Thursday, 7 May 2009

So we were hung out to dry...

On Tuesday my colleagues L and J and I did the last of three workshops with groups of teenagers on employment issues. J and L had done the two earlier ones without me while I was away. They had gone very well and I had been sorry to miss them. We had devised and applied a spread of things to do over a two hours session to let 16 yrs old talk about what they wanted to do later and how they may get there.

Well, and then Tue 5pm came and we wholeheartedly crashed and burnt. Wow... the flames on Shettleston Rd were probably visible right across the East End. I've before had interviews that wouldn't go well, people weren't interested, didn't want to say much etc. You would wind up after a while and write it off to experience. But to be hung out by fifteen 13-16 yrs olds over a two hour period is a bit different. So glad I'm not a school teacher.

Now, why do I care to write about it?

When I went to the first facilitation training workshop in December, we were asked to come up with a question for the workshop itself, our own little inquiry strand for the weekend. It had to be compelling, not easy to answer and be worth investigating seriously.

My first question was 'how do I convince my colleagues to do more participatory action research [PAR]?' - that was a fake question, I knew that after five minutes: it wasn't a problem of me having to convince them but whether I'd care enough to want to convince them. So it changed into:

How can I apply my painting knowledge to my academic work. It was a fumbling, half-conscious question. I hadn't quite explicated what constituted 'painting knowledge'. I knew it was there, quite happily growing over the past few years and the reason why I'm continually intrigued.

So, over the weekend I really begun to figure out what that confidence in painting as process was made of... while doing all sorts of group facilitation thingies and being in the middle of an actual group process which was quite exciting. [Funnily, a similar process took place at the conference in Santiago, at a larger scale, but it was very lively indeed]

At the end of the weekend, we got to talk about our questions again. My interim findings were very much informed by the weekend itself: an emphasis on experimentation; an iterative process: the same things are revisited often and they need to be practiced, tried out, applied; and a careful analysis of what goes wrong - because a lot of stuff goes wrong all the time.

Here, PAR is a fantastic method to do these three things. And so is art for me.

Us being hung out on Tuesday made all of that very clear. In many ways it was one of the most useful insights into group research methods. So, while L, J and I were leaving terribly embarassed and took to the pub we discovered not only a lot about our facilitation skills, our research questions but also the politics of youth work, the dynamics between different youth groups and their internal dynamics.

There's plenty of stuff I'd try out. But also there is plenty of stuff I will never try again if it goes wrong once. A friend of mine, who tries out even less, told me once a while back: well, you need to think about it very carefully because there's unlikely to be second chances. So, there's little room for experimentation.

I think he was wrong. There is always plenty of scope for second chances, change and trying stuff differently. Art is making that very apparent for me: if something goes wrong, try again, start again or rework it. Mixed media is a fabulous example; printmaking is a bit more difficult but I'm getting to see that in terms of reworking the printing plate, adding another layer, applying different media, or, or, or...

So, now we need figure out whate next for making amends for having bored those kids for two hours...


cathsheard said...

I think you are so brave to try with the kids in the first place - whether its your job or not. We get lots of teens in my library after school and they can be incredibly cool and intimidating. I can barely see myself at 14 in them. Amazing.

Gesa said...

Cath - hm, yes... I find it's ok to play on our academic nerdiness a bit and don't worry too much about it. It's amazing what we are at the same time getting from many of the teenagers. It's an ongoing project, and I hope we'll have a chance to do soemthing more with the lot from Tue too.