Step 2. Don the mantle of leader

When you run a successful art class, workshop, or retreat you are doing more than presenting information or sharing techniques. You are leading. Leadership is not a quality we usually associate with teachers or with workshop leaders and yet that’s exactly the quality that keeps participants returning. A student who attends your watercolor class or glassblowing glass wants to be led from his or her initial place of limited skill and technique to a place of increased proficiency. Students want the experience of getting somewhere.

You lead by creating a sensible game plan that doesn’t have as its goals to impart the most information, to make participants feel comfy, cozy, and cheerful, or to impress or to intimidate. Its goal, like the goal of a team leader or a project manager, is to provide participants with sufficient instruction, guidance and direction that they arrive at real results. You might, for example, spend a fruitless hour talking about complementary colors or showing slides of successful paintings where complementary colors were used well. But until participants actual lay down some yellow against some blue—and different yellows against different blues—they have only been formally instructed and not led anywhere.

Leadership means all of the following. It means starting on time. It means communicating when breaks will occur. It means ending on time. It means encouraging everyone and “shutting down” any overly loud or overly needy participants. It means not getting derailed by one student’s demands or agenda. It means covering what you intend to cover or at worst covering what you deem most important to cover. If time is slipping away and you have two modules left, one that is “fun and easy” and one that will help participants grow and stretch, you choose the latter, even if you are a little tired or a little disgruntled. Your mantra is, “What will help them get where I am hoping they will get?” That’s leadership.

You may not see that as one of your strengths or, initially at least, find that so easy to do. Maybe you see yourself as a “spontaneous, intuitive artist” and “not good at organization or at details.” Maybe you see yourself as too shy and accommodating to be able to “shut down” needy or loud participants. Maybe you’ve pictured your job as “demonstrating technique” or “providing information.” You may have many reasons for doubting that you will be good at leadership; you may have a formed teaching style that doesn’t include leadership. Leadership, however, is what your participants want and need. Quiet your doubts and worries, stretch in direction of leadership, and give your students the experience they deserve.




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