Blog – Cultural Curriculum for Bristol: The environment, and its importance

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.

You can find the other Cultural Curriculum blogs here.

Reflecting and improving

A big part of training to be a teacher is reflective practice, understanding what you are doing to make sure you can evidence it and communicate it well. Since training to be a teacher I have come to understand what I do to a much deeper level, and since coming to work at Theatre Bristol I have gained a lot more confidence in it. Teachers are really good at reflecting and improving what they do, in fact a normal week in an educational setting is much like an action research project in constant motion. They are always striving to improve what they do, and the government is always changing the goal posts, so they need to be on their toes.

‘Teachers are really good at reflecting and improving that they do, in fact a normal week in an educational setting is much like an action research project in constant motion.’

Schools, like arts organisations, or companies, are always sending their staff on training days, some are met with excitement, some dreaded, we’ve all been there I’m sure. Two days in the studio with Sue Buckmaster, the self-named puppet whisperer, compared to two days on how to fill out your taxes generate different responses from me, but they are, in my practice, both important. I go along open minded with my notebook in tow. So I was really excited to be met by my collaborator on this project, Emily (we are a smaller team now due to a change in circumstances for the other teachers involved), who was fresh faced back from a training day. She had taken her notebook and filled it with ideas. “I was thinking we could do this, or I’ve learned this great exercise that we could adapt, and I’ve been thinking about the next phase of my project…” She was buzzing with creative ideas and passion about how to ensure the impact of the project.

We started to look at topic-based plans. Each term year groups will look at topics, spanning from the weather to the Romans. The teacher firstly outlines and discovers all that the children already know about the topic in the form of a discussion, and lessons are taught on important elements of the topic over the coming weeks. We have already discussed the huge potential movement has for helping teachers see if knowledge is embedded – action learning being a key theory – so we set about creating plans for the final lesson in the topic. We created activities that used the body to show understanding, using partner work, group work and discussion.

A space for creativity

As the ideas flowed, the classroom door did not stop opening and closing with colleagues asking questions and delivering resources. I realised that a key principal in making creative work is the carefully considered environment. I thought about the sanctity of the rehearsal room and the carefully chosen and arranged artists’ studio, with the door closed shut to avoid distraction. The creation of safe space in which to experiment with ideas, get lost and tangled in thoughts. The need of a large space to invites you to move and play. We needed a creative space in which to work, one that invited you to move in it if we were going to get out from behind the desks and really bring movement and creativity to our work.

‘a key principle in making creative work is the carefully considered environment’

In steps the power of the creative peer Lucy Hunt from Bristol Old Vic, a theatre who are also working on this project with an artist placed in another academy in Bristol. “Why don’t you come and use a studio here for the day, get immersed in the studio?”, she offers. Brilliant, a space where we can get all of the ideas pouring out of Emily devised, played with, and recorded. Emily tells me it would mean the world to her to get back in the studio, especially at Bristol Old Vic where her creative journey started in summer schools, with the likes of Sally Cookson and Myrtle Theatre Company. So we booked the date and I started to think about what a day in the life of a creative would look like, I thought about all the things I need to feed my creativity when I’m working and what I could share with Emily to allow hers to flow uninterruptedly…

Find out more about the Cultural Curriculum for Bristol project and read Laura’s other blogs.