Blog – Cultural Curriculum for Bristol: Final Thoughts

Laura Street reflects on the Cultural Curriculum for Bristol pilot; the work already undertaken with Early Years Teacher, Emily, and what the future holds for the project. Already an experienced Dance Artist, Laura recently trained as an Early Years Teacher. Together they aim to design creative teaching tools that actually work within the demands of the school environment.

It’s the time in a project where the evaluation reports are sent, and final evaluation meetings are arranged. However, for myself and Emily, this work is far from over.

Emily and I both feel that the vision of the project was really exciting; enabling teachers to work collaboratively with professional ‘creatives’, developing opportunities to explore creativity, and investigating how best to implement these skills within a range of subjects – especially STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). But even here, with this simple sentence encapsulating the aims and objectives of the project, I find a ‘hurdle’ to overcome. After just one hour spent with all 3 teachers that originally signed up to the project it was clear the teachers were just as ‘creative’ as me, yet I was named a ‘creative’ and them ‘teacher’. These categorisations to me signal alarm bells of an attitude that runs deep in the veins of society. This simple use of labels could be seen as the first of the hurdles that we needed to negotiate…

For me the project, at times, felt like a bit of battle. A battle to find times when we could meet and work together and keep the team together, with three teachers eventually resulting in one on board. This situation became a real opportunity however, giving myself to work one-to-one with a highly creative and innovative teacher. This meant we could forge a strong relationship to tackle the battles which were waiting for us.

Next up was arrange trips to experience culture together and time to work together – think the ultimate in free-lance doodle poll with a person whose workload was already at a cripplingly high level.

Next up, we needed to use our precious time extremely effectively. Not a problem for Emily – teachers are very adept at working at lightning speed and Emily was hugely productive and insightful. I learned a huge amount from the way she worked, another brilliant outcome from the timetabling battle.

We were really gaining momentum now and we set our sights on getting the attention of senior management. After many emails and cornering them in person we were granted half of a weekly staff meeting to share our approaches and concepts. Success – the teachers were interested, and they shared our passions.

Working on big projects with many partners and people can be tricky. Emily and I were navigating and learning from these struggles, sometimes even feeling like we were battling with the organisers of the project themselves, with ideas and approaches clashing at times.

For Emily the interpretation and the re-formatting of the lesson plans by the project organisers was one of the biggest hurdles. We had planned things that were relevant to the day to day teaching style of Emily and her colleagues, using the careful consultations and observations we had both carried out. The format of the final plans came back from the project organisers, but we believed they weren’t as relevant or engaging. This made Emily worry for the project’s legacy.

The project organisers had taken great steps to ensure the legacy by involving trainee teachers. Emily and I led sessions, along with the other subject teams, and received a great response from the teachers of tomorrow towards our ideas and approaches. Unfortunately, when asked to come into school and deliver these ideas, there was a huge amount of absences from the young people and Emily was left trying to organise the learning for an entire school, a true test of this teacher’s lightning-speed brain…not ideal…

But reflecting on the project, through discussion with each other and reading over the evaluation reports, it’s clear the biggest battle is with the attitude held for the arts within education. There is still a clear separation between STEM subjects and ‘soft’ subjects, such as the arts and how they are approached. Schools still have clear distinctions, ‘you teach this, and I teach this, and we do it in this way’. Going forward Emily has written a policy and proposal of how she is going to encourage all teachers to think about creativity in their teaching and to use movement in all her lessons. But there was another battle awaiting us. As soon as we set out how we going to move forward effectively, the school was subject to major upheaval. Senior management was completely changed and the way maths and literacy was taught completely overhauled. When I spoke to Emily about these changes, she describes them as “un-real” and “a complete transformation, I’m speechless”. It’s clear now to be able to keep flying the flag for creativity in education we’re going to have to gather ourselves and face a new team, convincing them all over again of the value and merit in the arts and what they bring to education.

It’s battle after battle for teachers at the moment, and I have learnt so much and gained so much respect for the people who ensure the education and growth of our young people today. I will continue to support Emily through these next hurdles to ensure our ideas live on.