Sharing Big Ideas for learning

The start of term has seen creative activity in the Kateosphere cranked up to full on warp mode! During September I was involved in two exceptional events that have challenged me both professionally and personally. One involved mummified rats in an ice age cave and the other a forest of trees created through frenetic activity from garden parasols; both have reminded me why I do what I do and love it so much! The experiences have left me feeling that I am on the cusp of my next big adventure.

When I was asked to lead the Lincolnshire’s Creative Partnerships Change School sharing day, ‘Sharing Big Ideas for learning’, I felt both thrilled and terrified. I was also suspicious as to why I had been asked and questioned whether the description often applied to my character as being ‘LOUD’ had been a deciding factor.

 After much careful thought and deliberation, I chose to face my fears and rise to the challenge. I must stress at this point that I was in no way the headline act and the event was very much the product of ‘Team Lincolnshire’ working together. The team comprised of CfBT Arts Co-ordinator Katy Vine and Creative Agents Al Muir, Dawn Harris, Rosie Ward and Leanne Taylor.

The format of the event had been determined by research around what participants wanted to get from the day. Feedback had suggested that opportunities should be tailored to the unique attributes of each school and the achievements that they hoped to realise through their CP work. With this in mind a conference style format to the day showcasing past projects through presentations was rejected. The alternative put forward was a participatory event using the metaphor of a tree as the creative concept to draw out the vision and aspirations of each Change School attending.

 I was challenged to facilitate a series of participatory creative activities that would encourage a rigorous exploration by each school of where they were, where they wanted to be and how they wanted to get there.

This event was unusual as the 70 participants invited were Teachers, Pupils (primary, secondary and special needs), Creative Agents, Creative Practitioners and representatives from Lincolnshire One Venues.

The diverse nature of the group and the vastness of the space to be used (The Collection, Lincoln) was the source of my initial fear! I was also taken out of my comfort zone by being given a pre defined creative concept to work with. I had to dig deep into the reserves of past experiences to work out how an environment could be created that would support learning and was meaningful to each participant.

 I decided to focus on making the space work; I considered how it would be defined, introduced and would fit with other elements of the day. I filled the space with seven green wooden framed parasols (which came with the creative concept!) which groups of participants would work around. I then split the day’s making activities into six mini sessions; each would represent part of the tree and would describe the school’s various components and characteristics, the achievements that it hoped to realise through its CP work and the methods that it would employ to do this. 

I hung themed bags of resources from the parasols which were labelled roots, branches, leaves, fruit, pollinators and blossom. I also included a written prompt to clarify the objective of each element of activity and to initiate a response.

By setting the space up in this way I hoped to define areas of self contained activity, create intrigue and curiosity and encourage experiential learning! I was also very aware that the focus of the day would be to explore aspirations through creative activity but that the actual was making subordinate in this process. The trees would become a visual representation of discussions taking place in each group…. At this point, the fear crept in again and I had flash backs to the TV series ‘School of Saatchi’ and wondered if it was all a tad conceptual and pretentious!

The build up to the day was far more nerve racking than the event itself. My inability to eat my buttered breakfast crumpets the morning before caused me great mental anguish!  As participants arrived at The Collection they were guided through the space.

Rosie Ward’s Fulbridge seaside installation looked stunning playing on loop across three screens in the AV Theatre. Her ‘Making of’ film documenting the process introduced participants to the Temporary Gallery where the bare parasol trees stood waiting in anticipation for creativity to sprout.

In Orientation Hall, Fosse Way Pupil’s choreographed sound piece ‘Sharing Big Ideas for learning’ was played through the twenty two speakers of the Sound Wall. The pupils also interviewed arrivals asking ‘What is the colour of creativity?’ (They went on to work with Rosie throughout the morning to feed the responses gathered into their piece which formed an audio backdrop to lunch).

The making activities worked well and it was interesting to observe the interactions of each group and their responses to the tree metaphor. I think that the metaphor worked because of the way in which participants had been skilfully prepared for the event by Creative Agent Al Muir. This preparation had included assigning support for the two special schools pre event and brought everyone into the space with shared expectations.

The zoning of space worked well too and encouraged collaborative working between different Schools, Creative Agents and Creative Practitioners. Feedback from a Creative Practitioner that I was particularly interested in was that she hadn’t realised how targeted CP work is; in that it responds to a specific need or needs of the School’s Development Plan. This made me think about how the programme plan is shared between project partners and gave me something else to consider for my work this year i.e sharing the vision.

This event was an important experience for me. As a risk taker, I think people often perceive me as more confident than I am. I was actually quite scared about leading the event! I was very aware that if I failed publically it could be damaging professionally especially in the current climate where there is so much competition for work. I didn’t find leading easy but I think that it was a useful lesson in; confidence can sometimes come across as arrogance, feel ing vulnerable has reminded me to stay grounded.

The event also reassured me that I have the ability to contribute effectively in a team situation. As part of my Arts Management MA last year I took up an Events Management module. I was assessed on a group presentation where in a team we had planned a young people’s participatory event linked to the Cultural Olympiad. Although I enjoyed the module, I found the group work challenging. As a mature student with real life work experience it was difficult not to take control and at times I felt like a dictator which was not a comfortable feeling!

Sharing Big Ideas for Learning gave me the opportunity to apply my theoretical learning to a real situation. I really enjoyed working with Al, Rosie and Katy and feel that because of our existing professional relationships we found natural openings to capitalize on our strengths and areas of expertise. We were also a very supportive, harmonious group. We were reactive to issues as they arose and communicated well. Whereas the artificial group situation at University had left me questioning my ability to work as part of a team, my ‘Team Lincolnshire’ experience confirmed that I could. Perhaps what I have learnt by drawing this parallel is that working within a team of equals suits me better than taking the role of leader.

So,  the mummified rats? I think I will leave that for another time.