Workshop Coaches

Who's gonna run the workshop? - Are you running it? Are you sure you won't need help from someone else when having to jump from participants to participants asking you questions like there's no tomorrow? Are you sure you can deal with the amount of participants attending the workshop? These are the kind of questions you should ask yourself when setting up a workshop. They will help you decide the maximum number of participants, and they will make you understand how many coaches are needed to run the workshop successfully.

How many coaches? - Finding out how many coaches are needed for a workshop is not an easy job. It might depend on the kind of workshop, on the methodology, and the way you want the participants to feel about the workshop and their learning progress. For instance, OpenTechSchool (an organization offering free coding workshops) always try to have one coach every four participants.

In our experience with workshops we have found out that a coach alone can hardly deal with more than 10-12 participants when they are working in groups in hands-on session. A different story is a lecture-style front-of-the-classroom kind of session, where one coach can deal with a larger number of participants (and the discriminating factor tends more towards the availability of the right technology to reach them all rather than the ability to fix their own peculiar issues)

Where can you find coaches? - Sometimes it might feel hard to find specialized people willing to share what they know, mostly when you don't have a big budget to hire freelance professionals. It is also true that this could compromise the pace of the project, and becoming a turn-down in the people involved. There are some tips that can help you overcome the problem.

The first place to start looking for coaches is probably always your community - if people in your community got interested in the project it's very likely that they work in field that has some connections, or they started to learn on their own, or maybe they know someone in the field.
Go and find them on the field, where they hang out. For instance, are you looking for hardware prototyping or digital fabrication coaches? The local Makerspace of Fablab is probably a good place to go, they might have weekly/monthly meetings on specific topics as well. Are you looking for coding coaches? Hackathons and local coding meetups are probably full of them
Can't find it locally? Go online! Publish post on specialized forums or message boards or chat channels, you might find people who can point you to someone in your area.

Professionals VS academics - Never assume you need academics to teach technology. Professionals hold a huge amount of on-the-field knowledge and sometimes they might show a better versatility, practicality, and easier language and approach to non-experienced participants.

It is very common to face rejection when asking professionals to teach something. They think they are not able to do it and no one made them think they are, because they didn't properly study for that. Ask them to tell you in precise details about something they do in their work everyday, or about something special that they have solved at work. When they are finished tell them you have just learned something new! They are ready to teach!

Hands-on approach - Always prefer from coaches a hands-on approach versus a more theoretical mnemonic one. It will make people learn faster while facing real problems. It will be more empowering at a personal level. It will make people remember longer because they can relate the learning to a specific context: the space, the tools, the people around them.

structure the workshop so that you space out different moments of learning or creation with practical exercises to solidify the concept and to temporary relax doing something practical
let the theory comes naturally after the practical has been solved and understood and agreed upon from the class
sometimes it might be helpful to run a workshop for coaches on how to coach the workshop, so that the communication with participants or group of participants will be coherent and anyone will follow a similar workshop flow

Be respectful - It sounds obvious but it's not always the case, asking coaches to share the project vision is important as it is important for any of them to be highly respectful of diversity of all the human being involved in the workshop. Discrimination of any kind (gender, sexual orientation, religion, geographical and social background...) must always be out of the door. When this is not respected, apart from being hard to deal with personally and as a group, it will highly compromise the session itself, from a perspective of personal growth and cohesiveness of the group too.

You never entirely know the story of your participants, please avoid stupid jokes. You might hurt someone
If you only think it could be necessary or helpful then make it clear with the rest of the coaches and establish shared guidelines
Make this clear with the participants too by saying in the beginning of the session that this is a discrimination-free area

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