‘Cloth Ears’ and the importance of listening…

Just reading some stuff about active listening, listening to oneself and processing what you hear in some of the coaching and mentoring literature…and it made me realise how many phrases and expressions there are that make reference to our ears and the importance of listening! Many of these echo (!) with my experiences as a mentor this year…and I have tried to reflect some of these in my ‘cloth ears’!

A word in your shell like

‘When our ears do glow and tingle, some do talk of us in our absence’ – Pliny


Ear to the ground

All ears

Bend your ear

To fall on deaf ears

To give ear to

In one ear and out the other

Lend me your ears – Julius Caesar, III

Prick up your ears

Pin your ears back


Facilitation in Fabric

ImageI recently went on a 3-day ‘Group Facilitation’ course run by Dr Rob Sheffield and Inge Aben at the University of the West of England, at Bristol Business School. The experience made me think and reflect on my current practices and reconsider some important aspects of group facilitation, particularly with regards to group dynamics in organisational settings – the anxieties, the power plays and the various roles people take on when working together.

I wanted to spend some time reflecting on what had made the biggest impact on me during the course and I spent a weekend making a piece of textile art that symbolised key elements of group facilitation. I used buttons, beads and charms to do this – those on the edge remind me of what is important to remember as a facilitator and those in the middle represent aspects of groups. The thread stitched across the fabric symbolises somewhat Foucauldian concepts of power – power as flexible, shifting and pervasive. The compass in the middle is indicative of the ‘guiding’ nature of facilitation, rather than giving specific instructions and directions. The bright green ribbon used to highlight the edges is symbolic of my interest in liminal space, the significance of the in-between and uncertain – in my experience as a facilitator and researcher, often the most important interactions and relationships occur at the periphery. Conversations in a corridor, talking over coffee in  a reception area, standing in a doorway gossiping – these are the spaces where people, power and anxieties are established and shared…and go on to impact on group dynamics and the roles individuals take on…

There are some more photographs of this work on my creative work page…

Creativity in Coaching and Mentoring

ImageIn my recent work on Coaching and Mentoring I have begun to use creative/ visual methods in order to explore the feelings and emotions that arise from the mentoring experience. Here, I made a piece of textile art to depict a particularly emotional mentoring session with one of my mentees. She is usually a rather closed book or someone who appears in control, someone who is happy and listens to others. In our first session there was an outpouring of emotion. I made a pocket  from felted fabric to symbolise how, in our session, we drew out emotions from an otherwise ‘closed’ space. I attached ribbons and threads with found objects attached to the ends to symbolise the complex mix of tangled threads of thoughts that overflowed and hit us both: issues to do with her passion for teaching (acorn) but how this passion can become all consuming (red bead)…time pressures (clock and bell)…how work can interfere with those closest to us (white heart)…being busy all the time (bee)…and how this can leave us feeling trapped (heart inside a cage). In making this it helped me to reflect on what key issues we had talked about and what specific areas of my mentees life we might work on together in the future.

My mentee has also used visual methods to reflect on her patterns of behaviour and to help her pinpoint areas for exploration. She has taken photographs of spaces and places that are meaningful to her and where she wishes to spend more time. She has used online mind mapping tools to help visually represent her thought process and make sense of her development.She has used visual metaphors in her reflections, taking photographs of trees and filing cabinets to make sense of her frustrations.

This emergent, creative way of working together has made me think more about the role creativity plays in the mentoring (and perhaps coaching) relationship. It seems to be able to help make the intangible thing like emotions and observations more tangible, more visible and thus, certainly in this case, more accessible in terms of further exploration and sense-making.

Australia in fabric

ImageThis is my Aussie piece of textile art…work in progress! I’m using my seven travel journals I wrote during our trip around Australia to help create a ‘fabric text’ of the places, memories and moments that were most meaningful. So far, I have started at the ‘red centre’ or Uluru/ Ayers Rock and The Olgas. I’ve made this by stitching together a number of my Clarin’s powder compact pouches (shows how much make-up I’ve got through over the past few years?!)…and have joined these to the backing fabric with a variety of red, stone, and desert coloured buttons. I’m going to use some thick white paint to create Aboriginal-style dot paintings around the base of the ‘rock’, like those found at Uluru…

PhD Quilt

ImageThis is my PhD Quilt. I made this using scraps of material and found objects, during a period of transition between submitting my completed thesis and my viva voce examination. The act of sourcing objects, cutting and sewing material and representing my PhD in physical symbols acted as a sort of ‘coping mechanism’ during a somewhat transitory period of time. The decision to make a quilt that told a story of my PhD emerged from my anxieties around wanting to stay connected to the conceptual content of my thesis, post submission, whilst simultaneously ‘recovering’ from writing and my desire to engage in a creative activity that was simply enjoyable and removed from text-centric material. I was inspired to make this by Dr Ann Rippin (Bristol University) – she is a fabulous ‘Academic Quilter’ …and also inspired me to share my creative work and research on WordPress: www.annjrippin.wordpress.com thanks Ann!

I’m presenting a paper on my PhD Qulit, called ‘Creative practices during periods of transition…or ‘stitching myself back together and sewing together my thesis’ at the SCOS 2012 Barcelona conference in July…and am looking forward to seeing some of my fellow ‘Scossers’ there!