We’re Teachers Here. But It’s Our Soulcraft, Too

by Peter D on September 25, 2014

Since its inception, Jim and I have considered Soulcraft to be more than a woodworking shop or a “makers space.”  Indeed, our very name was a testament to the somewhat romantic yet sincere desire to create a space that was more than a venue for developing a set of skills or a place to make a coffee table.  We wanted to create a space that enable folks of all stripes to engage with life in a way that was outside of their daily routines.  To employ their minds – indeed, their hands – in a process of design and problem-solving that was characteristic of life itself, but which required an approach that couldn’t rely on habits of being.  Our aim was not about the skill sets learned or the products produced, but about a manner of engagement with one’s life.

We have basked in all the action at the shop in the last few years.  I get giddy thinking about it.  Not everyone enters the shop because they share our view of what it could be.  Most want a coffee table, or a way to unwind, or to build a skill set that will enrich their lives.  These are fantastic reasons to walk into the shop.  Because there is something about that process itself which engenders the “soulcraft” regardless of original motivations.

Recently, however, we found a group of “students” in our shop who were there precisely because they were interested in “soulcraft,” for themselves and, well, for their students.  They are teachers.  Dynamic teachers. Taking a class from us.

And I’m terrified.

I should know how to do this, right? Its just another furniture making class.  I’ve done this before multitudes of times. I have a nerdy academic degree and a law degree.  I’ve stood before courts and tribunals in the practice of law.  I’ve been making furniture for 16 years and I have been teaching woodworking classes for 3 years.  I have taught architects and scientists and doctors – as well as barristas and mechanics.  I know how to teach a darn woodworking class.

So, why am I peeing my pants?

To be sure, I’m not sure the trickle down my leg is from terror or excitement.

I’ll get to the “excitement” in a moment.  How do you teach a class of teachers?!?!  And not just any teachers.  The Soulcraft Cohort is a group of educators who are pushing the boundaries of the very definition of education.  They are professionals in a system that has handcuffed them.  But not just that- they see a better way, even if it can’t be articulated yet.  These are visceral educators.  They have lived snipits of a more robust way of being and teaching.  They feel it in their bones.

That’s our cohort.  Our “students.”

Try being their “teacher.”  Yes, still trickling down my leg.

This would be a relative non-issue if it were just a pure woodworking course.  I could turn to these “teachers” and say, “You’re in my world, kiddo.”  That would be easy. This is wood.  These are joints.

But its not just a pure woodworking course.

So this brings me to my excitement (and the reason for the terror).  For the Soulcraft Cohort, the woodworking class is really just an available venue to explore something deeper about education.

On one hand, they are taking a woodworking course, which next to none of them have done and most are terrified to do.  On the other hand, they are taking the course as an experiment as part of a broader inquiry into the nature of education, their teaching and the possibilities that could arise. 

On the “meta” side, the design and woodworking course is a metaphor  for visceral learning in the classroom, set apart from the rote and test-oriented curriculums of the day.  Transforming the “goals” of education from subject-matter knowledge to a rich and robust design-centered engagement with life, wherein subject-matter knowledge is a natural outflow, rather than an end to itself.  The point is far better articulated by these “students” themselves.  Here’s Jeremy Schorr, the Director of Innovation and Educational Technology for Mentor Public Schools, on his blog called, that’s right, “designing learners.”

On the personal side, these educators are placing themselves in the shoes of their students –  in a place where they are as clueless as their student giving them a blank stare over an algebra equation.  Here’s another “student,” Morgan Kolis  – a special education teacher – on the “fixed” versus “growth” mindset.  Imagine the depths which that sort of thoughtfulness, rooted in humility, can bring to dynamic thought and teaching!  I cannot wait to sit and listen as insights emerge. 

That’s pee.  In excitement.

So, they have the whole world and structure of education and teaching in their mindset as they sit in front of this woodworking “teacher.”  That’s a tough, pee-worthy audience. In so many ways, I would love the tables turned, so I could dive into their experiences as educators, soak it in, and learn from their experience. I’m not teacher here!  Tell me more!  I’ve already gotten to taste that experience a bit, interacting with Sean Wheeler – English teacher, maker-educator and all-around passion-infuser for this project of creating a design-centered curriculum.  Here’s his first thoughts on the cohort – and his dynamic blog, “teaching humans.”  I plan to be a “student” as much as possible throughout this process.

After all, we created Soulcraft as much for us as we did those who walk in our door…

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