Laughing in the Face of Doom

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Photo credit: Dave Overton

Photo credit: Dave Overton

The last few months have required some extreme plate spinning for me as I have found myself lurching from one disaster to another which explains my 103 day absence from the blogosphere! At times it has felt as if the world has slipped on its axis and I have had to exchange a light touch and gentle persuasion for brute force and dogged determination to keep all of my plates in the air. An unexpected illness, unexpected Home Ed experience and unexpected school move for my daughter have all nestled uneasily against the demands of my freelance work and consequently my current residency at the University of Lincoln has at times been pushed out into the cold.

I have motivated myself to ‘keep calm and carry’ on through this strange time by indulging in a few simple pleasures (consuming my body weight in biscuits, watching the musical Annie and buying unnecessary stationary) and slowly I am bringing the balance of my life, work and residency back into a state of equilibrium. I think it’s safe to slam the door on doom now and to banish it to the bottom of the garden!

The project that I’m working on through my residency hasn’t actually been devoid of attention, it’s switched between ‘pottering’ and full on ‘warp’ mode to fit in with whatever is going on around it.  I’m very pleased with the progress that I’ve made; the pinhole cameras are no longer driving me insane (see previous post), I’ve had my first experience of using a Hassleblad and developing a 120 roll film, I’ve set up a studio shoot and produced a series of bespoke invitations for my project participants.

As the project’s exhibition now looms on the horizon I am going to attempt a blog-a-thon over the coming weeks to catch up on the task of documenting my journey so far. Although it’s frustrating to be blogging retrospectively I have come to the conclusion that blogging in real time could actually act as a ‘spoiler’ for my project participants.

During the next two months I will invite each of these nine people to take part in three identical interventions. I like the idea of these interventions evolving as secret missions shrouded in mystery; a digital footprint could blow my cover and potentially steer the project down a predictable path. So thank you doom, your unexpected presence may have helped curiosity and intrigue to flourish and increased the opportunities for serendipitous exchanges!

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A Year’s Worth of Learning

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A year ago today I had an inkling that I had struck lucky. I had overcome the first challenge of the day by successfully finding where I was supposed to be going with all the confidence of a sniffer dog! A quick sweep of the training venue, the fabulous Wallace Space, revealed a kitsch 50’s style toilet with complementary smellies, a posh cafe providing a lavish breakfast (my second of the day) and the promise of a thai curry for lunch. All boxes ticked!

It was not what I was expecting however, and neither was the rest of the day. On 10th May 2010 with a keen mind and wearing a knitted tank top, I embraced new technology. I didn’t think that we’d make a good match but a year on, we are still going strong! We have connected through social media, slightly more competent IT skills and a love of digital innovation. On our first anniversary, it seems fitting to reflect on how what was initially a 100hr challenge has paid dividends and proved to be the most influential CPD opportunity in my career.

Why so? Well, I have recently been reading Charles Handy’s ‘Gods of Management’ and have discovered that I fit best into a Dionysian culture. Dionysian’s learn from life, by immersion and by new experiences. They can be difficult creatures to manage and Handy describes in a nutshell, their feelings towards self development: ‘Dionysians will resent any attempt by others, particularly an organisation, to plan their futures or to develop their abilities. They want opportunities, but demand the right to choose between them.’ Hmmm, approach with caution.

The training that I attended (led by Ewan McIntosh and funded by CCE) was elective, I wasn’t sent or made to go; I wanted to be there and I wanted to learn. Touch paper lit, I launched myself  like a rocket on a voyage of techno-discovery. Over the last year, through 365 hours+ of digital exploration rooted in social media my world has become more vibrant, challenging and fulfilling:

  • Twitter has given me access to an army of brilliant minds; I have posed questions, offered opinions, read research and been inspired by innovation on a daily basis (in 140 characters or less!)
  • WordPress  has encouraged me to reflect and document on what I do and why I do it, improved my IT skills and helped me to connect to the wider world
  • Facebook, Tumblr and Flickr hold the processes and products of my first online project and encourage collaborations and random encounters

Like a viral marketing campaign, my enthusiasm for social media has spread through my work. I have encouraged and supported teachers and creative practitioners through Creative Partnerships at Fulbridge School of Creativity and St Mary’s Change School to use blogs to reflect on and document their creative journeys. The quality and volume of blogged material has been overwhelming and creates a persuasive argument for the use of social media in the classroom.

My family have not escaped unscathed from the social media onslaught either! My 10 year old son Jude has become a competent blogger. Previously a reluctant writer, he will now happily write about places he’s visited and ‘stuff’ he’s done peppering his compositions  with slideshows of photographs he’s uploaded.

