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Author Topic: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?  (Read 2248 times)

Emma Eldritch

Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« on: March 13, 2016, 04:37:43 pm »
So, recently I had this brilliant idea to start a "witchery and wine" group. I know several women who are into witchcraft and divination, and I thought it would be a good idea to have a sort of informal discussion group where we could all kick back, have a few drinks, and talk about tarot, spellcraft, alternative spirituality, all that kind of stuff.

Our first meetup went well, although it was really more of a 'getting to know you' evening - we felt that we should all kind of figure out where everyone is at in terms of knowledge and practice.

So, it seems like most of the group falls under the "interested but not well versed" category. They all own a deck of tarot cards, but most of them are not secure in their ability to read them. They come from different spiritual and religious backgrounds - we have a girl from rural Tennessee whose childhood included Jesus camps where they had to lug crosses around, and another who went to a private Catholic school - but everyone seems really keen on spellwork.

As for active practitioners, it looks like so far it's me and one other girl. She's been practising for about 14 years in secret (she's the one from Tennessee), and I've been at it for twenty as of this year.

So my question is this: how do we keep this group feeling like a chill space where we can all learn, as opposed to turning it into a lecture hall situation? I'm not opposed to teaching things, but I really want to avoid making anybody feel like some dumb newb. So I figured I would ask the forum, both to get advice from anyone who has been in a similar situation, and to get the perspective of people who are just starting out on what they would like from an informal group.

Thanks you guys!

Jenett

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Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2016, 06:01:36 pm »
Quote from: Mama Fortuna;188039

So my question is this: how do we keep this group feeling like a chill space where we can all learn, as opposed to turning it into a lecture hall situation? I'm not opposed to teaching things, but I really want to avoid making anybody feel like some dumb newb. So I figured I would ask the forum, both to get advice from anyone who has been in a similar situation, and to get the perspective of people who are just starting out on what they would like from an informal group.

 
Ooh. Many thoughts.

1) Normalise it being okay to not know things.

This is one of those things you have to model a lot *and* usually talk about - but if someone says "Oh, I couldn't, I don't know anything about that!" you can say "Is it something you're interested in learning? I know a bit about it, but I haven't looked at the recent stuff out there about it - maybe you could prepare something for next time, and we could all talk about it further?"

For those of you with more experience, it can also be good to be explicit about how much stuff you don't know. (I know, f'ex, for me, I know a bunch of things well, a little bit about a bunch of other things, but there are also topics where I know very little. I have a lot more fun when I admit those, when they're relevant. A "Oh, I've always been sort of curious about that, but I'd be starting from square one, like you." can help out a lot.)

And in general, being excited about getting to share cool stuff with people, rather than "What, you don't know that already?" Obligatory XKCD cartoon.

2) Set up ways for people to share what they know (or are willing to learn)

You might get some mileage by having everyone list off stuff they're interested in learning, and then having people identify stuff that they're either familiar with, or interested in getting familiar with (enough to lead a discussion about it.)

Also, it'd likely help you figure out if there's things a lot of people are interested in, so you could focus on some of those first.

Really be clear that people don't need to know stuff to start to lead a discussion about it - they just need to be willing to do some reading, maybe a book + some online searches, come up with some things to talk about, maybe an activity everyone can do together. You could have people do it in pairs, or with one of the more experienced people, to start out, if they're nervous about it, but it's a great way to learn more.

3) What other skills do people have?

People might not have witchy skills, but I'd be really surprised if at least one of the people who's new to the witchy stuff didn't have other skills people would love to learn - cooking, sewing, other crafty stuff, gardening, things like that. Figure out if there are places they can contribute that relate.

(Likewise, if you've got any teachers in the group, ask them to contribute ideas about how to make sure everyone gets a chance to learn. That kind of thing.)
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Emma Eldritch

Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2016, 05:06:58 pm »
I was hoping I'd get some of your thoughts!

Quote from: Jenett;188040
1) Normalise it being okay to not know things.

...For those of you with more experience, it can also be good to be explicit about how much stuff you don't know. (I know, f'ex, for me, I know a bunch of things well, a little bit about a bunch of other things, but there are also topics where I know very little. I have a lot more fun when I admit those, when they're relevant. A "Oh, I've always been sort of curious about that, but I'd be starting from square one, like you." can help out a lot.)


That's definitely something I've been concerned about. I know that if I don't watch myself, I can be a bit of a know-it-all. I've gotten much better as I age, but it is something I try to remain conscious of. I don't want to be the one monopolizing the conversation.

I think I may have a chat with other more experienced girl, as I have noticed she can talk down to people a little, sometimes. I am positive she isn't aware that she does so, and I have no intentions of pointing it out - I think if I just emphasize that we both have to make sure that we don't act smarter than we are, things will be cool.

