Before you begin reading this post, I want you to pause, close your eyes and think of the one single strategy that you think has the biggest impact on transforming a school. When you’ve done that, read on.
I can probably guess what crossed your mind: More resources, smaller class sizes, better technology, perhaps even stronger leadership. All of these are worthy and will no doubt make a difference. But how many of you thought of the arts? Or more specifically, creativity? Suppose you were applying for the headship of a school and the interview panel asked you to name your number one priority for school improvement. How many of you would honestly say ‘the arts’ or ‘to be more creative’? I suspect very few of you.
Like me, you’d probably have played it safe and said something like marking and feedback. I dare say you would have got the job as well because it’s unusual for people to associate school improvement with the arts. The two simply do not go together, especially with today’s high-pressure stakes.
For some reason, when it comes to school improvement – and I’m talking real, hard core school improvement here – we have this misguided perception that the arts simply don’t cut it. For one thing, it’s almost impossible to test and measure, and also, why bother when it’s not tested at the end of key stage two?
Instead, we stick with what we know best: We lock down the curriculum and go back to basics with literacy and numeracy. Besides, how many of us have read a special measures Ofsted report that says the school needs to improve further by being more creative?
One of the biggest myths that surrounds creativity is the fear of the arts. Too many schools view creativity as unachievable because they ‘don’t do the arts.’ This of course is unhelpful because creativity and the arts are not the same thing. Some of the most creative schools in the country become so without an Artsmark in sight.
For many years, I always believed that I wasn’t a creative person because I didn’t like Shakespeare. I don’t play a musical instrument, I can’t draw or paint and I don’t particularly enjoy traipsing round museums and art galleries. But I’ve come to learn that this was all wrong and that I am in fact – and always have been one – of the most creative people I’ve ever met.
You are as well. As a teacher, you are one of the most creative individuals walking this planet. You spend your entire day being creative and coming up with dozens of original ideas that add value. Even when you are not teaching, you are dreaming up thrilling ways to motivate and excite your class. In particular, your ability to use your imagination is second to none. It comes so naturally to you that you don’t even know you are doing it. Above all, you are able to inspire and capture the hearts and minds of a classroom of young people for hours on end, day in, day out, and they cannot get enough of it.
For most of us as parents, the thought of keeping a handful of other people’s kids entertained at a children’s party is the stuff of nightmares, but for you to do it with so many, in such challenging circumstances, without a magician or Wacky Warehouse in sight is little short of a miracle. So whilst you might not know your crotchets from your quavers, or a trochaic from caesura, fear not. You are still a talented and uniquely creative person.
To help you appreciate exactly how creative you have been today, here are 10 things that you probably did at some point with your class that were highly creative, and not a paint brush in sight.
- Your lessons were based on an assessment of what the children could and could not do, and you thought carefully about what it was that you wanted them to learn that was relevant and purposeful.
- The children experienced the joy of being stuck and celebrated that moment. You didn’t tell them how to come unstuck though, instead letting them help each other and find out how to do it themselves.
- You allowed the children to make lots of choices, such as when it was the right time to use traditional pencil and paper methods or technology.
- You provided the children with some feedback that got them to think about how they could use their new learning in the real world.
- The children worked hard and had to concentrate. At the same time they also used their imagination and got a bit lost in their thoughts.
- Your classroom was a bit of a mess with examples of children’s work pinned, blutacked, or strewn all over the place, especially on the learning walls.
- You didn’t get hung up on insisting that the children had to write down the date, title and learning objective. Instead, they just got on with it.
- Your children chose when it was the right time to look at each other’s books during the lesson. They asked each other questions and gave constructive feedback on how they could improve their learning by the end of the lesson.
- You gave the children time at the start of the lesson to read and respond in a meaningful way to your marking from the previous day (but you only did this for a few pupils and not the whole class because that would be silly).
- You had fun with your class and they really enjoyed being with you and can’t wait to do it all over again tomorrow.
Anything over 7/10 and you are a seriously creative person. Don’t despair though if you only managed one or two. It still puts you in top 1% or so of the population.
And if you still don’t see yourself as being creative, then don’t lose hope, there is still time. It is never too late to unleash the creative within you. As Stephen Fry once said: ‘We are all opsimaths[i]. Let us all go forward together now… Nothing can hold us back.’
[i] Opsimath, noun: one who learns late in life. This appears in Fry’s charming little book ‘The Ode Less Travelled. Unlocking the Poet Within’, that taught me everything I need to know about Iambic Pentameter and all other matters poetic. (It won’t surprise you that I ditched poetry as soon as I could at Secondary.)