Top Tips for Teaching Woodworking - Complement Intelligently - (3 of 12)

OSLG_0015dds are that most people the majority of us will be teaching will be woodworking beginners, kindergarteners so to speak. And at that level many of us are tempted to slather praise and encouragement on as if it was butter and syrup on hotcakes. Encouragement is a seemingly generational thing. I’m not of the opinion everyone should get a trophy or that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I’ve also learned that encouragement is only a reward if it’s recognition of a person exceeding their own expectations. Otherwise it’s only a recognition of what they knew they could do.

So it’d be smart at some point on day one set a baseline for student project expectations so that encouragement can be doled out intelligently and appropriately. A prekindergarten student can’t be expected to color in the lines and a new woodworker can’t be expected to make gap free joints consistently at first. But even a gappy joint can work out in the end and be functional so set the expectations accordingly.

A good way of doing setting expectations without sounding condescending in a brief class is to take advantage of the time constraint. Talk about history and the quality/time craftsmen had to adhere too. Maybe show photo’s of old work for students to see what they’ll be able to accomplish and then a close up to show how even the masters took liberties in quality to produce quantity.

“With class time in short supply we (the class) are working on the quantity scale because I want you to get as much information as possible with just enough experience to sink it in so you can refine your skills when time is more abundant.”

With expectations set you can then dole out encouragement as needed to help persuade a student to accept a lesson.

But in an educational environment should you really be praising the result or the process? Try to make what encouragement you offer more meaningful by focusing on the action and not the results. If a student’s smoothing skills with planes improves it’s not the result of the board. So why complement the glass smooth finish. Complement tool control, body positioning, apparent comfort level, speed, finger pressure, eye hand coordination, etc…

When you complement these actions and skills then the motivation extends beyond that specific project as they transfer a classes value from a finite activity/project to a skill they’ll have forever.

Praise is a powerful tool in the hands of the respected. And with great power comes great responsibility. Use your power well.