Quote
And in general, being excited about getting to share cool stuff with people, rather than "What, you don't know that already?" Obligatory XKCD cartoon.


Yeah! I am definitely excited, and I don't want anybody to feel stupid.

Quote
2) Set up ways for people to share what they know (or are willing to learn)

You might get some mileage by having everyone list off stuff they're interested in learning, and then having people identify stuff that they're either familiar with, or interested in getting familiar with (enough to lead a discussion about it.)


Excellent idea. That will help prevent the lecturing thing.

I know everyone is really busy, so I don't expect anybody to go and write an essay or anything, but I do want everybody to feel like they're contributing. I think that would be more fulfilling for everyone involved.

Quote
3) What other skills do people have?

People might not have witchy skills, but I'd be really surprised if at least one of the people who's new to the witchy stuff didn't have other skills people would love to learn - cooking, sewing, other crafty stuff, gardening, things like that. Figure out if there are places they can contribute that relate.

(Likewise, if you've got any teachers in the group, ask them to contribute ideas about how to make sure everyone gets a chance to learn. That kind of thing.)

 
No teachers sadly - it's a group of animation folk. So that means everyone is pretty much a colossal nerd, which I hope will help make the more socially awkward feel a little more comfortable opening up.

Since everyone does come from different backgrounds I am certain people have skills that will be relevant. I hope that everybody can feel safe and confident enough to share them.

Thank you so much, Jenett! I really appreciate your advice. I just want everyone to have a good time, and I know that if the initial meetings suck then nobody's gonna want to continue.

Jenett

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Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2016, 07:55:39 pm »
Quote from: Mama Fortuna;188083

I think I may have a chat with other more experienced girl, as I have noticed she can talk down to people a little, sometimes. I am positive she isn't aware that she does so, and I have no intentions of pointing it out - I think if I just emphasize that we both have to make sure that we don't act smarter than we are, things will be cool.


I've sometimes had luck with that kind of conversation with "I don't want to come across like I'm taking over the conversation, so I'm going to do X and Y, will you help me hold to that?" and hoping the other person volunteers something similar.

I'm thinking, from how you describe things, you definitely do want to do something where everyone talks about what they hope for from the group. And definitely some brainstorming of things people are interested in, and getting a roadmap for your first few sessions.

If it were me, I'd alternate 'learning stuff' with 'doing stuff' - either half and half at each time you meet, or alternate meetings. Ideas for stuff possible, if you can share what kinds of things people might be interested in.
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Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2016, 08:09:00 pm »
Quote from: Mama Fortuna;188039
So I figured I would ask the forum, both to get advice from anyone who has been in a similar situation, and to get the perspective of people who are just starting out on what they would like from an informal group.

Thanks you guys!

 
Just so you know - I don't have anything to add that Jenett hasn't already said, and better.

Oh. Maybe just that, if you have a sufficiently strong and charismatic personality, it might turn out that no matter what you do, it's not enough. Which isn't very helpful going into it, but might be comforting if it does work like that.

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Emma Eldritch

Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2016, 10:32:51 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;188095
I've sometimes had luck with that kind of conversation with "I don't want to come across like I'm taking over the conversation, so I'm going to do X and Y, will you help me hold to that?" and hoping the other person volunteers something similar.


That sounds like a perfect tactic.

Quote
I'm thinking, from how you describe things, you definitely do want to do something where everyone talks about what they hope for from the group. And definitely some brainstorming of things people are interested in, and getting a roadmap for your first few sessions.


I really like that idea. It allows everybody to get to know one another a bit, while also encouraging the shy ones to voice their interests.

Quote
If it were me, I'd alternate 'learning stuff' with 'doing stuff' - either half and half at each time you meet, or alternate meetings. Ideas for stuff possible, if you can share what kinds of things people might be interested in.

 
I was thinking we could all do some tarot readings for one another, because everybody is interested in that and everyone loves more practice. Thinking about it now, I think covering magical 'basics' would also be a ton of fun. I mean, no matter how long you've been doing something you can always benefit from revisiting the fundamentals.

Emma Eldritch

Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2016, 10:42:17 pm »
Quote from: SunflowerP;188096
Just so you know - I don't have anything to add that Jenett hasn't already said, and better.

Oh. Maybe just that, if you have a sufficiently strong and charismatic personality, it might turn out that no matter what you do, it's not enough. Which isn't very helpful going into it, but might be comforting if it does work like that.

Sunflower

 
There's a good point. Well, I guess if that happens we'll just have to see if the group functions as an enjoyable thing for all, or not. If people still get something out of it we'll just have to change how it functions a bit.

Jenett

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Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #7 on: March 15, 2016, 08:12:53 am »
Quote from: Mama Fortuna;188109
That sounds like a perfect tactic.


