Blog – Cultural Curriculum: Discovering the creativity that lies within, and giving it status

Blog – Cultural Curriculum: Discovering the creativity that lies within, and giving it status

As part of her work on the Cultural Curriculum for Bristol project (read Tanuja Amarasuriya’s introductory blog here), we’ve asked Laura Street to share what she’s learning. Already an experienced Dance Artist, Laura recently trained as an Early Year’s Teacher and she talks brilliantly about the process of collaborating with teachers in schools.

One of the key aims of the Cultural Curriculum pilot is to genuinely collaborate with teachers to co-design creative teaching tools that actually work within the demands of the school environment. In this blog, Laura talks about finding out about the teachers’ innate creativity and building from this.

Discovering the creativity that lies within, and giving it status

The teachers who signed up to work on the Cultural Curriculum project alongside me are all creatives. They have degrees in a creative practice of some kind, and then got into teaching via the PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education). From our first meeting, I realised we are trained to the same level, and spent our early twenties studying similar crafts. We are different ages and took postgraduate teaching courses at different points in our lives, but we are very similar in our training. Yet our daily lives are very different and our careers have taken different paths. We are in awe of what the other does, and enjoy listening to the events of each other’s days as we settle into our meetings. Driven by similar passions and goals in our training, expressing ourselves in different ways now. I set about bringing our practices together.

As a freelance creative I have attended many meetings over the last 10 years. Different people, places, agendas and reasons, but one thing ties them together: my notebook. I notice that all the people who sit across or next to me at these meetings have one too. Director, Curator, Dancer, Choreographer, Producer, we all have notebooks. They contain scribbled notes, email addresses of that person you got chatting to, overheard conversations in bars that fascinate you, drawings, doodles, workshops we want to teach, plays we want to write… anything goes really for the creative’s faithful notebook. But the creatives I meet in the staff room don’t bring a notebook. They bring organised laptops full of carefully planned lessons, YouTube clips they have found and plan to show, emails about staff meetings. Nothing in their laptops appears to be for them, and only them – no notes about things that inspire them, move them or motivate them. I carry around food for my creative practice in my notebooks. Yes, they are ideas I might want to share, but primarily it is information to inspire, nourish and motivate me. The laptops of the creatives I’m working with in school are full of things for other people. For the students they are so totally dedicated to.

My first step in bringing our practices together, is to give these teacher-creatives notebooks. It’s approaching the summer holidays, a precious time for teachers. Time to regroup, plan all those lessons for the new term, go on holiday and socialise, amongst other things. I invite them to fill their notebooks with ideas, pictures, sketches, dreams, inspiring things they have seen and heard. I invite them to create a safe place where no one but them will go; where it’s about process not product. No one will read these books. No one will mark them or review them. They are just for them. The Cultural Curriculum project is about using culture to teach in schools, so the teachers who teach need to be fuelled with culture. These notebooks can help them record what interests them, not their students this time, but them. I write a list of free festivals happening in the city, of shows and exhibitions I know are happening and invite them to do that too. We create a list of things we feel are relevant and interesting to us as a team. I set about booking tickets to a show we feel is relevant: Rambert’s triple bill at Bath Theatre Royal.

Rambert are performing Ghost Dances by Christopher Bruce, a famous work that has featured on the syllabus of the dance GCSE and A level in the past. Many lessons have been planned by this work across the country and it seems like a good place to start getting the creative planning juices flowing. I also have another agenda with the trip. Yes, it’s to inspire our planning sessions together, but for me it’s more about the act of going to the theatre. Getting together to engage with culture, driving together to Bath. The journey to the show for me is always part of it. All walking up the stairs into the beautiful theatre together, and enjoying the anticipation of live performance. It’s something I do often. I always file the ticket stubs in my tax folder, because it’s food for my practice. I need to inform myself. It’s work. Again, it’s something I have observed other creatives doing; often seeing people I know at the same shows. It’s in our habits, whether it be theatre productions, dance work, or art exhibitions; we go to feed ourselves, inform ourselves.

I wanted to bring this practice of mine to the teacher-creatives; to remind them that engaging with culture is vital if you’re going to use it inspire you. Of course they are not new to going to theatre, but I question: when was the last time you engaged with culture? It opened up lines of communication after the show as I’d hoped. I always notice how open lines of communication are after a show. As a creator you’re always striving to capture that first burst of words, first thoughts, trying desperately to record it as feedback to inform your next work. This performance and the experience of going together allowed one teacher to open up to me about her creative journey.

Starting at school, dreams of being an actor. Getting into university to study theatre but with the very practical question of ‘am I really going to make enough money from this?’ staying starkly at the front of her mind. So she chooses to combine theatre with English and sets her focus on being a drama teacher. Surviving a degree in creative practice she graduates the year of the financial crash. She rethinks her precious drama teacher plan as she can’t get work and goes on to study a PGCE in Primary. She tells me she chooses “a mortgage and a steady income.” It’s not her dream but she is a practical person. As I spoke about in my previous blog, teachers are indeed very practical people.

It feels easy to type this person’s life story into a document, and to read it back with a cuppa, but what struck me when listening was the passion that they had for their creative practice. Something I’m not sure I’m so adept at conveying through the written word. I could see the danger of quieting their creative self; that if we didn’t act we could lose it to the endless demands and standardised testing she was faced with. So for me, the job of connecting these teachers with their creative self became my goal. My job wasn’t to come up with creative approaches, it was to harness the creativity within these teachers. To lever time to think and create, and to encourage them to connect with the creative in them, and to use that to inspire the students they are so dedicated to.

Whilst observing a Year 1 to Year 6 assembly one Friday morning, I gained a valuable insight into the practice of the school. It’s important for me to understand as much as I can about the practice of the school these teachers were teaching in. Certificates were given out by the deputy and head teacher. Both members of staff knowing all of the names of the students sat patiently on the hard floor, listening and supporting their peers. All the year groups and classes were represented and wholeheartedly celebrated by everyone. The certificates were for maths, literacy and being a caring and thoughtful member of the school. Then a raffle was drawn, as it was each week. Students are rewarded for good behaviour by their teachers by being given raffle ticket, the more tickets you had the more chance you had at being pulled out of the box. All of the prizes across the year groups were tools for creative practice: felt tips, crayons, glitter.

We are living in a time where creative practice in education is considered a prize, a treat, not something that should be worked at and celebrated. The challenge is clear and I set about meeting it with my team.