Embracing web 2.0 technology has enriched my life. What I am most surprised about is what I have learnt about the social meaning of creativity. I realize that I have only dipped my toe in the water but with a background in community based participatory arts I am hungry to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between making and sharing creative material online and doing it in the real world. This will keep me going for the next 365 hours at least and will be formally captured through my MA dissertation. I have just bought David Gauntlett’s ‘Making is Connecting’ and after I have cast Handy aside I think his discourse of how creativity, craft and community intersect I’ll be off on my next adventure!

If you haven’t taken a peek already, please do check out my online project ‘We Found Art’ and get involved. If you are reading this and we’re friends on facebook or you follow me on twitter, thank you for the companionship (and more) that you have contributed to my amazing learning journey! I will stop now before I descend into an Oscar style speech… If I cry, I may fuse my keyboard and will be restricted once more to old skool learning!

CREATIVE THOUGHTS NEEDED FROM CREATIVE THINKERS

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I have just started the second year of a part time MA in Arts Management. This semester I am studying the ‘Management of Creative Practice: Marketing and Communications’ and have recently been introduced to the Henley Centre report for ACE ‘The Arts Landscape in 2010’. I was interested to discover that as a single working parent I fall into the most ‘time poor’ sector of society and only have 13.5 free hours in a week. I suspect that this is when I fit in my MA, eat cake, roller-skate and allow my son to practice his rugby tackles on me!

50% of this module will be assessed on a group presentation. To practice presentations skills, my tutor has suggested that I prepare a presentation that summarises how The British Museum site www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/compass/ has used the web interface, through assessing its benefits both for the organisation and people wanting to find out more.

With my new ‘time poor’ status firmly under my belt, I have decided to approach this task as an arts manager. I have identified the objective of the task to develop presenting skills and my problem as a lack of research time. The resources I have available are an extended virtual network of creative divergent thinkers, a ‘time rich’ 11 year old daughter proficient in the creation of power point presentations and a badge making machine.

I am not work shy nor am I looking to cheat but am interested in the way in which creative thinkers embrace problems through innovative practice. I have recently read Tina Seelig’s book ‘What I wish I knew When I Was 20; A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World’. Seelig is the executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Programme; she is an entrepreneur, neuroscientist and teacher. In her book, she puts forward many examples of how individuals and organizations have demonstrated a healthy disregard for the impossible, a knowledge of how to recover from failure and the ability to see problems as remarkable opportunities in disguise through divergent thinking.

I have decided to take a chance and prepare a practice presentation on how creative thinking  influences problem solving in the cultural sector but I need help from creative thinkers. So, my virtual friends, this is where you come in! Faced with the British Museum task what would you do? I have five fabulous handmade badges on offer for the five most appealing ideas. I would be very grateful if you could post your creative thoughts below and I would also like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to launch my first twitter campaign!

 

Connecting, Reflecting and Imagining the Possibilities

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My tag line is ‘connecting, reflecting and imagining the possibilities’ and expresses what I am constantly doing in life.  Increasingly it is becoming more obvious to me that I should view this statement as a cycle as each element is intrinsically linked and influences the others.

Let me put my musings into context. At the end of the summer term I evaluated two Creative Partnerships projects.  One had built strong partnerships between Teachers and Creative Practitioners whereas the other had seen little Teacher interaction. The later had demonstrated that in some respects this shortcoming had a positive impact on the relationships built between the Creative Practitioners and Pupils but my concern was how creative teaching and learning would be embedded into the school’s curriculum without the teacher making a direct contribution.

Before the project continued into a second year, I was interested to explore the barriers to teacher interaction. When I spoke to the staff they acknowledged that the Young People had benefited immensely from the project but the overwhelming view was that it was perceived somewhat as an ‘add on’. They also felt that it was only relevant to the year group directly involved. They hadn’t been able to make the link that a creative approach could enhance cross curricular learning and encourage a whole school approach to creativity.

 The other school that I was working with had an established thematic approach which was topic based. Through their Creative Partnerships programme, its Teachers had explored how a more creative approach could challenge something that was already working well. They focused on raising literacy standards through their year 3 summer topic and from the outset made it clear to their Creative Practitioners what their targets were.

In a nutshell, the outcome of this project was that the Creative Practitioners energised the topic with a fresh perspective and take on its delivery. They facilitated a diverse range of experiences to stimulate the pupil’s desire to write based on the Young People’s responses to a trip to the seaside. Through the project the Teachers were able to position themselves as the literacy experts building on the stimuli. It gave them confidence in their own skills and a creative approach that they could implement in subsequent topic work without external support.

It was at this point that I made the connection. The majority of my work requires me to flit between two worlds; education and the arts. These worlds have different identities, expressed through their language, values, etiquette and dress sense! Bringing them together often requires skilful mediation; sometimes it requires back-up. As my workshop practice encourages peer to peer learning I decided that I needed to bring the Teachers of each school together so one could communicate the unique selling points of a creative approach in a language that could be heard and understood by the other. Hold this thought.

