By Nick Clothier
Ever had one of those moments of clarity at 3am when you’re a bit worried and struggling to sleep?
You know, one of the times when a really good idea pops into your head when the world is quiet and you are able to be focused by anxiety without distraction?
Such a moment was the beginning of the Integrated Creativity Resource.
My role as Creative Education Specialist at Creative Waikato was six months old and we were right in the middle of the Omicron zone. Understandably, schools were turning inwards and concentrating on those things that were essential and integral to the day-to-day running of the school and were not super interested in having people come and visit with new and interesting things.
Unfortunately my goal up until that point was to have been visiting schools with new and interesting things.
So I had a meeting the next day with some people who wanted to know how I was getting on with my work. So far, so ARRRRRGGHHHH!
Hence my lying awake at 3am.
But then, in that moment of clarity I thought…
You’re looking at this all wrong. Stop thinking about this as a Creative Education Specialist and start thinking about it like the TEACHER that you were two years ago.
What would you like to see from a Creative Education Specialist? This is what I came up with…
- Reduced workload.
- PLD that works.
- A way to give learners a creative outlet that nurtures;
- Hauora – Body, soul and mind.
- The innate need for play – As Fred Rogers once said “The real work of childhood is play”.
- Learning as a life-long and powerful experience.
- A way to bring back the ZING of teaching that had been undermined somewhat by existing in a pandemic.
- The ability to be creative in planning creative experiences for Ākonga especially for those teachers who didn’t receive much in the way of Arts instruction during their training.
The more I looked into it, the more it seemed that what teachers needed most was a way to incorporate creative experiences into their classroom practice that was informed by research and experience.
And from that moment of clarity came the seed of the Integrated Creativity Resource (ICR).
What if I developed a suite of resources that showed how easy it is to integrate creativity into the existing curriculum. A curriculum where it is really hard to find time for experiences outside the ‘core’ subjects. A resource that encouraged arts and creativity being woven throughout all elements of learning.
Now don’t get me wrong! STEM subjects are VITAL and incredibly important but they do tend to leave little room in a busy week for arts learning. Creativity is often a ‘nice thing for the kids to do on a Friday afternoon’ – even though the research shows it is an essential part of a thriving learning experience. So the ICR became a way to infuse the week with frequent and powerful creativity without undermining the presence and importance of the core subjects. Actually creativity enhances all aspects of learning as it allows all students to access knowledge in a variety of individualised ways that honour the diversity of learning approaches we see in modern classrooms.
To do this, the resources use creativity drawn from practical experiences in core artforms to inform and support learning in areas such as Science and Mathematics.
So there you go… that was the idea. Now all we needed to do was create the resources themselves. For this we turned to the amazing creative souls at AREA Design – specifically Anna Wilkinson who took my ideas and turned them into jewels. The look and feel of the physical resources is unutterably gorgeous and turned my ideas into art. A huge thanks to Anna for all of her hard mahi in this.
Just to return to the Fred Rogers quote I used earlier.
“The real work of childhood is play”.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the work of Fred Rogers, he was a television genius who through his show ‘Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood’ taught kids important life lessons about their emotions and actions. We got Sesame Street in New Zealand so didn’t get exposed to his work too much. This quote pretty much sums up where his head was at;
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster”, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realising that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.
He was a great believer in the idea that schools should be less about frequent assessment and more about powerful experiences. Assessment is important but it should never be the only end result of learning.
Assessment is part of it. School administrators do need reportable assessment data, but the ICR allows something perhaps more esoteric and also, , incredibly valuable. Using the resources allows Kaiako to assess across the curriculum because they are linked to the New Zealand Curriculum document. Formative and summative assessment opportunities are there in a way that doesn’t require having large swathes of siloed arts activities timetabled in.
The ICR encourages play and creativity to happen as a matter of course in an integrated teaching and learning environment.
For instance, the Macrocosm/Microcosm resource uses Visual Arts, Technology and the Writing strands of the English Curriculum to weave through a learning unit on Earth Sciences. The learners imagine themselves as tiny versions of themselves in specific environments (compost heaps, long grass, amongst the mushrooms) and reflect on what they would see and hear in those environments. By doing this, they access information in a way which incorporates imagination and environmental empathy.
And this brings us to the main reason that I created the ICR…
While attending an online symposium run by the Fred Rogers Institute, we were asked to come up with a personal definition of play. Mine was;
Being frivolous with purpose, on purpose
And I firmly believe that this is the real point of being young.
And this is where the FUN comes in! Learners who are enjoying themselves learn more and learn more quickly.
If you need some proof that fun and creativity are important, have a look at this;
– although representing quite a small study group it shows evidence of 45 minutes of creative activity significantly lowering levels of saliva-borne cortisol. Which indicates stress reduction and other great things that we want for our learners. Fun and creativity help learners feel more settled and connected, and that makes for a powerful space to create and encourage and inspire our collective future.
The development of the Integrated Creativity Resource has allowed me to put into a concrete form my beliefs around teaching and learning;
- That teachers who are having fun are effective teachers.
- That learners who are having fun are effective and reflective learners.
- That all styles of learning should be embraced.
- That the arts and creativity are an integral part of a well-rounded human being.
The journey of creating these resources has been a rewarding and exciting one. All that remains now is to throw them over to the world to see how they fly.
My hope is that the website will become a place where teachers can share their own journeys in integrating creative experiences into their practice.
I also hope that teachers grow in their confidence in talking to other education stakeholders about how integrated creativity works for their Ākonga. A future education system where creativity is celebrated and championed throughout the curriculum.
In an ideal world, creativity would be a large part of the learning that students are exposed to in their life-long learning journeys. There are a lot of obstacles in the way of this. Not least the assertion that creativity and the arts ‘get in the way’ of ‘real learning’.
The adoption of an integrated creativity approach will require a change in the way schools report to interested parties and is therefore not only a logistical but also a philosophical mind-shift.
The Integrated Creativity resource is not an end point but a small start in that process of mind-shift.
And that’s the exciting bit.
I hope you use the resources to bring back the excitement about teaching and learning that brought us all to teaching in the first place. That excitement that stemmed from the desire to make a difference.
From freaking out at 3am to here. To Quote the Grateful Dead (as you do) ‘What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been’.