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15 Sep 2022

Bringing back the zing - Creativity in the classroom

By Nick Clothier, Creative Education Specialist at Creative Waikato 

Almost anyone who has had any experience with learners is familiar with the concept of the hidden curriculum. For those of you who aren’t, it’s the learning that akonga do when they observe the behaviour of their educators. Seeing a teacher feeling excited about science or enthusiastic about maths sends an unspoken message that feeling great about science and maths is normal and healthy and to be copied.

It all comes from our DNA. Our pre-vocal-communication ancestors couldn’t write a detailed instruction manual or give verbal instructions regarding which berries to gather and the best part of the mammoth to stick the spear into. This learning had to be demonstrated effectively because the early hominids that picked the dark green berries instead of the red ones or stuck their spear into the wrong bit of the mammoth didn’t have the opportunity to have a second try. We evolved to be very, very good at picking up visual cues because it was in our best interests to do so.

We are hard-wired to pick up these tacit instructions from the role-models that we respect. In classrooms, learning ‘attitudes about learning’ is as important as the content of the learning. This doesn’t stop as we age either. Even as adults we adapt our behaviour to the examples of those in responsible positions. A health and safety coordinator who wears jandals to work can say all they like about our responsibilities around safe work-spaces but can’t really complain if someone loses a toe in a terrible lathe accident. Visual permissions are powerful and important.

‘Ok’ I hear you say ‘We started talking about the hidden curriculum and now we’ve moved on to physically unlikely workplace accidents. Bear with me. There is a point and it is coming. Very probably in the next paragraph.

In a recent article on stuff.co.nz , Andre Chumko wrote about the ‘unrecognised crisis of arts education in New Zealand’. He’s right, but I would say in talking to teachers and teacher educators, it has become increasingly clear to me that the gaps in this area aren’t actually all that unrecognised. 

I won’t rewrite Andre’s article here but I would like to point out some hidden curriculum that leapt out at me. This from the opening salvo; 

‘The arts are not taught sustainably in New Zealand schools or in teacher training, experts say, despite research showing that children in arts-rich schools do significantly better at the basics than at schools which focus on measuring literacy and numeracy outcomes.’

The most telling aspect of the article for me however comes from comparing two paragraphs. Firstly, a quote from Emma Bishop (a very clever person and old Nelson Polytech mate);

‘The country’s arts curriculum was out of date, Bishop said, and the Ministry of Education’s historical decision to axe national subject advisors has left it up to underfunded volunteer-run subject associations to ensure quality arts teaching professional development.’

Compared to; 

‘Ministry of Education spokeswoman Pauline Cleaver said it was committed to supporting children to engage with the arts, and support teachers to deliver arts learning. Schools have flexibility to deliver their own local curriculums based off the New Zealand Curriculum, meaning schools could provide arts education to meet the needs and interests of their students.’

And therein lies the rub. There is a mismatch between what our Ministry of Education says about how they feel about the arts in education in Aotearoa New Zealand and the hidden curriculum of their demonstrable actions. This flows on to teacher education institutions, which flows on to teacher trainees which flows on to the children in our classrooms. It is incredibly difficult to give akonga opportunities in the arts, with all of their tangible and esoteric benefits, when the education system seems to create barriers to content, training and support for the arts.

I have been talking to teachers recently around the Integrated Creativity Resource (more about that in a minute) and have been told several times that when searching for ideas and lesson planning documents they spend most of their time sifting through Pinterest. The resources available to them come mostly from the United States because there is very little current content from New Zealand in arts education. This further reinforces in our teachers that the arts really are destined for the ‘Too Hard Basket’. 

Whilst it is easy to dwell on what has and hasn’t happened, what if we viewed this moment (this crisis) as an opportunity to create a vision for the future of arts and creative education in our schools. A vision for an education system that moves beyond purely assessment-based siloed models, to one that is holistic, integrated and inspired curiosity and critical reflection in our young people. 

What if we took this opportunity to encourage the Ministry of Education to invest in new resources, new ways of thinking, new ways of inspiring both teachers and students to weave creativity throughout their daily lives whilst also learning about all the other core curriculum content. Collectively we have an opportunity to move beyond the lack of resources and understanding that we currently face. An opportunity to develop new supports and tools, to work alongside our teachers who genuinely want to incorporate the arts into their mahi, but lack the confidence and support to do so.

I maintain a wide-eyed joyful hope that we can take this opportunity to champion the role that education plays as part of our evolution, and can create new pathways to embed creative practice throughout all learning opportunities, and to encourage our Ministry and government to acknowledge our rich educational whakapapa looking back to a time when our arts curriculum was the envy of the world. This is the time for visionary leadership from the Ministry and the wider education systems.

We have seen this opportunity. We are working towards this vision, and looking at how small scale change can be demonstrated as an indication of larger scale impact and implementation. So as we have waited, fingers crossed, for the systems to remember, it falls on us as stake-holders in the world of education be we administrators, teachers, legislators or parents, to find ways to send the message that we value the arts in education. With this in mind, Creative Waikato, with funding from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage Capability Fund, are developing the Integrated Creativity Resource.

Colourful booklets for Creative Education

The Integrated Creativity Resource is a range of activities and starters which will be both a physical/tangible kit and a suite of online lesson and unit plans. These will give teachers ideas for integrating creative activities into existing planning linked to The New Zealand Curriculum. The resource is aimed at Primary age students and will be geared and targeted at levels 1 to 4 of the curriculum.

In short, the resource will provide activities where several curriculum areas are taught in tandem, providing both formative and summative assessment opportunities. They are a step-by-step planning tool which will reduce workload for teachers and give them the confidence to teach the arts even if they have had minimal instruction in how to do so during their teacher training.

The resource set, like everything that Creative Waikato works on, is led from an arts and creativity perspective. It utilises examples of solid creative practice as the basis for the activities, woven through core curriculum areas. The resources will approach the content in a friendly and kind manner to encourage enthusiasm and confidence in the teachers as they build on their own creative abilities, and use the resources to inspire the next generation of people in our communities who cherish creative activity in everyday life.

It is our small way of building confidence in arts education for teachers while we wait for the pendulum to shift back to a legislative focus on the vital importance of the arts as a core part of an integrated curriculum and not just, to return to Emma Bishop just a “pretty little thing on a Friday afternoon”.


Find out more about Nick and his mahi through the Creative Education tab in our menu.