Next came the reflecting. A very perceptive comment that a Young Person had made during an evaluation conversation resonated with me. She had said that during the Creative Partnerships project her Teacher had become a Learner and that sometimes this was scary for her. From my observations, in both schools the most exciting creative outcomes had happened when project participants (teacher, practitioner and pupil) were challenged to learn and especially when this took them out of their comfort zone . I met with both school’s Creative Co-ordinators to consider what the learning would look like in year two of the programme.

Although both schools were at very different places on their creative journey their pupils had the same entry point, that being Reception. I began Imagining the Possibilities of an Early Year’s focus for this year’s project with the Creative Co-ordinators which led to discussions around the High/Scope approach. As a High/Scope practitioner I could see how it would sit well with both the Teachers and Creative Practitioners whilst challenging their current practice.

‘In the High/Scope Approach to early childhood education, adults and children share control. We recognise that the power to learn resides in the child, hence the focus on active learning practices. When we accept that learning comes from within, we achieve a critical balance in educating young children. The adults’ role is to support and guide young children through the active learning adventures and experiences.’   David P. Weikart. 1995

It was at this point that the project planning began to fit together and ‘connecting’ on my tag line cycle made an appearance again. It seemed that I had an obvious opportunity to bring two programmes of work together to share experiences and resources, to support and learn.

Reflecting on my mission to promote the use of social media as a tool for reflective practice and a platform to document and evidence creative learning I also put forward the idea of training the Teachers and Creative Practitioners involved to blog so that their experiences during the project could be shared both between schools in the form of a virtual learning network and with a wider audience.

Imagining the possibilities and beyond; The Story so Far

At the end of the summer term I brought together Creative Co-ordinators from St Mary’s Change School and Fulbridge School of Creativity with High/Scope Trainers at the Totem Pole. We developed a structure for the joint programme based on the plan-do-review cycle.

We planned to bring together Teacher and Practitioner pairings who would work together for three days a month for a six month period. Each month they would come together at the Totem Pole to explore an element of High/Scope practice. This would then feed into collaborative planning both between themselves and Reception children, a delivery session and reflective blog post.

We anticipated that by using this structure, pairings would choose to develop a ‘spark’ or ‘lightbulb moment’ into innovative new practice each month and that this would look very different from pair to pair. Also because each session would explore a different element of High/Scope practice participants learning would scaffold from month to month and that planning would be responsive. The programme would therefore evolve rather than being seen from the start as having a beginning, middle and end.

At the beginning of the Autumn term, Fulbridge’s  Creative Co-ordinator Charlotte Krzanicki led a day for St Mary’s Reception Teachers and Practitioners to experience the ‘Fulbridge Way’ and to hear Teacher’s experiences of last year’s Creative Partnerships programme (connecting; peer to peer learning).

This week Mary Barlow and Barbara Thomas led the first High/Scope session at the Totem Pole, bringing together five Teacher/Practitioner pairings in a room for the first time. And what a room; the ‘Studio’  training room, is a soft, homely space which is conducive to active learning and created an energy  between participants before we even got started!

It was a fascinating experience bringing the worlds of the Arts and Education together. I observed commonalities between us all and quite obvious differences. The common thread surprised me; everyone was feeling quite anxious about the unknown but assumed that everyone else was more comfortable entering into it. This echoed the young person’s comment about her Teacher being a Learner and it being scary.

Terming ourselves as Learners created a supportive environment and we gave ourselves permission to ‘ask stupid questions’. We created collages to introduce ourselves and here I noticed an interesting difference. When the Creative Practitioners made their introduction they defined themselves in terms other than their job or role. They spoke passionately about their values and beliefs, challenges and issues and were brutally honest and open. It created an interesting dynamic and seemed to relax the group.

The day was filled with awe and wonder, curiosity and intrigue and of course a decent sprinkling of fairy dust.  We explored active learning and intrinsic motivation and the latter exposed me as an anomaly. I am driven by the factors of intrinsic motivation: Enjoyment, control, interest, probability of success and feelings of competence and self confidence but I also love a prize!

 I started this blog as a response to Ewan Mcintosh’s 100hr challenge and I got the prize (Tina Seelig’s What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World, it has a note inside to acknowledge my triumph and I treasure it). I am keeping a journal to monitor the prize loving Katie’s behaviour and am ashamed to say it already contains a holographic sticker from my dentist for being brave!

The next step in this exciting journey is a New Technologies training day for the Learners next week. We will create a virtual learning network with the guidance of Abhay Adhikari so that we can share and reflect on how the learning from the Totem Pole will facilitate creativity with the two schools Reception children. Some pairings may travel along a meandering country lane; others may head for the motor way. It could be a bumpy ride or a cruise on fresh tarmac, either way we will celebrate our successes and failures alike. This is a rare adventure and a huge leap of faith for all involved.

 

 

Sharing Big Ideas for Learning

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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.