property. The walls are thick, the ceilings are high, and since long before I lived here, people walking into the house felt a sense of ease. There's a front porch swing for summer and a wood stove for winter. In case of tornadoes, I have a deep cellar with a dirt floor (one worthy of The ghost with the one black eye, in fact!). The backyard is perfect for stories, though the living room will do in inclement weather.

Houses have their drawbacks. They need to be kept up. When we had heavy rain recently, I discovered a leak in the bathroom ceiling. Yes, it had happened before, but I thought I'd gotten it fixed. Turned out the fix wasn't the right one, and the roof was rotting through. Yikes! Last week I had it replaced (not the whole house, just the part over the bathroom). The roofer brought his nine-year-old twin boys, who helped him and also listened to a few stories.

This week I had the bathroom floor replaced. There was a slow leak from the toilet seal. Here's what it looked like yesterday at noon:

You don't expect to see the toilet sitting in the tub, do you? The handyman worked all day. By evening, here's what it looked like:

I bought the linoleum at Habitat ReStore for $13. The saleswoman and I joked about the faux tile look being similar to the water stain look, but really, it's quite attractive.

I feel much more secure now knowing that neither the ceiling (with skylight) nor the floor will fall through. An added bonus: the wolf won't get in this way!

Monday, August 10, 2009

More on workshops

Here are some snippets of the Teachers Summer Workshop from a couple of weeks ago (held at Plymouth Congregational Church, which is why you see a cross in the background). No, there wasn't piano music playing in the background in real life.

One of the tricky things about filming puppets with a visible puppeteer is that the focus is off. I teach that the puppet should make eye contact with the audience and the puppeteer should draw the focus to the puppet. When I remember to tell the videographer to come in close to the puppet when it's speaking, the filming works. When I forget, the videographer naturally gets a wider view and the illusion doesn't quite come off. Ah, well.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Workshop musings

What makes a successful workshop?

I've led workshops since about 1990. I teach workshops on storytelling, puppetry, story stretches and songs, story games, and writing. My goals are to give the participants specific tools they can take home and put into use immediately, and for us all to have fun.

In the past couple of years, I've been an old dog learning new tricks. I'm learning a new way to teach, one I chafed against at the beginning (thanks, Anthea, for pushing me!). In the past, my method was to give workshop participants tons of information, exercises, games. Throw everything at them and see what sticks.

It isn't that this didn't succeed. My evaluations were usually positive. Here's a comment from a librarian in Colorado:
I came from Grand Junction which is 250 miles from Denver. But I am so glad I did. I would drive it again in a heartbeat to attend one of your workshops!! It was a WONDERFUL learning experience for me and I really appreciated all of your creative ideas.
And another from Kansas:
I believe this is the most overwhelmingly positive response we've had for Summer Reading Workshop in the thirteen years I've been here! In addition to what they wrote on their evaluation forms, many of the workshop participants commented to me how much they enjoyed it and how useful they found it.
Now, though, I keep wondering how much better those workshops might have been if I'd known what I now know.

Last week I gave what may have been my best workshop ever, Hands on, hands in: learning about lifecycles through storytelling and puppetry as part of the USD 497/Lied Center of Kansas Teachers' Summer Workshops. I used the techniques I learned from the Lied.Art.Teach Kennedy Center workshops for artists and what I learned from The Music Teaching Artist's Bible.

I began planning months ago. Instead of choosing a million activities and pieces of information, I narrowed it down to a few specific points.
  • introduce the teachers to the method and information I used with the 2nd graders last fall,
  • connect to the topic of lifecycles,
  • teach puppet and storytelling techniques,
  • include a segment on the Wakarusa Wetlands given by Sandy Sanders and Alison Reber, who organized the Wetlands Learners Project.
I created a detailed outline, which I then fleshed out. For once, in the workshop I stuck with the outline. This is huge--my default has always been to give myself a very general plan and then fly by the seat of my pants.

I began with a brief introduction. Then I split the group into four groups for a short brainstorming session. I asked the teachers to write anything they could think of about lifecycles on big sheets of paper, which we then read aloud and hung around the room.

After this, I demonstrated the residency presentation. This led naturally to the section with Sandy and Alison. Then it was time for a break.

After the break, I taught basic puppet techniques. We played with practice puppets. Then I revealed a huge pile of puppets, up until then hidden under a cloth, and invited the teachers to choose one. This was a hands-on (and hands-in) exercise in how to create a character. More games, more laughter, and everybody was ready for a short break.

After the break, we went back to the lists the teachers had made in the beginning. I suggested that they choose another puppet and in small groups, create a story with the puppets.

The teachers blew me away with their brilliance! Keep in mind that by the time we got to this point, it was late afternoon on a beautiful summer day. Each group created a cohesive story about a lifecycle that was both interesting and fun. I'll never think of the word "metamorphosis" without hearing it as a rap!

One of the things I've learned is allow sufficient time for reflections and questions. The teachers had a lot to offer, so building time in for that was key. They taught each other (and me) well.

So what made this successful? Here are my guesses:
  • Being specific about what I was teaching,
  • Creating a strong outline (and following it),
  • Choosing only a few points and activities,
  • Keeping the lecture aspect to a minimum and audience participation to a maximum,
  • Allowing the teachers to offer what they know already and to ask questions
  • Remembering what Eric Booth says: 80% of what you teach is who you are.
What else do you think makes a good workshop?

P.S. The photos are from a workshop I gave in Sao Paulo last October at St. Francis School, not from last week's workshop.