It's one of my favorite Jedi Mind Tricks.

(Term some people use for this kind of 'how do I get people to go along with this thing without just bulldozing through it.)

Quote
I was thinking we could all do some tarot readings for one another, because everybody is interested in that and everyone loves more practice. Thinking about it now, I think covering magical 'basics' would also be a ton of fun. I mean, no matter how long you've been doing something you can always benefit from revisiting the fundamentals.


Doing some collaborative readings - two people reading for a third - might be really interesting. Have the person with less experience go first - they can talk about their impressions of the cards, what they think the colors/etc might be suggesting, even if they don't know the cards well. (The trick with this is don't make them feel they have to do a complete reading: do it as 'what stuff do you see' and then other people can see other things, and everyone can tie it together.)

You could also do some interesting things like do a three or five card (something smallish) reading in one deck, and then lay out the same cards in a different deck, and alk about some of the differences in interpretation you might get.
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Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #8 on: March 15, 2016, 08:27:22 am »
Quote from: Mama Fortuna;188039
So, recently I had this brilliant idea to start a "witchery and wine" group. I know several women who are into witchcraft and divination, and I thought it would be a good idea to have a sort of informal discussion group where we could all kick back, have a few drinks, and talk about tarot, spellcraft, alternative spirituality, all that kind of stuff.

Our first meetup went well, although it was really more of a 'getting to know you' evening - we felt that we should all kind of figure out where everyone is at in terms of knowledge and practice.

So, it seems like most of the group falls under the "interested but not well versed" category. They all own a deck of tarot cards, but most of them are not secure in their ability to read them. They come from different spiritual and religious backgrounds - we have a girl from rural Tennessee whose childhood included Jesus camps where they had to lug crosses around, and another who went to a private Catholic school - but everyone seems really keen on spellwork.

As for active practitioners, it looks like so far it's me and one other girl. She's been practising for about 14 years in secret (she's the one from Tennessee), and I've been at it for twenty as of this year.

So my question is this: how do we keep this group feeling like a chill space where we can all learn, as opposed to turning it into a lecture hall situation? I'm not opposed to teaching things, but I really want to avoid making anybody feel like some dumb newb. So I figured I would ask the forum, both to get advice from anyone who has been in a similar situation, and to get the perspective of people who are just starting out on what they would like from an informal group.

Thanks you guys!

 
I have two groups of people I meet with face-to-face.  One is a very small group, and we are all pretty experienced, but we all have different areas of interest which makes discussions a lot of fun.  I have studied some things more than they have and they know tons about other things that I don't.  Our methods/path are pretty different too, so even a discussion about 'how do you cast a spell typically' can lead to a really awesome talk.

The other group is much bigger and has a huge range of experience levels.  Sometimes it does catch me off guard, and I'll have a moment where I'll think to myself "wow, this person is really new."  But I kind of like it for two reasons.  Firstly, the enthusiasm of a lot of new people is really catching.  They are excited to learn, and that rubs off on me and I get excited all over again (sometimes about things that I have done a hundred times).  Secondly, being new gives them a fresh perspective.  Things that were common when I was starting out aren't always well known now, and new ways are more common now.  So talking with people who are just learning can often show me a brand new perspective on something I was already familiar with.

Ultimately that is what works for me:  approaching discussions from a "what do you think/do?" perspective instead of 'what do you know'.  I think we all have a slightly different take on things, and talking about how we see or do stuff is what makes for really good discussion (and once a couple people have said they do things a little different it helps newer people feel comfortable speaking up without feeling they are 'doing it wrong').
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Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #9 on: March 16, 2016, 12:36:20 am »
Quote from: Mama Fortuna;188039
So, recently I had this brilliant idea to start a "witchery and wine" group. I know several women who are into witchcraft and divination, and I thought it would be a good idea to have a sort of informal discussion group where we could all kick back, have a few drinks, and talk about tarot, spellcraft, alternative spirituality, all that kind of stuff.


That's an awesome idea and I'm totally excited for and jealous of you. :) Anything including wine is a great idea.

Quote from: Mama Fortuna;188039
So my question is this: how do we keep this group feeling like a chill space where we can all learn, as opposed to turning it into a lecture hall situation?


I don't have much better advice to offer than any of the previous posters, but maybe you can find activities that you're new to as well for everyone to try - that way you're all starting on the same page.

Also, when I ran my campus' Pagan Student Union for a semester, I set up a kind of rotation, where every meeting a different member would present on a topic they knew something about. A variation on that could be that every person presents a topic that they're curious about, or maybe have some experience and want to compare notes on.

A book club might work too - or even talking about podcasts, which might be easier than finding and buying books.

Have fun!

