What I Learned on Summer Vacation

Okay, here are the musings on my experience that I promised. Since I’m limited on time, it is in the form of my interim report to the Lilly Endowment. The report is due Sept. 30; nothing like procrastination. The report requires introspection, so if you’re not that into discovering aspects of my personal growth feel free to skip it! 🙂

The stated purpose of my proposal was to purchase a spinning wheel and fibers necessary to create handspun yarn, as well as participate in spinning workshops in Nova Scotia. I planned to create handspun yarn for a one-of a kind knitted sweater. Upon return to Indiana, I hoped to use my spinning skills to demonstrate for students the process of turning natural resources into finished goods.

Using funds from the grant I purchased a Majacraft Rose spinning wheel. This is a high-quality wheel made in New Zealand and one that is versatile enough to meet a spinner’s needs for a lifetime. I planned and carried out my visit to Nova Scotia. This trip included two weeks of workshops at the Spinner’s Loft. While in Nova Scotia I also explored the province’s fiber community with visits to historical sites, sheep farms, and an alpaca farm and fiber mill.

I have yet to set up a demonstration for students. The beginning of the school year is so hectic for all concerned and teachers have not yet reached the point in the social studies curriculum which my demonstration would address. I plan to work with the teachers over the course of the school year to showcase this production process when appropriate. In addition, although I have begun spinning for my planned sweater, producing enough yarn for the project is quite time-consuming. I expect this to be an on-going task which will take most of the school year.

Although I have done most of what I planned with the project, so much of it has been unexpected. Above all, this experience offered me more than I expected. I learned so much more than just how to spin, I was offered more opportunities than I anticipated, and I was changed more than I foresaw.

Learning to spin was a challenge, in no small part because I had to step outside of my usual learning styles. I am very much a visual learner. I process things best by reading (no surprise in a librarian). I even learned to knit by teaching myself from a book. I prepared extensively for my trip by researching the area I was to visit. It became a joke among Leslie (the teacher) and Paula (my fellow student) during the workshops that any place they mentioned I had read about.

During the spinning workshops, however, I was immersed in tactile experiences. Both Leslie and Paula assimilated knowledge by doing, rather than reading or seeing. I was forced to do the same. Although Leslie demonstrated and explained all the steps involved, I could not simply follow directions in order to spin. There was too much information I could not understand until I experienced the work. It required lots of practice, literally feeling my way through the fiber. It was only as I practiced later the next week that I began to see clearly the various parts of the process that had been explained earlier. I began to have a better understanding of students who learn by this method.

The grant also opened doors and created opportunities otherwise unavailable to me. Although the financial support made this experience possible, the credibility factor was important as well. Instead of showing up off the street and asking to see behind the scenes at a historic site or to visit valuable farm animals, explaining that I was on a grant to study the fiber community gave my requests a certain legitimacy. If the Lilly Endowment gave me their money, surely I was trustworthy. In addition, people went out of their way to suggest other contacts I should pursue while in the area. I will add, however, that there was a certain amount of incredulity outside of the fiber community when I explained what I was doing. Generally people found it hard to believe that teachers would be given money “just” to explore areas of interest to themselves. It was yet another example of why this fellowship program is so rare and valued.

Finally, I was surprised at the amount of personal growth I experienced as part of this program. I fully expected to learn the skill of spinning. I did not foresee the amazing jump in self confidence that traveling on my own coupled with learning a new skill would produce. The logistics of being away from home for five weeks required a lot of planning. In addition to fitting all expenses into my budget, travel produced unexpected situations to be met. Whether dealing with the discovery that I had planned a drive of too many hours for one day or that there was no air conditioning in the dormitory during a week of 90 degree temperatures, I was left to my own devices to find solutions. Doing so more or less successfully showed me I can face everyday challenges at work with aplomb as well.

Simply leaving behind the day to day experience of my life, which had fallen into a rut, gave me new perspective on things as well. Every day did not have to fall into a routine. Change was exciting. On the other hand, the return home was comforting too. Although I settled back into my work routine within days, the memory of my experience reminds me that the four walls of my library truly are not the limits of my world.

Based on my new skills, my new confidence, and my new perspective, I hope to share my skills with students, complete the spinning of yarn for a sweater, and perhaps even begin a small Internet-based yarn business in the future. I would also highly recommend the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity program to fellow educators.

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