Blog – Cultural Curriculum for Bristol: Space and time, and what they bring us

As part of her work on the Cultural Curriculum for Bristol  (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 writes brilliantly about the process of creatively collaborating with teachers.

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 her most recent blog, Laura reflects on the challenges and opportunities of finding a space to be creative in the teaching environment.

In her previous blog, Laura discussed how the environment impacts on a teacher’s ability to be creative. Laura and her collaborator Emily, a teacher, decided to take some time and space outside of the school to work, and here Laura reflects on the impact of this change of scene.

Out of school, and into the studio

To be able to capture all of the innovative ideas pouring out of Emily’s brain as the plans developed and the project progressed, I had decided that the environment was key, Bristol Old Vic had lent us their studio and I knew we would have the ‘closed door’ set up we needed. Brilliant. However, there was another element to consider, I had also been thinking about time. The stop watch is always on teachers and most schools still have the factory style bell ringing at different points throughout the day to keep everyone working to the same pace.

But as a creative I knew ideas do not always acknowledge a timetable. Anyone who’s woken at 4am to scribble an idea, or struggled to stay awake in an afternoon meeting but yet can keep typing on their new book idea till the wee small hours will know, ideas don’t have a concept of time. Yet me and Emily’s planning sessions were always against the clock, firing out ideas into laptops quickly as they came to get them down, as soon the laptop lids needed to close and the marking of the maths books needed to be done before the caretaker kicks you out…I needed Emily to have not only the space, but the time to think clearly and creatively.

A new kind of timetable

So I set about getting her off timetable for the day. Not an easy task but an essential one, and we managed it with the support of her head teacher. I created a day where we could firstly ‘check in’, a concept I had learned from the theatre companies I’d worked for where people could share and get things off their chest in order to concentrate for the day of rehearsal ahead of them.

Secondly prepare our body, an approach always adhered to by the dance companies I had worked for in the shape of morning class. Our morning class would be in the shape of a yoga lesson, a movement based practiced we were both at a similar level of competence at. After all, how could we plan lessons that used movement to help children learn if we hadn’t actually moved ourselves yet.

Thirdly, and injection of culture. As I cycled to a morning meeting with a fellow dance artist to work on an application recently, I drank in the city and its people. I thought about how varied my lifestyle was, where I mix with a wide range of people and work on a diverse array of projects. There are many disadvantages to this mixed bag approach to work, the ever quiet January with its looming tax return bill at the end of it springs to mind, nothing is perfect, but I do get to be inspired by Bristol and its inhabitants of a very regular basis.

Working in school makes connecting with culture a little more challenging. Working long hours on the other side of Bristol means a lot of time spent in the car, a lot of time working at weekends (mainly marking the maths books you didn’t have time to before the caretaker kicked you out) and, especially in a Primary School, lots of lunch times with the same people. So before we went into the studio I took Emily to lunch at St Nicks Market. To drink in the city and talk about the latest theatre production she had seen and what she thought of it, and the latest application I was writing. With our minds and out bodies nourished we went into the studio and got to work. And man, did we work. The ideas followed and the energy and spirit flowing out of Emily was amazing. The time and the space I had provided us with really paid off and we put together some really exciting ideas. “Let’s write a book,” Emily said as we packed up at the end of the day. Watch this space.

Finding space in school

Even though we got through lot that day, the requirements of the projects organisers meant we had a few more plans to firm up. Emily suggested we take some more time off timetable. We could only get out of the classroom for the afternoon so to utilise time I went to school and we booked out the studio there. And what a different experience it was. The studio was so rarely used as there is so little time in the timetable for dance and drama, it had become a dumping ground for the P.E department. It was cold, dirty, and the door never stopped opening with people popping in. Our planning really reflected this disjointed and unwelcoming space. We retreated to the staff room where at least there was tea, but again more people with questions for Emily, and most importantly, nowhere to move freely.

We finished the work and got it sent off in time for our deadline and it was fascinating to reflect on the different environments and set ups we had worked together in, and how conducive they were to our work. We had both learned a huge amount from the journey so far and had come up with some ideas and concepts we felt were very strong. We had developed a very close working relationship and felt we were truly working collaboratively. Which as anyone who had worked in a collaborative way before, is truly exciting. Our next step was to share our ideas. To make sure our plans made sense to others, who might not be teachers or creatives. To make sure they were universally accessible and inspirational to others to use. The next phase of the project was to share what we had created with first year Bachelor of Education students at UWE. To hope to inspire these aspiring teachers to connect with their creativity and ensure the next generation of teachers understood the power of movement as an educational tool…  

You can find out more and Laura’s other Cultural Curriculum blogs here.