SunflowerP

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Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #10 on: March 16, 2016, 07:33:50 am »
Quote from: DrivenbyDreams;188202


 
Off-topic: Hey!! I remember you! Long time no see! Glad to see you back.

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Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #11 on: March 16, 2016, 09:12:02 am »
Quote from: SunflowerP;188213
Off-topic: Hey!! I remember you! Long time no see! Glad to see you back.

Sunflower

 
Aw shucks, thanks. :o It's nice to be remembered.

Dryad

Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #12 on: March 17, 2016, 04:12:21 pm »
Quote from: DrivenbyDreams;188202


A book club might work too - or even talking about podcasts, which might be easier than finding and buying books.


 
A book or podcast club sounds fantastic - if everyone does what they're supposed to and reads/listens, there should be lots of discussion generated by that.  There are so many options when it comes to both books and podcasts, that you should be able to find the perfect ones that appeal to everyone.

I too often struggle with trying not to come across as acting like I know everything, and in groups of people with varying skill levels in whatever the group is about, I find it helpful to have discussions and activities that involve everyone and get people talking.  Even if people don't have that much experience, they can usually contribute to the conversation.  An example might be coming up with some discussion themes for the group, and then having an informal brainstorming/discussion where people can say what they know and ask questions about what they don't.  This can be as specific or as general as you like.  

If tarot is a common interest in the group, it would also be good to encourage people to practice giving readings to each other, mixing up those who are new and those who are not.  I've done this a lot with people who were less knowledgeable with respect to the tarot than I am, and it worked really well.  As long as the people who are working on developing their skills aren't afraid to ask questions or look stupid, this is really effective.

Emma Eldritch

Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #13 on: March 19, 2016, 06:31:33 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;188145
It's one of my favorite Jedi Mind Tricks.


Which always makes me think of Jay and Silent Bob.

Quote
Doing some collaborative readings - two people reading for a third - might be really interesting. Have the person with less experience go first - they can talk about their impressions of the cards, what they think the colors/etc might be suggesting, even if they don't know the cards well. (The trick with this is don't make them feel they have to do a complete reading: do it as 'what stuff do you see' and then other people can see other things, and everyone can tie it together.)


That at least is one thing I know I can do - I've taught tarot before, and in my experience provided you don't let people get hung up on the book meanings everybody seems to do surprisingly well!

Quote
You could also do some interesting things like do a three or five card (something smallish) reading in one deck, and then lay out the same cards in a different deck, and alk about some of the differences in interpretation you might get.

 
Oh, I love that idea! Thank you!

Emma Eldritch

Re: Advice on groups with members of varying skill levels?
« Reply #14 on: March 19, 2016, 06:39:14 pm »
Quote from: Kylara;188146
I have two groups of people I meet with face-to-face.  One is a very small group, and we are all pretty experienced, but we all have different areas of interest which makes discussions a lot of fun.  I have studied some things more than they have and they know tons about other things that I don't.  Our methods/path are pretty different too, so even a discussion about 'how do you cast a spell typically' can lead to a really awesome talk.


It's fascinating how much difference there is, eh? I noticed that when the one girl and I first started talking about paganism and magic, we used a lot of vague generalizations - "oh, you know, you do the offering thing..." Finally I said to her, "you know, we both keep doing this and it's dumb. Let's just flat-out state what we do." Only then did we really see how even though we both started from NeoWicca 101 we developed in vastly different ways.

Quote
The other group is much bigger and has a huge range of experience levels.  Sometimes it does catch me off guard, and I'll have a moment where I'll think to myself "wow, this person is really new."  But I kind of like it for two reasons.  Firstly, the enthusiasm of a lot of new people is really catching.  They are excited to learn, and that rubs off on me and I get excited all over again (sometimes about things that I have done a hundred times).


That's what I do love, too. It's all so new and shiny to them, which makes my jaded ass feel all warm and fuzzy.

 
Quote
Secondly, being new gives them a fresh perspective.  Things that were common when I was starting out aren't always well known now, and new ways are more common now.  So talking with people who are just learning can often show me a brand new perspective on something I was already familiar with.


Boy, ain't that the truth. I'm on tumblr, which skews young, and the base of knowledge there is different from what I am used to.

Quote
Ultimately that is what works for me:  approaching discussions from a "what do you think/do?" perspective instead of 'what do you know'.  I think we all have a slightly different take on things, and talking about how we see or do stuff is what makes for really good discussion (and once a couple people have said they do things a little different it helps newer people feel comfortable speaking up without feeling they are 'doing it wrong').

 
That's a wonderful way to approach it. It's a lot more sensitive, and also waaaaay more fun. I mean, we all keep learning anyway so focusing on what you think and feel about practices is more interesting.

Thank you!

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